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Arabic in the FrayLanguage Ideology and Cultural Politics$
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Yasir Suleiman

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748637409

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748637409.001.0001

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(In)imitability, (Un)translatability and Inter-Group Strife

(In)imitability, (Un)translatability and Inter-Group Strife

(p.51) Chapter 2 (In)imitability, (Un)translatability and Inter-Group Strife
Arabic in the Fray

Yasir Suleiman

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter explores the two themes of group identity and inter-group conflict in the pre-modern Arabic-speaking world, in so far as they relate to language as a primary factor in articulating them. To achieve this, the chapter investigates three major sites of discussion and debate in Arab and Islamic theological, cultural and political life: the (in)imitability of the Qur’an, its (un)translatability and the inter-ethnic strife called shu‘ūbiyya. The chapter develops parallel lines of discussion in each of these three sites, before it draws them together into a unified framework. The figure of Jahiz – one of the most prolific writers in the first four centuries of Islam – constitutes the fulcrum of this unified framework. His theory of language as a semiology of semiologies is interpreted against the socio-political context of the day to reveal its historical situatedness. The chapter emphasises the continued relevance of the notions of construction, language symbolism and language as proxy, which we encountered in Chapter One, in understanding aspects of the pre-modern world.

Keywords:   (in)imitability, (un)translatability, Qur’an, challenge verses, inter-ethnic strife, shu‘ūbiyya, Jahiz, language as a semiology of semiologies, a‘jam, ‘ajam, faṣīḥ

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