The Mother of All Languages – M Tariq Ghazi

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A page in Arabic written in the Syriac script
A page in Arabic written in the Syriac script

Those who make language a bone of contention and fight over other languages in their own languages may not know a thing about language. One Sampurnanand was a Hindi vidwan to wage war against Urdu. One Sheikh Mujibur Rahman got a new country created just over a language. One de Gaul sowed seeds of French hate for English in Canada. Nobody ever told them that the grandma of all languages was Suryani language developed by a prophet and that the best world-class literature in any language is still being written in the Suryani or Syriac script

MUHAMMAD TARIQ GHAZI

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ayyidna Idris was the man who gave us all our written languages – ancient as well as modern. He lived thousands of years ago, probably a couple of hundreds of thousands years ago!

Prophet Idris was the first among descendants of Adam to be designated a Rasool – Messenger of God, the one given an independent Law, called Shari‘ah meaning The Way. Imam Ibn Jarir Tabari (Tarikh al-Umam w-al-Muluk – History of Nations and Kings1:140) said that in his times he was sent for the whole world. No wonder if he is father of our tongues and all out literature.

He is named Enoch or Tiberian Ḥănōḵ or H̱anokh in the Bible versions of Jews, Catholic and Protestant Christians. In Amharic language he is known as Enoch to the Unitarian Church of Ethiopia and Eritrea, while Arabs know him as Akhnukh (اخنوخ). However, the Qur’an mentions him as Idris. Exegetes say that Idris was his title for he used to give lessons (Dars – درس) of his Scriptures and those of Adam and Seth (Arabic Sheeth – شیث).

The Book of Enoch is still extant, recognized as divine scripture only by the Unitarian Church of Ethiopia and Eritrea. However, Jews and Christians of major sects consider it apocryphal, thus excluding from their versions of the Bible.

In a Hadith reported by Companion Abu Zarr Ghifari, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, described Idris as one of the four Suryani prophets (Tabari. Tarikh al-Umam w-al-Muluk 1:140). By that statement, he lived in a country east of ash-Sham (the Levant), north of Iraq (Chaldea) or Aššur or Assyria and north-east of Arabia.

All major, especially early Mufassirin (exegetes) of the Qur’an agree that Idris was a great scientist-inventor-prophet, that he had created the world’s first written language, in addition of many other useful inventions. He had invented pen, ink, inkpot, and more importantly, the first alifba or abjad (alphabet). Linguists say that abjad of Suryani or Syriac language was written from right to left. Originally that language was called (ܠܫܢܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ) Leššānā Suryāyā – Suryani Language.

Afro-Asian languages – including Semitic, Chaldean, Assurian, Canaanite, Arabic, Hebrew (language spoken in Hebron in Palestine), Aramaic, Phoenician, Nestorian, Nabati and Greek – have originated from Suryani or Leššānā Suryāyā. It is reported that at a time Malayalam language of Kerala in South India was also written in Syriac script and it was called Suryani Malayalam. If so, an interesting point to be studies is the linguistic links of other Dravidian language like Kannada, Telugu and Tamil, even Sinhala spoken in Sri Lanka.

Many Aryan family languages like Persian, Dari, Sindhi and Kurdish are written in Suryani-Semitic script. Pahlavi language of ancient Iran is an Aryan tongue but unlike other languages of the Aryan family its alphabet are directly derived from Suryani in reverted shape though.

For example, write Arabic letter seen [س] on a sheet of transparent glass and look at it from the other side: that will be Pahlavi [sh] of Avestan scriptures. Interestingly enough, it is known as abjad up to qarashat. As for other Indo-European languages like Sanskrit, although apparently different from the Semitic languages, also have their script largely adapted from Suryani, written in reverted form though.

For example, Suryani letter dālaṯ (ܕܠܬ) and Arabic daal [د] is Sanskrit [da] and Roman small [d] when reverted, while Roman capital [D] remains like Arabic [د] and close to Hebrew daleth [ד]. Similarly Suryani gāmal, Arabic jeem [ج], Hebrew gimel [ג], Roman/English capital [G and C] look very much similar, but interestingly Sanskrit/Hindi [ja] is Arabic [ج] in reverse. Similarities can be traced between Suryani kāp̄ (ܟܦ) Arabic kaaf [ک] and Sanskrit/Hindi [ka] with slight variation in the latter. Sanskrit/Hindi [ksha] is like Hebrew [shin] with some variation. Likeness can also be sensed in Suryani [ra] rēš (resh) (ܪܝܫ), Arabic ra [ر], and Sanskrit/Hindi [ra].

What common people generally do not realize is that English alphabet have their serial origins in Suryani abjad – meaning alif ba jeem daal – equivalent of which in English are a b c d.

Original abjad sequence is: alif ba jeem daal (abjad) ha waw/v za (hawwaz) ha tuay ya (hutti) kaaf laam meem nuun (kalemun) seen ‘ayn fa swad (s‘afas) qaaf ra sheen ta (qarashat). Here ends the 22-letter Hebrew alifba. Arabic has additional sounds for which the sequence also adds: tha (ث) kha (خ) zaal (ذ) (thakhkhaz) and zwad (ض) zuay (ظ) ghayn (غ) (zazzagh).

In Arabic/Persian/Urdu, these letters also have numeric value which is applied to determine date/year of various important or historical events as well as names of persons denoting their year of birth. These numbers are alif (1) ba/pa (2) jeem/che (3) ha (soft) (5) waw (6) za/zha (7) h (guttural) (8) tuay (9) ya (10) kaaf/gaaf (20) laam (30) meem (40) nuun (50) seen (60) ‘ayn (70) fa (80) swad (90) qaaf (100) ra (soft and guttural) (200) sheen (300) ta (soft and guttural) (400) tha (500) kha (600) zaal (700) zwad (800) and ghayn (1000). For example numeric value of zamin (زمین – earth) is 7+40+10+50=107.

For the anglophile, the following is in complete sequence: alif (a), ba (b) jeem (c) daal (d) ha (u) waw (v/w) za (x/z) kaaf (k) laam (l) meem (m) nuun (n) qaaf (q) ra (r) sheen (s/sh) ta (t).

Linguists say that alphabet of old traditional Mongolian and Manchu of China are derived from Syriac (Ji, Jingye. Encounters Between Chinese Culture and Christianity, Münster, p41). In addition, alifba of Sogdian, Old Hungarian, Old Orhani (Ottoman) Turkish, old Uyghur of Xinjiang/Kirghizia were also derived from Suryani. Many of these languages later adopted Roman script or Russia’s Cyrillic script.

Against this linguistic backdrop, abjad as invented by Idris/Enoch is proved to be the Mother Script of all world languages, wherein it may slightly alter due to embellishment, rules of calligraphy and the ways of fingers-grip on the pen, as one can see even in such Arabic/Urdu/Persian calligraphic fonts as Nasta‘liq, Naskh, Rayhani, Thuluth especially when writing [د] [ر] [ک] [م].  Nonetheless, it is just one Idrisi style of writing that all languages follow.

Now the question is why some languages, particularly the Indo-European ones, have chosen left-to-right flow unlike the original Idrisi-Suryani rule? An apparent answer could be that someone wanted to deprive people of its human civilizational legacy which was to make knowledge of matter subservient to cognition of spirit, thus having civilization prosper under the Shari’ah – The Law.

The purpose of this study is to harmonize material and spiritual knowledge originally granted to the First Human Being, Adam; to further study linguistic aspect of Suryani’s impact on world language is for the alifba experts.

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