Arabic in the Provincial Age
In interactions between Europe and the Arabic speaking regions, arguments about civilization and progress depended most clearly on linguistic discourse. As was argued by those who seriously engaged with the Arabic language, whether Orientalists or Arabic native intellectuals, reform of the Arabic language was tantamount to social and political progress. In the West, and notably in the work of Ernst Renan, linguistic features were taken as signs of inherent racial limitations in “modern” temporal experiences of time.
On the Levantine side, Arab philologists were fast at work trying to reform their language in order to introduce modern temporal mechanisms, that were activated in the notion of progress and civilization, but also in ideas about innovation, science, and modernity. Remarkably, the Arab intellectuals adopt crucial elements from Western Orientalist discourse, particularly in the methods chosen to bring about the time of progress. By analyzing the function of linguistic methodologies as tools of synchronization, this project examines the shared linguistic logic that overdetermined Arabic in the construction of provincial Arab nations that nevertheless shared a pan-Arab political sentiment.
By examining the linguistic treatises on Arabic from the early years of modernity, especially on the texts by French Orientalists from Silvestre De Sacy to Ernst Renan read comparatively against the Levantine Syro-Lebanese philologists from Nassif al-Yaziji to his son, Ibrahim, this project argues that the methodological synchronicities that took place in philology aligned the temporalities of the different communities and synchronized communities that are governed by relations of imbalance.