the chicken(poetry) or the egg(prose)?

Peter_Kirk at Peter_Kirk at
Fri Sep 4 19:01:00 EDT 1998

I am no expert on this, but perhaps I can illuminate the situation 
from another Middle Eastern language, Azerbaijani. (I guess the 
situation is similar in Arabic too). Doubtless the first form of the 
language was colloquial and spoken, not especially rhythmic and so 
would be classified as "prose" rather than "poetry" - but if you 
transribe spontaneous informal conversation in any language, even an 
extended monologue, it is not going to look like well-formed prose. 
Then, in Azerbaijani, came poetry (probably first epic and then more 
artistic) as the first written form of the language; the epics were 
originally oral literature and no doubt acquired their poetic form for 
easier memorisation. Only several centuries later came the development 
of written prose, and this came to use a rather artificial style with 
complex constructions not used in conversation. This prose style was 
actually consciously borrowed from that of a closely related language, 
Turkish. Maybe this (perhaps apart from the last point) mirrors the 
development of different styles in Hebrew: first conversational (Can 
we find traces of this in conversational exchanges in BH? Do these use 
wayyiqtol etc. in the same way as formal prose?), then poetry, and 
then the formal prose of narrative and stylised speeches.

Peter Kirk

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