[lg policy] Linguist List Issue: Towards a Sociohistorical Reconstruction of Pre-Islamic Arabic Dialect Diversity

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Message1: Towards a Sociohistorical Reconstruction of Pre-Islamic Arabic Dialect Diversity
From:Alexander Magidow amagidow at gmail.com
LINGUIST List issue http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-3898.html 

Institution: University of Texas at Austin 
Program: Department of Middle Eastern Studies 
Dissertation Status: Completed 
Degree Date: 2013 

Author: Alexander Magidow

Dissertation Title: Towards a Sociohistorical Reconstruction of Pre-Islamic
Arabic Dialect Diversity 

Dissertation URL:  http://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/21378

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics

Subject Language(s): Arabic, Tajiki (abh)
                     Arabic, Mesopotamian (acm)
                     Arabic, Ta'izzi-Adeni (acq)
                     Arabic, Hijazi (acw)
                     Arabic, Omani (acx)
                     Arabic, Cypriot (acy)
                     Arabic, Tunisian (aeb)
                     Arabic, Gulf (afb)
                     Arabic, Baharna (abv)
                     Arabic, South Levantine (ajp)
                     Arabic, North Levantine (apc)
                     Arabic, Algerian (arq)
                     Arabic, Najdi (ars)
                     Arabic, Moroccan (ary)
                     Arabic, Egyptian (arz)
                     Arabic, Uzbeki (auz)
                     Arabic, Eastern Egyptian Bedawi (avl)
                     Arabic, Hadrami (ayh)
                     Arabic, Libyan (ayl)
                     Arabic, Sanaani (ayn)
                     Arabic, Chadian (shu)
                     Arabic, Andalusian (xaa)

Dissertation Director(s):
Kristen Brustad
Patience L. Epps

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation establishes a framework for a reconstruction of the
Arabic dialects that existed immediately prior to the Islamic conquests and
tests that framework with a reconstruction based on the demonstrative
pronouns and adjectives used in over sixty modern spoken dialects of Arabic

The dissertation develops a framework, drawing on work in sociolinguistics,
in which the unit of reconstruction is the speech community rather than the
'language' or 'dialect.' Speech communities are defined as groups of
speakers connected by networks as well as by a sense of allegiance, and may
have diverse repertoires which include multiple languages. Speech
communities are easier to situation historically since their boundaries
often coincide with those of political or social entities reported in
non-linguistic texts. We can diagnose the existence and extent of
pre-historical speech communities by the way their boundaries limit the
diffusion of innovations. 

In order to link the historical reconstruction to the history of Arabic
speaking communities, the dissertation investigates the historical and
social circumstances of the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula and of the
post-Islamic colonization of the Middle East and North Africa by Arabic
speakers. It questions the whether a 'tribe' is identical to a speech
community, as assumed in earlier literature, and argues that the success of
the Arabic-speaking minorities in the conquered was largely related to
patterns of settlement that segregated Arabs from non-Arabs. It also
questions the traditional chronology of the settlement of North Africa and
the division between pre- and post- 'Hilalian' dialects. 

The dissertation then reconstructs the Arabic demonstrative pronouns and
adjectives, and shows that Arabic dialects can be classified primarily
based on how they mark gender differentiation in the singular and by the
form of their plural demonstratives. Linking the reconstruction of the
demonstratives to the historical data, the dissertation suggests that
following origins for modern Arabic dialects: the rural dialects of the
Levant and Iraq, with c. pl. *ha?-ula, originally hailed from the southern
Hijaz, though an older layer of unknown origin, with f. sg. ta?, is still
detectable. The same speech community gave rise to the dialects of the
Northern Yemeni plateau. The dialects of Levantine and Iraqi cities, with
m. pl. *ha?�awla, f. pl. *ha?�anna (< *ha?�alla) represents later dialect
shift, the origins of which are unclear. Modern (northern) Egyptian Arabic,
characterized originally by m. pl. *�awl, f. pl. *�ayl , originated on the
Yemeni Tihama coast. The pre-Islamic origin of North African dialects,
characterized by c. pl ha?�u? demonstratives, is less clear, but speakers
of these dialects colonized Upper Egypt as well, though only traces of that
period remain. Classical Arabic demonstratives show a great deal of
diversity, and may reflect the process of its development as a literary koin�.

Finally, the dissertation concludes by arguing that theories about the
original homeland of Arabic obscure the importance of the geographical and
linguistic variation present in Arabic immediately prior to the Islamic
conquests. The conclusion also argues that much more research is needed on
the dialectology of the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the Red Sea coast,
in order to develop a clearer picture of the history of the Arabic language. 

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