Corpus of Ancient South Arabian Minuscule texts (work in progress)


Corpus of Ancient South Arabian Minuscule texts (work in progress)

This is a small corpus, comprising some 40 texts, written in a new script and on a different support than the inscriptions in monumental writing engraved on stone, bronze or rocks. The first two wooden sticks texts were discovered at the beginning of the 1970's, during clandestine excavations in as-Sawdāʾ. The scholar Mahmoud al-Ghul was the first to partially decipher these new documents.

During the following years this work was continued by Y. M. Abdallah, J. Ryckmans and W. Müller, who published the collections of sticks held at the National Museum of Ṣanʿāʾ. The writing style is that of a minuscule form of writing (in opposition to the "capital letters" of the monumental inscriptions), in which the body of the letter is extended to different heights by a stem or a loop. The definition of cursive, due to his more "rapid" or "informal" style, would be in any case improper, because it has no relation with the other cursive epigraphic scripts written on rock faces in pre-Islamic Arabia. An almost exclusive relationship seems to exist between the minuscule writing and its preferred support. Despite an evident derivation from the monumental writing in the more archaic sticks, this writing shows a clear internal evolution, not attested in any other type of documents.
Most part of the published and known documents come from the Jawf region, and are in Sabaic, Minac or "Amirite". Few examples come from Ḥaḍramawt and are in Hadramitic. They cover the entire chronological span of the South Arabian history, from the 7th century BC until the 5th century AD.
The already published texts written in cursive script contain letters, legal and economic documents such as contracts between private individuals, as well as writing exercises and records from religious practice. There is great interest in these texts as they are the first documents written in a less formalized way. They reveal the vocabulary used in daily life, but they also help in obtaining a more complete frame of the South Arabian language, revealing grammatical forms unattested before.

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