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The Knowledge Before Knowledge

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Chapter Summary

Our general rule that Arabic roots expressing mental activity lack correspondences in other Semitic languages holds good for the most important one among them, Arabic ʿ-l-m “to know.” Most recent interpreters of the inscriptions containing the root ʿ-l-m seem to agree on its semantic relationship to Arabic ʿalam “sign, mark.” In addition to a proper name ʿlmn, South Arabian inscriptions have a verb ʿ-l-m in the basic conjugation and in the conjugation with prefixed t-, and both are generally translated “to sign.” The meaning of “document” is assigned to the noun lm used in connection with the verb, apparently on the basis of the assumption that a document is something “marked” or “signed” and, therefore, legally binding.

Keywords: ʿ-l-m; Islamic civilization



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