The Language of the Qur’an in light of the Arab Grammarians and Early Qur’anic Manuscripts

This lecture is part of the Michaelmas Term Research Seminar Series.

The lecture will be held in the Lecture Room at The Khalili Research Centre, 3 St John Street, Oxford, OX1 2LG.


It has long been the consensus that the Quran was composed in Classical Arabic. This is often considered to be a fairly homogeneous language with a clear single phonology and grammar. However, if we consult the early medieval Arabic grammatical sources, we are confronted with descriptions that are bristling with, often mutually exclusive, different possibilities. Up until now it has been unclear to what extent the variation described by these medieval grammarians reflects a reality in the early Islamic period.

This talk takes a novel approach to the question of the language of the Quran and its relation to the descriptions of the Arab grammarians. It will look at the vocalised Quranic manuscripts of the early Islamic period, and will show that much of the variation that is described by the early grammarians is indeed attested in these early manuscripts. Moreover, it will be shown that these manuscripts admit much more linguistic variation that has come down to us in the later literary sources that describe the readings of the Quran. This forces us to reconsider what the language of the Quran truly is.