The history of the phoneme ḍād and its merger with the phoneme żā’
has proven enigmatic. By presenting data from Old South Arabian
speech communities and lexical data from the Islamic tradition, this
article brackets a period of ḍād / żā’ free variation between the fourth
and mid-eighth centuries CE. These data support the theory that the
pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabic speech community was divided
into two segments in respect to the ḍād / żā’ relationship: a group
that pronounced both separately and produced the lettered tradition
of the Qur’an, and some that did not distinguish between the two
phonemes. This article presents data from the earliest Arabic texts on
ḍād / żā’ minimal pairs, those of Abū ‘Umar al-Zāhid (d. 345/957)
and al-Sāhib Ismāīl Ibn Abbād (d. 385/995). These texts also provide
glimpses into how the Islamic lexical tradition explained the historical
link between the two phonemes.

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