Language passivity in the medical Arabic and Judaeo-Arabic prescriptions of the Cairo Genizah

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A new study of the medical fragments at the T-S Genizah collection has revealed 141 practical prescriptions. These are written in most cases in Arabic script (92) and the minority of them in Hebrew letters, i.e. Judaeo-Arabic (47), one text in Hebrew and one in Judaeo-Persian. Most of the prescriptions were written on one page, usually on one side of a sheet of paper (very rarely vellum). The texts in Arabic have a special technical language which uses verbs intensively in the passive voice (hence LP 'Language Passivity') instead of the normal 'pure imperative'. This method of expression raises many questions about the reason for this formulation and about the alternative possibilities which exist in these prescriptions alongside LP. The following article surveys the LP types, makes some orthographical remarks that shed light on LP, singles out other substitutes for LP in the medical prescriptions in comparison with other medical formularies in the Arabic of the Middle Ages. Finally, it tries to show, that from a merely linguistic phenomenon one can draw conclusions regarding other historical aspects, such as hints about the connection 'physician-patient-pharmacist' and the way to differentiate between normal theoretical medical texts and the pure practical medical prescriptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-458
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Semitic Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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