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Article

Writing on Islamic Apologetics in an Unwritten Tongue. An Unusual Sample of Transitional Prose from the Island of Soqotra

RILCE. Revista de Filologia Hispanica. 2020. Vol. 36. No. 4. P. 1415-1433.

: Soqotri is a Modern South Arabian language spoken by 100,000 inhabitants of the Island of Soqotra. The island is famous for its narrative art, first revealed to the Western world by the Austrian South Arabian Expedition around 1900. Until recently, Soqotri functioned as an unwritten language, and Soqotra’s traditional lore has mainly been transmitted orally. From 2014 on, an Arabic-based writing system for Soqotri has been implemented by a Russian-Yemeni research team. Originally intended as a means of preservation of the traditional oral lore, the writing system proves to be capable of meeting other intellectual demands — notably, to create original, non-traditional compositions. Apologetic and propagandistic works pertaining to the Muslim faith are among the first genres of the nascent Soqotri prose. The article analyzes one such composition in an attempt to trace the thorny path from orality to literacy on Soqotri soil: the adaptation of traditional narrative techniques; the difficult balance between purism and innovation; and interaction with Arabic. It shows that the concept of transitional text, mostly applied to poetry in modern literary research, can also be used about prose, including religiously motivated writing.