Eugenio Garosi

The Ambivalence of Language: Expression of Power and Administrative Function in Arabic Documents from Early Islamic Egypt (working title)

The present research takes into examination the modality/ies of representation of authority in Islamic documents from the first two Hiğrī centuries (632- ca. 800).

Developments in the display of public authority, although parallel to changes in administrative and institutional structures, represent an ambitus per se and do not necessarily follow the same patterns as the latters. Purpose of this work is to take on the issue of the formation of an Early Islamic normative imperial identity with particular regard to the mutual perception between ruling class and conquered peoples. Specifically, the thematic focus will linger on Arabic's function as the (even visually) distinct language of imperial authority and on its interplay with the other idioms employed by the Islamic administration (Greek, Coptic, Latin and Middle Persian). I argue that Arabic writing, besides being a marker of Islamic religious identity, hold a pivotal position in the representation of imperial power and was symbiotically connected with the figure of the amīr al-mu'minīn.

The documentary basis for this research is mainly constituted by a few categories of primary sources embracing papyri, coins, inscriptions and graffiti. In addition, other material such as manuscripts, architectonic remains, and literary and religious texts will play an ancillary role. As a general criterion, contemporary evidence has been privileged over indirect testimonies. Chronologically, the beginning of the 9th century has been fixed as indicative terminus ante quem for the present inquiry, marking roughly the disappearance of Greek as a language of the Muslim administration on one side and the formation of the classical Islamic religious orthodoxy and cultural canon on the other.

A preliminary prospect of the linguistic dynamics will be drafted on the basis of bilingual documents as the interrelation between the different languages appears there in its most evident form. The word bilingual is to be understood lato sensu as referring to both documents which show a bilingual layout and to corpora embracing (monolingual) documents in more languages. In a second phase, the highlighted phenomena will be weighed against the evidence provided by coeval monolingual documents. Discrepancies between the different analyzed corpora will be further sorted and explained on the basis of function, type, geographical origin and historical context of the documents at issue. Finally, the paradigm(s) emerging from the materials promulgated by the Muslim empire will be compared with unofficial testimonies (such as graffiti) in order to enucleate and evaluate the respective formal peculiarities. This approach endeavours, ultimately, to explore the duality and interaction of functional/technical and symbolic spheres inside the Islamic state-edifice and see to what extent they mirror each other.

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