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date: 26 April 2019

Arabic Dialectology

Abstract and Keywords

Geographically, Arabic is one of the most widespread languages of the world, and Arabic dialects are spoken in an unbroken expanse from western Iran to Mauritania and Morocco and from Oman to northeastern Nigeria, albeit with vast uninhabited or scarcely inhabited areas and deserts in between. It is not easy to give the exact number of speakers, estimates from 1999 (i.e., from eighteen years ago) count 206 million L1 speakers, a figure which today seems too low rather than too high.1 This geographical range is marked by extreme dialectal differences in all fields of phonology, grammar, and lexicon, at times to the extent that different varieties are mutually unintelligible.

Keywords: Arabic, linguistics, language, dialect, traditional Arabic dialectology

Arabic dialects2 may have millions of speakers, and in some Arab countries, the dialect of a politically or economically prominent city plays the de facto role of a Standard language, at least with respect to oral communication; Cairo Arabic in Egypt and Casablanca Arabic in Morocco (Aguadé 2008:288a, Caubet 2008:273b) are relevant cases. Although they have their principal domain in oral communication, dialects are also used for writing and even in some forms of literature, (see Aguadé 2006 for Morocco, Rosenbaum 2004, and Woidich 2010 for Egypt [Holes, “Orality”).

Arabic dialectology is closely connected with a number of other disciplines of Arabic linguistics such as historical linguistics and sociolinguistics, including urban linguistics.3 In fact, it constitutes an indispensable prerequisite as it provides these with the necessary data.

(p. 301) This article limits itself to what may be called ‘traditional Arabic dialectology’ (TAD). The subject matter of traditional dialectology is the collection of linguistic features in a given geographic area and the study of these features with regard to their distribution in this area in order to establish dialectal borders lines, transitional areas, core areas, and dialectal continua. All this can be best made visible as a linguistic landscape by reproducing these features on maps. See for more detail Behnstedt and Woidich (2005).

13.2 A Glance at History

The interest in the regional varieties of spoken Arabic has a relatively long history. In the course of the 19th century, a considerable number of word lists, smaller or larger dictionaries, practical guides and textbooks, appeared as the result of increased possibilities of tourism and scientific research in the Arabic-speaking world. A few more comprehensive treatises on the colloquial had appeared before this time (Alcalá 1505, Dombay 1800, Caussin de Perceval 1833, Ṭanṭāvy 1848). Wallin (1851, 1852) and Wetzstein (1868) provide samples of folk poetry and stories furnished with phonological and factual annotations, which give valuable insights into the Bedouin Arabic of Syria.

A real linguistic interest in Arabic dialects, however, and the creation of a discipline “Arabic dialectology” as part of academic Oriental and Semitic studies did not develop until the final quarter of the 19th century, when the first systematic grammars and elaborate dictionaries appeared, which went far beyond previously published works. These were often accompanied by text collections provided with glossaries (for instance, Spitta 1880), which at the same time, were of great value for ethnographic and folkloristic studies. The early days of Arabic dialectological studies thus ran parallel to the time when the great enterprises in dialectology (i.e., the national projects of the French and German dialect atlases) started. Beside the professional scholars in Arabic and Semitic studies, a considerable number of valuable data of linguistic and ethnographic interest were collected also by archaeologists working in Egypt, or Iraq, for instance, Maspéro (1914), Weissbach (1908–1930). The first attempts at dialect atlases for the Arab world—today historical documents because of the political developments, creation of new states and movement of populations—were made as early as in 1915 by Gotthelf Bergsträßer (Palestine) and 1940a by Jean Cantineau (Ħawrān).

The first half of the 20th century saw many more publications in the field, and, as early as in 1961, Anton Spitaler could observe that a huge amount of material on Arabic dialects was available, “Insgesamt verfügen wir heute absolut genommen über ein gewaltiges, nur mehr schwer übersehbares Tatsachenmaterial, das sich über weite Gebiete des arabischen Sprachraums von Marokko bis Buchara erstreckt” ( (p. 302) Spitaler 1961:133, repr. 1998:224), forming a linguistic corpus difficult to maintain an overview of (135/226). This amount of data was sufficient and detailed enough to enable the first comparative overviews by Hans-R. Singer (1958) on interrogatives, and by Wolfdietrich Fischer on demonstratives (1959). Both were students of Hans Wehr.

Nevertheless, Arabic dialectology was at this point not really an academic profession. Despite the fact that its importance for Arabic linguistic history can hardly be overestimated, it had remained a field to which serious scholars would only devote their Sunday afternoons, as A. Spitaler used to tell his students (cf. in a similar vein David Cohen in his “Préface” to Actes des premières journées de dialectologie arabe de Paris [Caubet and Vanhove 1994]: “Les arabophones méprisaient leurs dialectes, les arabisants la dialectologie). Arabic studies at that time, following their historical origin, more or less resembled the study of the classical languages Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Making an academic career in dialectology only was next to impossible for Arabists, as chairs for Arabic and Semitic studies were designed with a far wider profile including Arabic literature, history of the Near East and Islamic Studies. Several developments in the years to come (i.e., in the sixties and seventies of the last century) changed this state of affairs to some extent.

First of all, the growing political and economic importance of the Arab countries together with the expanded possibilities for traveling, visiting and researching these countries led to an increased interest in “real Arabic”(i.e., the spoken language of daily life), the modern Arabic dialects. Many students would no longer limit themselves to Classical or MSA for second-language learning but chose to acquaint themselves with the colloquial as a language of daily life as well. Certainly, as a consequence of this, more academic interest for the field was stimulated.

Second, the unimagined advances in the technology of speech recording already starting in the 1950s was not without impact on Arabic dialectology: recording living speech allowed a far more systematic and scientific approach to fieldwork and was less prone to the predilections and deficiencies of the individual researcher. While in earlier times texts could be recorded only by means of dictation—a rather unnatural form of speech—it was now possible to record speech without too much technical effort and cost. Haim Blanc and Hans Wehr were the first dialectologists of Arabic to use a tape recorder in the field (Jastrow 2002:350). These recordings, as well as the recordings of entire elicitation sessions, when necessary, could be repeated and checked by the researcher himself or by others for verification in nearly the same way as they had been recorded. This made it possible to embark on projects covering larger areas more systematically and with better scientific methods than ever before. It is beyond any doubt that these technical improvements led to a far higher reliability of the recorded data.

Third, descriptive structural linguistics, in particular taxonomic phonology and morphology, which had already been developed in other philologies in the thirties and forties of the last century, were gradually adapted by Arabic dialectologists and applied in their works. In particular the adaptation of the Prague Phonology by Cantineau in several articles from the early fifties (reprinted in Cantineau 1960) proved to be seminal. Jean Cantineau’s remark in his 1955 article that “la dialectologie arabe n’est guère progressiste; les nouvelles techniques de recherche ont du mal à s’y acclimater” (1960:277) proved incorrect for the years to (p. 303) follow, which saw a fruitful adaptation of modern methods of descriptive linguistics. Phonology, in particular, played an important role here (see Harrell 1957 for Egyptian and Harrell (1962) for Moroccan; the monographs by Grotzfeld (1964) on Damascus, Sasse (1971) on Mħallami/Anatolia, Jastrow (1973) on Daragözü, Schabert (1976) on Maltese, and Ambros (1977) again on Damascus are good examples of strictly taxonomy-oriented grammars including phonology and morphology. Although formerly a rather intricate phonetic notation with dozens of diacritic marks prevailed in transcription, projecting only an apparent phonetic accuracy, the analysis of the sounds based on phonological principles now led to a limited set of phonemes which were used for transcribing the data and thus allowed for better writability and readablility. To see the difference, one may compare the transcriptions used, for instance, by French dialectologists working on North African dialects, such as W. Marçais and Ph. Marçais, with more recent ones, for instance by R.S. Harrell, D. Caubet, and J. Aguadé.

Fourth, up until the fifties, research concentrated with few exceptions on easily accessible places and areas, a fact deplored by Cantineau (1955). For Egypt, to give an example, only the great cities of Cairo and Alexandria had attracted major scholarly attention, but not the Nile Delta, let alone Upper Egypt or the Oases in the Western Desert. Cairo Arabic was seen as Egyptian Arabic par excellence. Supported by the technical and methodological improvements mentioned above, fieldworkers endeavored from the sixties onward to uncover the treasures hidden in many places that had heretofore remained either hardly accessible or neglected for some (other) reason. Very important regional overviews could be published, which colored in a number of white spots on the map (Iraq, Anatolia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Arabian Peninsula, Oman, Sudan, Sahel) and offered a wealth of data both for the dialect geographer and the historical linguist.

Already in the sixties Arabic dialectologists were aware of the fact that many of the local dialects were being threatened in their existence. Spitaler (1961:136, 227) quotes Henri Fleisch (Orbis VIII 1959:386) on the situation in Lebanon justifying his research in rural Lebanon: “L`évolution des parlers se précipite actuellement, elle pénètre partout et tend à un nivellement des parlers qui leur enlève leur originalité. L`urgence de l`enquête était très grande.” Replacing older, outdated, and sometimes unreliable sources by new ones that meet modern standards, and covering the vast areas that have underresearched or not researched at all still belongs to the urgent desiderata of TAD.

As a result of political developments and subsequent migrations, many varieties spoken by minorities, above all the religious ones, are in acute danger. In particular, the Jewish dialects are threatened by extinction. The long established tradition of Jewish Arabic studies (M. Cohen 1912, Brunot-Malka 1940, Cohen 1964), became of prime importance for the recording of these dialects bound for extinction and was taken up again by Blanc (1974), Cohen (1975), Stillman (1988), Jastrow (1990), Mansour (1991), Heath (2002), Rosenbaum (2003), and Yoda (2005).

The global phenomenon that local dialects are disappearing in favor of more regionally expanded varieties of a language, as a matter of course, applies to the Arab world (p. 304) too. On the one hand, recording these dwindling specimens of speech has become more urgent than anybody could imagine at Fleisch’s time, while on the other hand, the new media offered by the internet (blogs, Facebook, Twitter) facilitate the use of the colloquial, albeit further developed in written and supraregional forms.

These developments together with the ever increasing migrations of the population from rural areas to the cities, and from country to country, offer other possibilities for scientific study that go far beyond traditional dialectology and have in the meantime supplanted the latter to some extent: urban dialectology, all types of contact linguistics including diglossia studies, youth language, pidgin and creole studies, to mention just a few, and other sociolinguistically oriented matters.

No wonder that, starting (in the eighties and nineties) with the emergence of sociolinguistics and variational linguistics, many researchers in the Arabic language directed their interests to these branches of studies of linguistic varieties and developed them into more or less separate fields of activity (J. Owens, G. Mejdell, N. Haeri, C. Miller, E. Al-Wer) (Davies et al., “Codeswitching” and El-Wer, “Sociolinguistics”). Despite that, the traditional descriptive approach has not been abandoned, but has been falling behind somewhat over the last years (Jastrow 2002, 2008).

For all these reasons, the last fifty years saw an unprecedented expansion and increase in fieldwork and in the amount of data accessible to the researchers. Data collections such as monographs, atlases, grammatical sketches, text collections, textbooks, dictionaries, and other linguistic descriptions keep on flowing continuously. The mass of data increased again far beyond what had been imagined only some years earlier.

This expansion called for a more formal organization. Since a regular forum for publication and discussion dedicated to Arabic dialectology and linguistics was felt as an urgent need by a generation of both older and younger researchers (W. Fischer, H.-R. Singer, O. Jastrow, H. Bobzin, P. Behnstedt, M. Woidich), the “Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguistik” (ZAL) was founded by O. Jastrow and H. Bobzin. This new journal was to make new findings and recent studies accessible to the public as swiftly as possible. The ZAL, the first issue of which appeared in 1978, developed into an important specialized forum for presentation of research and discussion with more than fifty volumes having been published to date. In 1983, the French journal “Matériaux Arabiques et Sudarabiques-GELLAS” followed. O. Jastrow is credited for starting the series “Semitica viva” in 1987, which in the years to follow hosted many of the most important publications in the field. In 1993, French dialectologists from the renowned INALCO (above all D. Caubet, M. Vanhove) took the initiative and convened all colleagues in the field to Paris at a “Colloque international,” which would become the first conference to be dedicated to Arabic dialectology alone. The conference was concluded with the foundation of the “Association Internationale de la dialectologie Arabe” (AIDA), and thus marked the beginning of a series of so far nine highly successful conferences. The proceedings of these conferences very aptly mirror the most recent developments in the field, both with respect to traditional approaches as well as to other types of Arabic dialectology (e.g. Cremona et al. 1995, Mifsud 2000, Youssi et al. (2002), Ferrando and Sandoval 2003, Procházka and Ritt-Benmimoun 2008) (see further To conclude, the particular situation in Spain with its Andalusian (p. 305) background and its focus on the Maghreb led to the foundation of another journal with the programmatic title “Estudios de dialectologia norteafricana y andalusí” (EDNA) in 1996 (J. Aguadé, F. Corriente, Á. Vicente, M. Meouak), which since then has also developed into an important forum for documentation and discussion.

Maltese with its rich indigenous linguistic academic landscape split off from general TAD and formed its own association L-Għaqda Internazzjonali tal-Lingwistika Maltija (GĦILM) in 2007, which convenes regular conferences (

13.3 The State of the Art4

As Owens (2006a:8) rightly puts it, “The modern dialects have an indispensable role in an account of Arabic language history.” We would even say that the modern Arabic dialects, their development and their relation to Classical Arabic (or Old Arabic, whatever one may call it) are the central object of research for Arabic historical linguistics. This gives TAD fundamental importance for any research in Arabic historical linguistics. TAD, therefore, is heavily and primarily fieldwork oriented and less so theory-driven. In more detail, it aims at the following.

  1. 1. recording contemporary Arabic speech as much as possible from a number of representative community members, all over the Arab world and beyond, wherever a variety of Arabic is spoken,

  2. 2. documenting these data and making them accessible for the researcher in various forms of publication: monographs such as atlases, grammars (Ortsgrammatiken), bi-directional dictionaries, handbooks, collections of texts (of ethnographic, folkloristic interest), and textbooks,

  3. 3. describing the variation and differences between one local dialect and another by providing regional and overall comparative descriptions in monographs and articles,

  4. 4. classifying the dialects according to synchronic and diachronic criteria: grouping the dialects, clustering, establishing core areas and transitional areas, detecting dialect continua, and showing the linguistic relations between various regions in the Arab world,

  5. 5. collecting the older evidence of Arabic dialects as documented in historical records such as historiography, literary works, historical lexical studies, and travel accounts. TAD overlaps here with the study of Middle Arabic (see for instance Davies 1981, Lentin 2009, and Zack 2009).

(p. 306) 13.4 Presentation of the Data

13.4.1 Atlases and Maps5

The main goal of traditional dialectology is to document its findings in atlases (see Chambers-Trudgill 1998). Very early, before World War I, G. Bergsträßer made a first attempt for what was then Palestine (Bergsträßer 1915), and J. Cantineau followed somewhat later with the adjacent region of Ħawrān, now southern Syria (Cantineau 1940a) Both constitute important documents for historical comparison today. It was not until 1961 that Abul-Fadl (1961) followed with geographical research on the distribution of phonological and morphological features in the Egyptian province Šarqiyya in the Nile Delta. P. Behnstedt and M. Woidich’s (1983) map on Arabic dialects in Egypt was the first of its kind and was followed by the five volumes of Egyptian dialect atlas (1985–1999); Behnstedt published his atlas on North-Yemen in (1985). Arnold-Behnstedt (1993) covers the Qalamūn-mountains in Syria with a focus on Arabic-Aramaic contacts. Behnstedt’s (1997) Syria atlas is the most comprehensive one so far in terms of number of maps and data.

The first volume (of a planned total of four) of the ‘Wortatlas der arabischen Dialekte’ (WAD) by P. Behnstedt and M. Woidich appeared in 2011 with 184 full-color onomasiological maps on “Mensch, Natur, Fauna, Flora,” each map accompanied by a commentary. The WAD is the first atlas to cover the entire Arab world and provides a survey of the lexical richness and diversity of the Arabic language.

Some regional monographs contain a rather extensive series of maps in their appendices: Arnold (1998) on the province of Hatay (Antiochia, Turkey), de Jong (2000, 2011) on Sinai. A collection of maps on the terms for animal and body parts resulting from an unfinished survey on Northern Morocco is published in Behnstedt (2005, 2007, also 1995). Other maps for illustrative purposes can be found in Procházka (1993) on prepositions, Mörth (1997) on numbers, Jastrow (1978–1981) on qǝltu-dialects in Mesopotamia and Anatolia, and Johnstone (1967) on the Gulf area. Heath (2002) gives an appendix with a series of rather abstract maps on Muslim and Jewish varieties spoken in Morocco. Six simplified maps in Abboud-Haggar (2009) can serve as a quick first overview on the geographic distribution of the Arabic dialects; another one can be found in Corriente and Vicente (2008).

Quite a few publications use maps for illustration—for example, Cantineau (1940b) on Algeria, Fleisch (1974) on Lebanon, Ingham (1973) on southern Iraq and Khuzistan, and Owens (1985) on the Sahel. Vanhove (2009) contains a dialect map of Yemen; Taine-Cheikh (1998–1999) published seven maps on the distribution of certain “macro-discriminants” (*q and the interdentals) in the Arabic-speaking world.

(p. 307) Projects on dialect surveys have been announced for Northern Israel (Talmon 2002) and Tunisia (Mejri 2002, Sandly 2002)6 but have not materialized so far.

Behnstedt and Woidich (2005) is a general introduction to Arabic dialect geography and incorporates a chapter on dialectometry.

13.4.2 Regional Studies

The second edition of the ‘Encyclopedia of Islam’ (1986) offers concise information in the article “ʕArabīya” on “Arabian and North Arabian Dialects” by H. Fleisch, and on the “Western Dialects” by G. Colin (1976). To Ph. Marçais (1977) we are greatful for a comprehensive survey on the phonological and morphological features of the Western Arabic dialects. To date, there is no equivalent study for the Eastern part of the Arab world. Blanc (1971) gives a concise report on sub-Saharan Arabic. Fleisch (1974) sketches a number of villages all over Lebanon together with text samples and arrives at a preliminary description of dialect areas, Kaye (1976) deals with Chadian and Sudanese Arabic in light of comparative Arabic dialectology. Procházka (1988) gives the first systematic phonological and morphological survey on the Arabic dialects spoken on Saudi Arabian territory. Arnold (1998) covers the Arabic-speaking regions of Antiochia in Turkey, and Owens (1985, 1993b) reports on Chad and Nigeria. Ingham (1982, 1997) deal with the dialects of North East Arabia. Doss (1981) on Middle Egypt, one of the few comprehensive descriptions of a non-Cairene variety of Egyptian Arabic, remained unpublished. Palva (1984) classifies the Palestinian and Transjordanian dialects and Woidich (1996) gives a concise account on the distribution of forty-one features in the rural dialects of Egypt. The Arabian Peninsula and Iraq are very competently dealt with in Holes (2006), the Arabic-speaking Middle East by Al-Wer (2006), and North Africa by Walters (2006).

Among these regional studies should be further listed: Blanc (1953) on North Palestinian Arabic, and Blanc (1964), the seminal study on Bagdad and Iraq, Johnstone (1967) on the Gulf area, Grand’Henry (1972, 1976) on Algeria, Diem (1973) and Behnstedt (1985) on Yemen, Ingham (1976) on southern Iraq and Khuzistan, Jastrow (1978) on northern Iraq and Anatolia, Behnstedt and Woidich (1982) on the Egyptian oases, Ingham (1982, 1997) on Bedouin Arabic in the Najd and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, Abboud (1979) on Najdi, Holes (1983) on Baħrayn, Owens (1984) on Libya, Rosenhouse (1984a, 1984b) on the Bedouin in northern Israel, Holes (1989) on Oman, Arnold and Behnstedt (1993) on Qalamūn in Syria, Arnold (1998) on Antiochia, Behnstedt (1998–1999) on Djerba, Heath (2002) on Morocco, Procházka (2002) on Çukurova, Heath (2004) on Ħassāniyya, Henkin (2010) and Shawarbah (2012) on Negev, and de Jong (2000, 2011) on Sinai.

Regarding the Arabic “Sprachinseln” of Uzbekistan, Vinnikov (1962), Tsereteli (1954, 1956), Fischer (1961), Axvlediani (1985), Chikovani (2008, 2009), Zimmermann (2009) give us valuable information. On Cyprus we have Borg (2004) and Roth-Laly (p. 308) (2006), and on Afghanistan Kieffer (1981, 1985, 2000), as well as Ingham (1994a, 2002), and on the newly discovered Arabic dialects in Iran Seeger (2002). For the situation in border areas where Arabic is a minority language such as Anatolia, Afghanistan, Eritrea/Djibouti, and Central Asia one may consult the publications by Owens (2000, 2001), Simeone-Senelle (2002a, b), and Csató et al. (2005). Heine’s (1982) book on Ki-Nubi introduced creole studies to the field of Arabic dialectology, followed by Wellens (2005) and Luffin (2005) [Tosco and Manfredi, “Creoles”]. F. Corriente in numerous publications provided for the systematic analysis and description of the extinct dialect of Andalusia, see Corriente (1977, 1997); for a short account on its evolution see Vicente (2011).

13.4.3 General and Comparative Studies

First state-of-the-art reports appeared in the fifties from the pens of C. Brockelmann (1954) and J. Cantineau (1955, repr. 1960), and also give a good overview of the available literature. A rather complete bibliography until 1959 can be found in Fischer (1959), later followed by Sobelman (1962), Bakalla (1983), and Eisele (1987).

The work of Caussin de Perceval (1833), which is today only of historical interest, can be seen as a first attempt to give a comparative overview of the grammar of Arabic dialects for pedagogical purposes. Nöldeke (1904) analyzes the relationship of the dialects with Classical Arabic and arrives at the conclusion that the former developed from the latter, a view which for good reasons has been abandoned today. Bergsträßer (1928, repr. 1963) gives a short historical sketch and some texts within the framework of a handbook of Semitic languages. In his opinion, the dialects did not develop directly from Classical Arabic: “Die neuarabischen Dialekte gehen im großen ganzen auf eine einheitliche Grundform zurück, die im allgemeinen der klassischen Sprache nahestand, in Einzelheiten von ihr abwich” (Bergsträßer 1928:156). In the years to come, and in fact until this day, this has been the scenario many historical linguists accepted, in particular those with a German background, even if Nöldeke`s view has continued to be taken as a starting point for historical discussion.7 Fischer-Jastrow (1980), which incorporates regional sketches and text samples, followed as a comprehensive general account of the situation at the end of the 1970s, but in view of the rapid increase of available data and new insights over the past 30 years it needs to be updated.

More recently collected data, but without fundamentally new insights, are offered in Kaye and Rosenhouse (1997) treating Maltese independently from other Arabic dialects, Durand (2009), and Abboud-Haggar (2009). Corriente and Vicente (2008) contains a comprehensive discussion of genesis and classification of the modern dialects by Á. Vicente. Other shorter overview articles, some directed at a more general public, are Jastrow (2002, 2008), Versteegh (2011a, 2011b), and in particular Watson (2011) with a critical discussion of some of the features used to discriminate between Old Arabic and (p. 309) modern dialects. Naturally, general introductions to Arabic linguistics and language history such as Schippers and Versteeegh (1987), Versteegh (1997), Ferrando (2001) and Holes (2004) deal with Arabic dialectology and make use of its data in the relevant chapters.

Other comparative studies focus on particular grammatical topics, describe these, and sketch their historical development. The first ones—that is, Singer (1958) on interrogatives and Fischer (1959) on demonstratives—we owe to the school of Hans Wehr. Blanc (1970) deals with dual and pseudo-dual, Janssens (1972) studies stress and word structure, Czapkiewicz (1975) the morphology of the verb, Diem (1979) the substrate question. Eksell Harning (1980) on the genitive exponent and Retsö (1983) on the passive voice discuss their topics both with respect to morphology and to syntax. Mörth (1992) deals with cardinal numbers from 1 to 10, Procházka (1993) with the prepositions and Dahlgren (1998) with word order. Isaksson (1999) offers a comparative survey of the pronouns. Brustad (2000) analyzes syntactic structures comparing four dialects under modern criteria independent from traditional Arabic syntax. Watson (2002) compares phonology and morphology of two rather different types of Arabic, i.e., Cairene and Ṣanʕāni. Diem (2002) describes the syntax of translocative verbs of some dialects and their historical changes, and Taine-Cheikh (2004, 2009) the expression of future. Versteegh (2004) deals with the interrogatives again and Procházka (2004) with unmarked feminine nouns. Vanhove et al. (2009) give an account with grammaticalization of modal auxiliaries in Maltese and Arabic, placing them in a larger theoretical framework with European languages. Aguadé (2010) presents in a concise survey the vowels systems of Moroccan dialects, while Embarki (2011) studies acoustic differences among dialects.

A different type of resource is represented by the EALL (Versteegh et al. 2006–9), which could serve as a handbook of TAD. It contains thirty-sevengrammatical sketches of Arabic dialects and twenty-six linguistic profiles of Arab countries easily accessible to the scholar, in addition to a number of articles on general issues concerning Arabic dialectology, such as “Creole” (J. Owens), “Gypsy” (Y. Matras), “Dialect Geography” (P. Behnstedt), “Dialects: Classification” (H. Palva), and the like.

13.4.4 Grammatical Descriptions of Individual Varieties

Today, we have at our disposal several dozens of systematic descriptions of local dialects in the form of monographs and, above all, hundreds of sketches describing the most important phonological and morphological features of the dialects spoken in various places of the Arab world ranging from major cities to the most remote areas, both for rural and Bedouin Arabic. Astonishingly enough, there is no comprehensive grammar in the form of a monograph on one of the major Bedouin dialects of Saudi-Arabia, Ingham (1994b) on Najdi Arabic being the laudable exception. Due to lack of space, only some major monographs published in the recent years will be mentioned here:8 (p. 310) Palva (1976) on al-Balqā’/Jordan, Cowell (1964), Grotzfeld (1964), and Ambros (1977) on Damascus, Abu-Haidar (1979) on Baskinta/Lebanon, Reichmuth (1983) on the Shukriyya tribe in Sudan, Owens (1984) on Benghazi, Singer (1984) on Tunis, Marçais (1956) on eastern Algeria, Vicente (2000) on northern Morocco, Owens (1993a, b) on Nigeria, Seeger (2009) on Ramallah, Palva (1976) on Balqaaʔ (Jordan), Julien de Pommerol (1999) on Chad, Talay (1999) on the Khawētna/Syria, Werbeck (2001) on Manāxa/Yemen, Wittrich (2001) on Āzǝx/Anatolia, Borg and Azzopardi (2005) for Maltese, Woidich (2006) on Cairo, Gralla (2006) on Nabk/Syria, Pereira (2010) on Tripoli, and Manfredi (2010) on the Baggāra in Kordofan. The century-old interest of the Maltese in their spoken language produced very early grammatical descriptions and dictionaries, making it to one of the best described and researched varieties of Arabic, see Borg and Azzopardi (2005). In addition to that, there are quite a few Ph.D. and M.A. theses on Arabic dialects written by native speakers at European and American universities, but many of these are difficult to come by.

The degree of comprehensiveness of these grammars differs, as their interest generally is limited to the basic facts of phonology and morphology, while syntax is treated rather marginally. There are some exceptions to this point: Spitta (1880) on Cairo, Harrell (1962) on Rabat, Cowell (1964) on Syrian, Jullien de Pommerol (1992) on Chad, Caubet (1993) on Fes, Woidich (2006) on Cairo, and Naïm (2009) on Ṣanʕā’ deal with many important syntactic issues.

A classical structuralistic study of the phonology of Egyptian Arabic is Harrell (1957); a thorough study with a high level of abstractness is Dickins (2007) on the phonology of Sudanese (Khartoum) Arabic.

Studies on the syntax of individual dialects include: Feghali (1928) on Lebanese, Abboud (1964) on Ħiǧāzi, Bloch (1965) on Damascene, Piamenta (1966) on Palestinian, Denz (1971) on Kwayriš/Iraq, Sieny (1978) on Urban Ħiǧāzi, Watson (1993) on Ṣanʕāni, Vanhove on Maltese (1993), and Eisele (1999) on Cairene and Drop and Woidich (2007) on the il-Bahariyya oasis. Most important in this respect is Brustad (2000), as it is the only one to treat syntactic issues from a comparative perspective and in the light of a fresh modern syntactic approach, while not relying on traditional Arabic grammar or a particular modern linguistic school. The latter is an important issue, since in recent years, quite a few articles on Arabic syntax appeared, but, unfortunately enough, many of these use a particular linguistic framework and are aimed more at serving the further development of syntactic theories than at adding to the knowledge of Arabic.9

Owens and Elgibali (2010) contains a series of articles on structural and pragmatic sources and offers an introduction to information structure as used in spoken Arabic.

Of particular linguistic interest are “Sprachinseln” in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Iran, which on the one hand preserve many old features due to an early split from mainstream Arabic, thus shedding light on earlier linguistic situations in Mesopotamia (Jastrow 2011), while on the other hand they show peculiar developments due to their isolation from the core area of Arabic and their contact with other languages.

(p. 311) The creolized versions spoken in Africa (Ki-Nubi/, Juba Arabic/Sudan) are a particularly interesting case for general creole studies, as they are not based on one of the European languages, see Miller (1983), Prokosch (1986), Owens (2006b) in EALL [Tosco and Manfredi, “Creoles”].

13.4.5 Dictionaries

Arabic dialectologists have a number of dictionaries at their disposal, albeit that many of them are rudimentary and are better classified under the categories “vocabulary” or “glossary” than dictionary. Some are outdated today but have nevertheless been republished without any adaptations (Belkassem (2001, first print 1886), the Georgetown series (see below), Spiro Bey (1980, first print 1895). With the twelve volumes of de Premare (1993–1999), we now have a rather comprehensive dictionary for Moroccan at our disposal. For Maltese, the dictionary by Aquilina in six volumes (2000), (a shorter version is Aquilina 1987–1990) forms an indispensable source for Maltese studies, providing even etymological and comparative information. Others are Landberg (1905–13) for South Arabia, Spiro Bey (1923) and Hinds and Badawi (1986) for Egypt, Barthélémy (1935) for Syria and the Levant, Taine-Cheikh (1988–1998, 1990) for Ħassāniyya/Mauretania, Piamenta (1990) for Yemen as well as Behnstedt (1992–2006), Qafīšeh (1997) for the Gulf area, Al- Al-Ħanafī (1964) for Kuwait, Jullien de Pommerol (1999) and Roth-Laly (1969–72) for Chad, Holes (2001) for Baħrayn, as well as Arnold (1984), Qāsim (2002) for Sudan, Elihay (2004) for Palestinian, Kurpershoek (2005) for Saudi Arabia/Dawāsir, Beaussier et al. (2006, dating as far back as to 1871) for Algeria, and Chaker and Milelli (2010) for Lebanese. The older dictionaries should be seen as valuable historical documents rather than reflecting modern language. Still useful, albeit somewhat outdated today, are the dictionaries of the Georgetown series: Stowasser and Ani (1964) for Syria, Woodhead and Beene ([1967] 2003) for Iraq, and Harrell (1966) for Morocco. J. Lentin and Cl. Salamé are carrying out a major project, a comprehensive documentation of Syrian Arabic vocabulary, the [B] having recently appeared as a first letter.10 More to the category “word list” belong Vocke and Waldner (1982) on Anatolia and Jastrow (2005) on Kinderib/Anatolia.

Many text editions, in particular those on Maghrebi dialects, were followed by glossaries with very useful comparative and etymological annotations. Particularly noteworthy examples are, for instance, the monumental Takroûna/Tunisia glossary by Marçais and Guîga (1958–1961) with nearly 4000 pages, Marçais (1911) on Tanger, Brunot (1952) on Rabat/Morocco, and Boris (1958) on Marāzīg/Tunis, which all contain a host of comparative lexical notes as well. For the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula Landberg’s monumental documentations on Ħaḍramawt (1901) and Daṯīna (1905–1913) are today, more than 100 years after their publication, still indispensable.

(p. 312) There are only few dictionaries with Arabic as target language. Among these are the bidirectional ones: Sobelman and Harrell (1963) for Moroccan, Clarity et al. (1964/2003) for Iraqi, and Stowasser and Ani (1964) for Syrian; as part of the Georgetown series these have the advantage of providing rather systematically example sentences illustrating the use of the item listed. Others, mainly intended for practical usage, are Stevens and Salib (2004) and Jomier (1976) for Cairo, Bauer (1957) and Elihai (1985) for Palestinian Arabic, Hillelson (1925) for Sudan, Cohen (1963), Taine-Cheikh (1990) for Ħassāniyya, and Aguadé and Benyahya (2005) for Morocco. For Maltese see Moser (2005), a rather comprehensive Maltese–German and German–Maltese dictionary.

13.4.6 Lexical Studies

The study of etymology and the foreign vocabulary in the dialects has always been a favorite topic for dialectologists and Arab philologists alike. From earlier times we may adduce the still very useful studies by Vollers (1896, 1897) on Egyptian, Almkvist (1891, 1925) on Levantine, and to a certain extent Landberg (1901, 1905–1913), all of which contain rich comparative annotations to other dialects that were already described at that time. Borg (2004) offers an important analysis of the lexicon of the Arabic of Kormakiti/Cyprus with copious references to other Arabic dialects. See further Prokosch (1983) for Turkish loans in Egyptian, and Reinkowski (1998) in Baghdad. Kotb (2002) gives a detailed account on Egyptian somatisms—that is, idioms formed with the names of body parts.

Special mention should be made of quite a few works of this kind authored by Arab scholars, in the first instance A. Taymūr (1978–2001) on Egyptian, Frayħa (1947), Abū Saʕd (1987) on Lebanese, and ʕAbd ar-Raħīm (2003) on Syrian Arabic.

Since the existence of the internet, one may also try one’s dialectological luck in this medium. There are many sites, from Saudi Arabia, Ħaḍramawt, Libya, Jordan, and elsewhere, that proudly announce lexical pecularities of remote regions. The researcher is faced with some problems here: (1) the use of the Arabic script, normally not or insufficiently voweled, makes it difficult to discern the correct pronunciation; (2) uncertain origin, copying original sources without references is not uncommon, (3) as these notes are directed from insiders to insiders, the semantic content is often insufficiently described by just giving a MSA equivalent. Checking the validity of this kind of information is thus difficult, and it should thus be handled with prudence.

13.4.7 Text Collections

It is a well-established tradition of Arabic dialectologists to document their research not only by means of grammars and dictionaries but also by samples of transcribed texts. Text collecting plays a prominent role in their activities from the very beginning, to the extent that (p. 313) Cantineau in the conclusion to his 1955 article wrote: “on est frappé par la disproportion des résultats: trop de textes, pas assez de grammaires et de dictionnaires” (1960:277). His remark is quite to the point, and even more so after speech recording became possible from the sixties onward. Most grammars, regional overviews, and atlases are furnished with texts or accompanied by text volumes, see for instance Peter Behnstedt’s works on Syria (1997–2000), and Otto Jastrow’s on qǝltu-dialects (1978–1981). They serve not only a documentary purpose, but are also meant to serve studying the dialect and practicing it. Initially, the interest focused on folklore and popular culture (fairy tales, folk poetry), and paremiology (proverbs), maybe due to the fact that recording speech was not possible yet. The texts had to be noted down by dictation, which means that they had to be present in the memory of the informants, so that they could be repeated if necessary. And as story telling played an important role in rural life of that time, this was a relatively simple way to get people to speak. In order to avoid the highly formulaic language associated with fairy tales and folk poetry, this focus turned to ethnographical issues and oral history in the course of time. Today, these collections offer a wealth of information on urban and rural life in earlier times and are therefore of prime importance not only for the dialectologist but for the ethnographer and folklorist as well. For the dialectologist, the problem with these records is that speakers tend to use here an acrolectal type of speech which remains rather descriptive and often features stereotype phrases and does not reflect everyday unmonitored speech, or as Cantineau puts it: “dans le texte, rarement spontané, il y a autant de celui qui le recueille que de celui qui le dicte” (1960:277). Therefore, despite the fact that they offer much useful lexical information, texts of this sort are of less value with respect to syntax, phraseology and pragmatics. Well aware of these deficiencies, dialectologists today prefer to record more personal accounts, life stories, jokes and similar texts, or in any case a good mix of various types of text in order to provide more space to the speaker for elaborate syntactic constructions, everyday phraseology, rhetorical devices, as is described exemplarily in the introduction to Holes (2005:xviii–xxi). Of course, the observer’s paradox ‘to monitor unmonitored speech’ can never be avoided totally. For linguistic purposes, recorded texts should never be “edited” or “improved” by the transcriber but presented with all the deficiencies of natural speech, for example the Algerian texts given in Bergman (2006), which consciously display the characteristic interferences from French.

There are large collections of texts available, both from earlier and modern times. To mention a few: Spitta (1883) Egyptian, Marçais (1911) Tanger, Rhodokanakis (1908, 1911) Ḏofār, Schmidt and Kahle (1918–1930) Bīr Zēt in Palestine, Marçais and Guîga (1925) Takroûna in Tunisia, Hillelson (1935) Sudan, Destaing (1937) Šluħ`s of the Sous (Morocco), Jastrow (1978–1981) Anatolia and North Iraq, Behnstedt and Woidich (1985–1999) Egypt, Stewart (1988–1990) Sinai, Mansour (1991) Jewish Baghdadi, Palva (1991) al-Balqā’/Jordan, Behnstedt (1997–2000) Syria, Jastrow (2003) Kinderib in Anatolia, Luffin (2004) Kinubi of Mombasa, Bettini (2006) Syrian Ǧazīra and Ritt-Benmimoun (2011) on southern Tunisian. Text publications as articles in journals and Festschriften run into the hundreds, and for many (p. 314) localities our data come from publications of this kind. Arab scholars, too, are interested in folkloristic issues and published quite a number of collections of folk songs and suchlike.

Paremiology is represented in copious collections of proverbs such as the classical ones by Freyha (1974) on Lebanon, Westermarck (1930) on Morocco, Burckhardt (1830, repr.1972) and Taymūr (1970) on Egypt, Goitein (1970) on Yemen, Mahgoub (1968) for Egypt with a linguistic analysis, Nataf and Graille (2002) for Libya, and El Attar (1992) and Lemghūrī (2008) for Morocco. Again, following classical tradition, collecting colloquial proverbs was an activity which attracted Arab scholars as well. In addition, there are numerous collections by amateurs available on the market. Unfortunately, in many of these collections the proverbs are not given in transliteration but in Arabic script, a fact which together with their syntactical and lexical pecularities makes them unsuitable for many linguistic purposes. As for audio texts, the “Semitisches Tonarchiv” [SemArch] of the University of Heidelberg ( offers a number of recordings together with their transcriptions, which unfortunately cover only a small part of the Arab world. Despite its great success and undisputed benefits, the SemArch seems to have stopped its activities a number of years ago for financial reasons. It is hoped that the new Project “EALL online” (J. Brill/Leiden) will be able to undertake similar activities in the nearby future.

13.4.8 Textbooks

Arabic dialectologists have always displayed a pedagogical interest, which is evident from quite a number of text books and language handbooks designed for tourists, business people, administrative or military staff, and the like. In fact, writing colloquial grammars started this way with Dombay (1800), Savary (1813) and Caussin de Perceval (1833). Well-known scholars such as K. Vollers, C.A. Nallino, C. Ferguson, T.F. Mitchell, and interested laymen published to serve this purpose. This tradition has continued, and in recent years Otto Jastrow’s series “Semitica Viva” opened a specialized branch entitled “Series Didactica” with Watson (1996) as a first textbook for Ṣanʕāni Arabic. Despite the fact that didactical publications are not recognized by the academic administrations as real “scientific” work, quite a few contemporary scholars developed activities in this field, cf. Holes (1984), Woidich and Heinen-Nasr (2004), Bergman (2002). The reason for this pedagogical interest lies in the particular linguistic situation of the Arab world which creates a specific need for this kind of resources. It was, and still is, quite useful for a non-Arab traveler or resident, to learn the local dialect or “real Arabic” of a country he wants to visit or stay in, a language that would be useful in daily life, more so than Standard Arabic which Arabs themselves have to learn at school and which can be handled properly only by a limited number of well-educated, highly motivated and trained persons. By speaking a dialect of one of the major cities of the Levant (Beirut, Jerusalem, Damascus), for instance, one can make oneself understood in the whole region, Iraqi (Baghdad) will be helpful in Gulf area and Saudi Arabia; due to the omnipresence of Egyptians, Egyptian (p. 315) Arabic (Cairo) is well understood all over the Arab world, certainly in the East, but to some extent in the West as well. Since serious dialectological studies begin at the university, textbooks on an appropriate level should be written, examples are Ambros (1998) for Maltese, Woidich and Heinen-Nasr (2004) for Cairene, and Watson (1996) for Ṣanʕāni.

13.4.9 Historical Evidence

For the now long extinct dialects of Andalusia we can rely on the comprehensive works of Corriente (1977, 1997), of Sicily on Agius (1996) and Lentin (2006–2007). In general, historical evidence for a deliberate use of the colloquial in writing, which would allow more insight into earlier stages of the dialects, is scarce. Nevertheless, there are some texts, mostly poetry (see for instance Kallas 2007 for Aleppo. Two important texts on Egyptian Arabic of the 17th century are published and linguistically analyzed by Davies (1981, 2005) (aš-Širbīnī), and Zack (2008) (al-Maghribī) [Holes, “Orality”].

Vrolijk (1998) on Ibn Sūdūn goes back even further to the middle of the 15th century, while Drozdík (1972) and Woidich (1995) deal with sources from the middle of the 19th century. Significant features of modern Egyptian Arabic are present in the 15th and 17th century, see Woidich and Zack (2009). On Levantine Arabic in the 17th century see Zwartjes and Woidich (2011).

13.5 Interpretation of the Data

Collecting, describing and editing the data of individual dialects for the use of the historical linguist is one side of the coin, the other one is to bring order into the apparent diversity and to cluster the dialects into groups and determine their interrelations. This has to be done by forming either a linguistic hierarchy based on linguistic variables or other ones based on extra-linguistic facts.

13.5.1 Linguistic Classification and Dialect Geography

As to the linguistic classification, we have to realize here that there are no generally accepted linguistic variables which would serve for a linguistic classification of the Arabic dialects as a whole, and at the same time would say something meaningful when projected onto a map showing their distribution.11 For geographic reasons with deserts and large uninhabited areas, but above all, for a history of continuous movement and settlement of the populations, and (p. 316) their mutual influence by contacts, single ‘macro-discriminants’ such as the reflexes of *q or the existence of interdentals present themselves in a rather scattered way when projected on the dialectological map of the Arab world, as a glance at the maps in Taine-Cheikh (1998–1999) shows. Nevertheless, using linguistic variables in this way as discriminants is possible, it seems, on a lower level for smaller regions. For instance, when we talk about bukṛa- versus bukaṛa-dialects12 in Middle Egypt (Behnstedt 1979), or about k- versus t-dialects13 in Jemen (Behnstedt 1985 map 169 at 226).14 The ‘macro-discriminants’ q/ʔ and g/ǧ in the Egyptian context of the Nile Delta give a rather clear figure on the map, the Cairo-Damiette corridor (see maps 69 and 70 in Behnstedt and Woidich 2005).

Linguistic variables, thus, are adopted in traditional dialect geography by projecting a number of selected features on maps by means of symbols and the subsequent drawing of isoglosses in order to delineate the areas where these features prevail. When all isoglosses are compiled on one map, these—ideally—form bundles, which are then interpreted as borderlines between different dialect areas, each of them with a core area and a more or less extended transitional area in between depending on the nature of the bundles (see maps 554–559 in Behnstedt and Woidich 1985 for Egypt). The problem of whether some isoglosses/variables should be given more weight than others in this procedure is still unsolved in theory, and the researchers follow their own intuitions. Similar methods have been applied in the regional atlases mentioned earlier, as aptly described in the introduction to Palva (2006). The features represented in the bundles of isoglosses can be used for the classification of the dialects and be combined with appropriate extralinguistic features, see Woidich (1996) for Egypt.

As a further methodological development in the classification of dialects the ‘step-method’ introduces a statistical approach. Neighboring dialects are compared against a set number of variables, all of them considered of the same weight. The number of differences between the two dialects compared is then expressed as a percentage of the total number of the variables. If the percentage is (relatively) low, the dialects belong to the same typological group and, conversely, if it is (relatively) high, they belong to different groups. The method was successfully applied to illustrate the continuum (p. 317) of dialects spoken on the northern Sinai littoral, i.e., from a Northwestern Bedouin Arabic dialect type to a largely sedentary (rural) dialect type spoken in the eastern Šarqiyya province of the Nile Delta in Egypt (or vice versa) (see De Jong 2000, 2011).

Another recent and promising way to establish and visualize the subgroups and their interrelations (distance, closeness) is provided by dialectometry, which compares all the data recorded for an area, not only an arbitrary choice according to the predilections of the researcher, by means of more refined statistical methods. As a purely quantitative approach, dialectometry gives all variables the same weight and importance, which makes it more independent of the intuitions of the researcher. It has not yet been applied to Arabic dialects on a larger scale except for a small region, the oases in the Western desert of Egyptian, see Behnstedt and Woidich (2005, Chapter 11).15 This first attempt corroborates the findings of the isogloss method, showing that the dialects of the two oases at the extremes (Baħariyya, Kharga) share more variables with standard Cairene than the two others (Farafra, Dakhla) situated farther away from the Nile valley in terms of traveling distance.

For a more detailed discussion of these approaches, see Behnstedt and Woidich (2005), Behnstedt (2006:586).

13.5.2 Traditional Classifications

There is no traditional classification of the Arabic dialects based only on linguistic features, as all rely heavily on extralinguistic, i.e., geographical, social, sectarian, and historical, facts, which are then related to certain linguistic features. Geography

All surveys and state-of-the-art reports in their classifications of present-day Arabic dialects rely on geography. This means that the dialects are listed and described mainly within the framework of larger geographical entities such as the Levant, Mesopotamia and Gulf area, Arab Peninsula with Yemen and Oman, Egypt with Sudan and sub-Sahara, North Africa and Mauretania (Fischer and Jastrow 1980, Taine-Cheikh 1998, Corriente and Vicentes 2008, Watson 2011, Versteegh 2011b, etc.), to which the ‘islands’ Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Anatolia, and Cyprus are added. Maltese, as a fully ‘ausgebaute’ written language is sometimes considered an independent language (Kaye and Rosenhouse 1997).

More or less uncontroversial is the subdivison in Western/North African and Eastern dialects with the border running between Egypt and Libya (but see Owens 2003). The linguistic variable most commonly adduced with respect to this dichotomy concerns the paradigmatic leveling which occurred in the imperfect: eastern a-ktib/n-iktib versus western n-iktib/n-iktib-u “I write” – “we write.” But this single feature is far from being (p. 318) conclusive if we want to assign a given dialect to one of these two groups, since there are dialects in Egypt at the Western part of the Delta and in Upper Egypt that have this Western conjugation but in other respects (stress, syllable structure) clearly belong to the Egyptian (i.e., Eastern) phylum.16 The Sudanic area, too, is problematic here since the Western type is the norm in Chad, but not in Nigeria or in most of the Sudan. The question as to whether the oases of the Egyptian Western desert should be seen as Western or Eastern (Egyptian) Arabic was answered differently in Woidich (1993) and Behnstedt (1998), the first being in favor of Egypt, the second in favor of the Maghreb.17 History

As a variant of the geographic approach, but involving a historical fact as well (i.e., the Arabic expansion starting in the 7th century), can be seen the subdivision of the Arab linguistic world in three zones introduced by Jastrow (2002:348). The Arab Peninsula, from where the Arabic expansion started, is considered Zone I, all the territories (Levant, Irak, Egypt, North Africa, parts of Iran) arabicized due to this expansion are Zone II, and the remaining “Sprachinseln” (Anatolia, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Cyprus, Malta, sub-Saharan Africa) surrounded today by other languages as Zone III. Watson (2011) adopts this view, but excludes the southern regions of the peninsula from Zone I, once the stronghold of South Arabic tongues. It is Zone I where we find, according to Jastrow (loc. cit.), the most archaic dialects today. The question remains, What “archaic” exactly mean; how is this defined? See the discussion of alledgedly archaic features in Retsö (2003:116) and Edzard (1998:142). Zone II “could be called colonial Arabic” with dialects characterized by their innovative features. This is against all experience with other languages forming colonial areas such as English and Spanish. The dialects spoken in the former colonies of North America and, respectively, South America are quite homogeneous compared to the respective homelands, a generally recognized fact in dialect geography. Why then the apparent diversity in Arabic “colonial” regions? Can it be only attributed to population movement and contact (Watson 2011), or did it exist before the expansion (Retsö 2000, Owens 2006a, [Retsö, “Arabic?”])? The criterion “history” no longer works for Zone III, the language islands, the reason for (p. 319) their being lumped together in a group is the fact that they are surrounded by other languages and separated from zones II and III.

In a similar vein, Owens (2006a) discusses what he calls pre-diaspora Arabic, i.e., Arabic before the conquests “at a time and a place when the ancestral populations were still together” (Owens 2006a:3, [Owens, “History”]), which in one interpretation would correspond to Zone I of Jastrow`s approach. As a “convenient fiction,” he takes Sībawayhi`s approximate date of death (790 CE) as the endpoint of “pre-diaspora” Arabic, thus taking roughly the first 150 years of “diaspora” as “pre-diaspora.” Relating linguistic features reconstructed by means of comparative methods from the modern dialects to this pre-diaspora Arabic, which ended around 790, seems as arbitrary to us as attributing features to the Neo-Arabic language type or not.

Neither of these two approaches is convincing for the linguistic subgrouping, because they cannot be related to linguistic variables which would justify them. Social/Lifestyle: Sedentary vs. Nomadic, Urban vs. Rural

The division of Arabic dialects into sedentary ones and Bedouin was referred to in Marçais (1938) to explain the arabization of North Africa. Bedouin are, because of their nomadic lifestyle, considered a group distinct from sedentary people, and since many of their dialects show certain features such as a /g/-reflex of *q, interdental consonants, and feminine forms in the plural, these are considered Bedouin features. This may have been true in the past–the distinction between sedentary and Bedouin speakers with a voiced /g/-reflex of *q is already described by Ibn Sīna in the 11th and Ibn Xaldūn in the 14th centuries (Blanc 1964:29)–but it would be erroneous to reverse the argument and consider all /g/-speakers Bedouin, let alone nomads.18 Nor can these “Bedouin” features be found with all Bedouin, as in the Sahel region, for instance, interdental consonants have been replaced by dentals (Blanc 1971, Taine-Cheikh 1998, Rosenhouse 2011). So “Bedouin” today is more of a convenient label for a bundle of features and tells us nothing about the present-day lifestyle of the speakers.

The same is true for the distinction urban versus rural, which often is related to certain variables, the unvoiced pronunciation of the reflexes of *q, for instance, is considered urban in certain regions (Levant, Morocco). Nevertheless, many villagers today speak urban dialects with a glottal stop, due to the spread of urban speech around the urban centers (Cairo, Damascus) and along trade routes, like in North Africa (Marçais 1938, Singer 1994) between the larger cities and the harbors associated with them. On the other hand, there are numerous cities, the dialects of which show so-called Bedouin features such as the voiced pronunciation of reflexes of *q (Baghdad, Tripoli, (p. 320) Khartoum, Mecca). The distinction thus says nothing about the whole Arab world, and is applicable for smaller regions, Syria, for instance, only. On a synchronic level, there is no “urban dialect” delineable by discrete features, each city or town having its own characteristics. It all depends on the history of settlement and migration, the Muslims of Baghdad, for instance, speak their “Bedouin” dialect because they originate from the countryside who repopulated Baghdad in the Ottoman era (Blanc 1964, Holes 2008, [Retsö, “Arabic?”]). Sectarian: Muslim–Christian–Jewish, Sunnī–Šīʕī, Muslim–Christian, Muslim–Jewish

The linguistic situation in Baghdad is a relevant and often cited example of sectarian differentiation, or “communal dialects,” although the situation today no longer exists: the three different religious communities, Muslims, Jews, and Christians used to speak different dialects. Again, this differentiation harks back to the history of settlement: Muslims originate from the Bedouin population in southern Iraq (from the 17th century CE), whereas Christians have their origins in different cities in northern-Iraq (Blanc 1964, Abu-Haidar 1991, Mansour 1991). Due to migration to Israel, the number of communal dialects has been reduced to two.

Another well-documented situation (Holes 1983, 1987) exists in Baħrayn where the Šīʕī community speaks a dialect different from their Sunnī compatriots. The Šīʕī dialect is related to sedentary or semi-nomadic dialects spoken “in an area which extends around the periphery of Arabia proper from Yemen to Oman to lower Mesopotamia” (Holes 1983:8), whereas the Sunnī dialect corresponds the nomadic type common in the Najd. Again this situation goes back to population movement as the Bedouin tribes arrived there from the Najd in 1782–1783 only (Holes 2001:xxvvii).

For the city of Aleppo see Behnstedt (1989), where Christians use other dialects than the Muslims, cf. Behnstedt and Woidich (2005). Behnstedt (1998–99) reports on the rather complicated situation on the island of Djerba/Tunisia with at least three different communal dialects: Muslim, Ibadi and Jewish, and even Berber in some villages.

In general, Jewish communities used and still use Arabic dialects deviating from the Muslim varieties. This is in particular so in the Maghrib (Stillman 1988, Heath 2002 for Morocco, Cohen 1912 for Algiers, Cohen 1975 for Tunis, Yoda 2005 for Tripoli/Libya; see further for Cairo Blanc 1981 and Rosenbaum 2003, and for Iraq Jastrow 1990a, 1990b, Mansour 1991).

13.6 Prospects for Future

Despite a great deal of progress that has been made and a constant flow of new data over the last fifty years, the coverage of the Arabic-speaking area is still thin in comparison to what we are accustomed to in the dialectological studies of European countries. Talking about “a relative surfeit of information […] on modern dialects” (Owens (p. 321) 2005:274) is far from reality. Egypt, for instance, a country which has been, in comparison to others, researched quite well over the last decades, still needs closer study in such key areas as Upper Egypt and the Western oases. On the core of the Arab world, the Arabian Peninsula, in particular its northwestern area Ħiǧāz, its southern parts ʕAsīr, Ħaḍramawt, ʕUmān we have only very limited knowledge. And the same is true for the Sudan and the sub-Saharan areas, for Libya, parts of Algeria, let alone the “Sprachinseln” such as those in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. All these areas still need much fieldwork.

Another important point here concerns the validity of data we find in publications from earlier times, often the only ones we have, before dialectology became a more professionalized discipline. A considerable number of these we owe to the efforts of single individuals only, sometimes not even a trained linguist or arabisant. We cannot be sure that these are free from errors. Redoing fieldwork in places from where we have some older information is not a superfluous task for the future.

Systematic research is best done in the framework of projects aiming at drawing linguistic atlases. These should not be limited to Arabic-speaking regions but should also include other languages spoken in the areas under study. To give an example, in Morocco it is highly advisable to extend the research to Berber-speaking areas because of the mutual interferences of the two languages [Kossmann, “Borrowing”]. There are some activities concerning atlases (Israel/Palestine, Tunisia, Morocco), but many more areas have until this day remained un- or underresearched (Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan). The reasons for this may be seen in facts such as geographical conditions, security problems, and the negative attitude and lack of understanding toward dialect studies prevailing in most Arab countries, which prevents many native Arab scholars from pursuing academic activities in this field. In this respect much more explanatory work could be done in order to involve these academics in serious fieldwork in their home countries. Otherwise it is to be feared that atlases for Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, etc., comparable to Behnstedt and Woidich (1985) and Behnstedt (1999) will never see the light of day. Moreover, atlases should not be confined to regions or states but should cover the Arabic-speaking world as a whole and collect all the data gathered so far, in order to provide us with a means to detect and visualize the migratory processes so important for the understanding of “the history of the linguistic contacts of speakers of varieties of Arabic” (Versteegh 2011b:549). The recent “Wortatlas der arabischen Dialekte” (Behnstedt and Woidich 2011, 2012) can only be seen as first step in this direction. Regional atlases should, besides the linguistic data, collect and document as much information as possible about the histories of movement and settlement of the population. To a much larger extent than in the European situation, linguistic features were transported by the speakers themselves through physical migration, to mention only the second arabization of North Africa by the migration of the Banī Hilāl, in addition to diffusion through contact.19 The distributions of many features, therefore, show highly irregular geographical patterns.

(p. 322) A prerequisite for future fieldwork is a generally acknowledged, but also regularly updated, questionnaire to avoid the idiosyncracies and predilections of the individual fieldworker, to make the incoming data better comparable and to ensure an evenly distributed set of data without surprising and unwanted lacunae.20 This questionnaire should not only reflect the traditionally recognized variables of phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon but also—at least to some extent—take account of issues relevant in the current linguistic discourse. As a methodological step forward, newer quantitative approaches such as those developed in dialectometry should be applied to the data given in these atlases in order to arrive at more objective classifications, being less dependent on the personal views of the individual researchers.

As to comprehensive descriptive grammars, there are major cities in the Arab world—Beirut, Mosul, Omdurman, Aden, Masqat, Oran, Constantine may serve as examples—of which the dialects have not been sufficiently described so far, let alone those of rural areas and of many Bedouin tribes which are still partially or entirely undocumented. What we have at our disposal is very sketchy in most cases, as only the basic facts of phonology and morphology are described. Although syntax is still being treated like an orphan in many a grammar there are interesting projects now being carried out, see for instance Isaksson (2009) on circumstantial qualifiers.

The same can be said about lexical documentation. There are lots of word lists and glossaries, some of them quite voluminous, which are limited to listing a number of lexemes, in some manner deviating in form or content from mainstream Arabic and which more or less by chance appear in a text or were recorded by the researcher. Here much systematic work is waiting for engaged lexicographers who should try to cover the entire lexicon of a dialect, combining this with in-depth semantic analysis which includes phraseology and pragmatics.21 For regions such as Tunisia, Libya, Oman, and the Arabian Peninsula in general there are no substantial dictionaries available. In other cases, such as the Levant, Iraq, and Algeria, we have reasonable dictionaries, but these are sometimes outdated and need to be replaced or updated. An important point here is the desperate lack of bidirectional dictionaries, which can make the search for an appropriate expression for a given concept a tedious task. With the possibilities of modern data bases and the computer, developing glossaries and dictionaries in both directions does not seem an unreasonable request [Buckwalter and Parkinson, “Modern Lexicography”]. These modern facilities make us think of a step further: as there is already a large amount of vocabulary available in the literature, all this could be collected in one large data base. Such a resource not only would be very helpful for dialectology itself but could also serve a general philological interest as already stated by (p. 323) Spitaler (1961:135/226): a “Sammelwörterbuch würde … der weiteren Erforschung des Mittelarabischen die größten Dienste leisten”.

As was pointed out previously, documentation for Arabic dialects abounds in publications of text collections, which could be used far more efficiently if presented in digitalized form. This means not only the fact that they should be accessible by means of a computer but that they should be prepared in the necessary way according to a standard tagging protocol to make them fully operable for statistical approaches as developed in corpus linguistics. Such a corpus containing all relevant texts from all regions covered so far would be an invaluable resource for detailed syntactic and phraseological studies, two underdeveloped fields in Arabic dialectology, and particularly helpful for comparative and classificational purposes.22 There are individual dialectologists who apply these research methods already (cf. Isaksson 2004, Persson 2008, and 2009). More generally speaking, syntactic and semantic research should take the typological and functional frameworks as developed in general linguistics more into account, in order to take part in the contemporary linguistic discussion. The Arabic language in general, and Arabic dialects in particular, has much to contribute here, but has remained rather underrepresented so far in the scientific discourse.

These last points, if realized, would contradict Jean Cantineaus’s dictum “la dialectologie arabe n’est guère progressiste; les nouvelles techniques de recherche ont du mal à s’y acclimater” quoted above. No doubt, this would be a tremendous task which can only be fulfilled within the framework of full-fledged international cooperation, together with the aṣħāb al-luġa themselves.


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(2) If we consider any variety of a language a dialect, Modern Written Arabic and Classical Arabic are dialects of Arabic as well and should be treated as such. Nevertheless, Arabic dialectology is concerned only with those dialects of Arabic that have native speakers.

(3) These are treated separately in this volume, see chapters xxx, yyy, zzz.

(4) It goes without saying that in this short article not all important publications can be quoted.

(5) For more details see the chapter “Die arabischen Sprachatlanten” in Behnstedt-Woidich (2005:4–7).

(6) See further a number of articles in the proceedings of AIDA 6 (Mejri 2006).

(7) For a sharp refutation, see Sima (2006:98) and Owens (2006:9).

(8) For further titles, we refer here to the relevant articles in EALL.

(9) Cf. the introduction to Brustad (2000:2–4).

(11) This is common for dialects of European languages, like in German, where the variables maken–machen, ik–ich, dat–dass, appel–Apfel (i.e., the stops developing to affricates) separate Northern and Southern varieties rather neatly. Within the German context these variables correspond to continuous isoglosses on the map, and form the famous “Rhenish fan” (map 30 in Niebaum and Macha 2006:107, see also Goossens 1977).

(12) I.e., insertion of a vowel preceding /r/ in a cluster -vCr(v).

(13) According to the initial consonant of the morphemes of the first and second perfect (e.g., katab-t ~ katab-k “I wrote.”).

(14) Bailey (1980) uses implicational scales for a classification of Ancient Greek dialects. This has not been done for Arabic dialects yet. One possible implication would be, for instance, *q>g ⊃ *g>ǧ/ž, i.e., dialects with a voiced reflex of *q will have an affricated/sibilant reflex of *g. To the best of our knowledge, no dialect has yet been found that falsifies this implication. The Alexandria example found in the texts published in Behnstedt (1980) seems more a case of dialect mixing and a fact of “parole,” not of “langue.” The reverse of this implication, *g>ǧ/ž ⊃ *q>g, can easily be falsified, since there are several dialects with/ǧ/ž/ and /q/, for instance, the oasis Farafra in Egypt. Taine-Cheickh (1998:15) points out another implication: dialects with /ʔ/ (glottal stop) for *q will have replaced the interdentals with dentals, that is, *q>ʔ/ ⊃ ṯ>t in, for instance, /*ṯalāṯa/ “three.” There has been no systematic research done so far on implications of this type. Holes (1987), in fact, uses implicational scales for sociolinguistic variables in his study on Baħrayn.

(15) Whether dialectrometry can ever be applied to the entire of Arab world is doubtful in view of the density of data and the proximity of the research points it needs.

(16) This division does not mean, as Owens (2003) apparently assumes, that dialectologists suggest that this paradigmatic leveling developed in North Africa. What is said is that this feature was reimported to Egypt by tribes migrating back to the East. It developed much earlier, maybe not even in Egypt, but on the Arabian Peninsula in “pre-diaspora” times, see note 17.

(17) A paradigm of the present tense with the same synchronic structure—that is, one single morpheme for the first person (I, we) and one for the plural—can be found farther to the East in the contemporary North West Aramaic language of Maʕlūla in Syria (Arnold 1990:74ff). There it is the natural outcome of the development of a new paradigm from participles, not a case of paradigmatic leveling as in Arabic. As to the older variety of Galilean Aramaic (Lipiński 2001:382), only the first person singular receives a n-prefix and Dalman considers this a “Plural der Selbstermunterung” (Dalman 1905:213). Similar paradigms, though due to different provenance, are thus attested for other Semitic languages. For the discussion of this historical development in Arabic, see Owens (2003), who places its origin in Egypt, and Corriente (2011), who argues for its origin in Yemen.

(18) H. Blanc’s (1964:28) statement (based on Cantineau 1939): “The present-day [my emphasis, M.W.] distribution of reflexes of OA /q/ throughout the Arabic-speaking world presents a striking dichotomy: most sedentary populations have a voiceless reflex and all non-sedentary populations a voiced reflex” can today only be considered true for its second part. There are numerous regions in the present-day Arab world, for example, the whole of Upper Egypt, large parts of the Nile Delta, Sudan, with a sedentary population speaking voiced /g/, and not a voiceless reflex of *q, due to the settlement of and mixing with Bedouin over the course of history.

(19) For some conspicuous examples see Behnstedt and Woidich (2005).

(20) An example for Maghrebi dialects is Caubet (2002).

(21) It is strange that old dictionaries, grammars, and textbooks, some of them dating back to the 19th century, are recycled by publishing houses instead of producing up-to-date publications based on fresh and recent research. Only recently (June 2011), Vollers and Burkitt (1895), which is based on the German version by Vollers from 1890, was reedited and offered as a textbook for Egyptian Arabic. No doubt, this was an excellent short book in its time, but it is 120 years later—both life and research have progressed.

(22) A first step in this direction will be taken within the framework of a project “Idiomaticity, lexical realignment, and semantic change in spoken Arabic” which started recently at the University of Bayreuth (Jonathan Owens, Manfred Woidich).