Lameen Souag of Jabal al-Lughat has a post on “Language policy and Islam” that I cite here for this striking passage:

Regionally, other languages may also come to assume a secondary position in religious education – for example, Urdu in Pakistan, even though most students there have a different first language. A remarkable example of this is to be found in northeastern Nigeria, where advanced religious education requires mastering not just Classical Arabic but also Classical Kanembu, an extremely archaic variety of Kanembu currently used only for explaining Classical Arabic texts (Bondarev & Tijani 2013).

Of course, it’s not really much different than studying Greek through the medium of Latin, which English-speakers did once upon a time.


  1. Here’s my opening to ask why the expression is (often) “obscurum per obscurius” rather than “obscura per obscuriora.” Doesn’t Latin usually use neuter plural adjectives in this situation?

  2. Because it means ‘an obscure thing explained by something still more obscure’. Similarly ignotum per ignotius ‘an unknown thing explained by something still more unknown’.

  3. …or studying Classical Aramaic for reading interpretations of the Bible.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    I actually used to own a nineteenth-century introductory Greek grammar written in Latin and meant for British schoolboys (not schoolgirls, obviously.)
    One of many of my books that disappeared in the course of moving around the world, unfortunately, so I can’t provide any details.

  5. J. W. Brewer says:

    Um, except Anglophone students tended also to read a wide variety of Latin texts for their own sake, not merely as an intermediary for learning Greek. I think the non-Greek parts of the textbooks from which I studied Dead-Pagan Greek in college were all in English but I do dimly recall some Latin in the textbooks we used for New Testament Greek (which may have come straight from some Herr Doktor Professorish Teutonic academic publisher w/o anyone bothering to produce an Anglophone-specific edition).

  6. “not schoolgirls, obviously”: why do you say that?

  7. I once took a class on Greenlandic Eskimo, for which the main reference grammar was in Danish. The professor assured us that learning to read Danish would be really easy! Two languages in one class.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    “not schoolgirls, obviously”
    Even if there were a few girls (for instance daughters of scholars) studying Greek, most students of Greek would have been boys, especially upper-class ones or those studying for the ministry.

  9. Long ago, when Dutch university professors still had dictatorial powers, students in Arabic were given an Arab grammar that was in Spanish.
    “But, eh,” students protested, “we don’t know any Spanish.”
    “Spanish is the easiest of languages,” their professor replied. “If you cannot learn Spanish in two or three weeks, you better forget about Arabic.”

    [[Now, of course, this is an old anecdote, and in those days one could not study languages (any languages) without six years of Latin.]]

  10. “Oh, just learn it. It’s easy.”
    You could argue that kundoku/gugyeol are similar, in that they are specialized subdialects of Japanese/Korean used (today) solely to “read” premodern Chinese. Kundoku, for example, will give you syntactically well-formed Japanese sentences, but due to vocabulary, archaicisms, and various artificial conventions, unless the source Chinese is extremely simple the meaning of the kundoku will usually be quite opaque to the untrained — except to the extent that kundoku quirks have leaked out as prestige signifiers into Japanese as a whole.
    In this day and age it seems to me that simply learning premodern Chinese would be more efficient, although then of course you’d be cut off from much of the kundoku-based scholarship of the past.

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