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Arabic Linguistic Diversity


Admission requirements

Grammatica Arabisch 3, Teksten Arabisch 1 en 2, Conversatie Arabisch 1


This course explores the linguistic diversity of Arabic in three parts: linguistic history, intellectual history, and social history. The first part (linguistic history) will review the general methods of historical linguistics and language classification. We will then examine a representative sample of Arabic, ranging from pre-Islamic texts to the modern spoken dialects. Students will be exposed to the staggering diversity of the modern Arabic dialects, from the well-known idioms of the major urban centers like Cairo and Damascus to the relic dialects of Cyprus, Anatolia, and Uzbekistan. This section will conclude with a discussion on what proto-Arabic, the common ancestor of all forms of Arabic, might have looked like.

The second part (intellectual history) explores the linguistic diversity of Arabic through the lens of the medieval Arab grammarians. We will discuss the goals and biases of this tradition and how it bears on our understanding of the linguistic diversity of Arabic on the eve of the Islamic conquests. In light of this discussion, we will survey the language(s) documented by the Arabic grammatical tradition and how they compare to pre-Islamic documentary sources and the modern dialects.

The third part (social history) will examine the transformation of Arabic following the Islamic conquests. This period saw the rapid Arabization of the conquered people of the Middle East and North Africa. We will investigate the various language ideologies that developed during this period, including development of different registers of the language, including Middle Arabic.

The course concludes with a review of the modern theories on the development of Arabic in light of the data and methods covered throughout the semester.

Course objectives

Data and sources: Students will gain a basic understanding of the Semitic phylum and Arabic’s place within it. They will also become familiar with the diverse types of Arabic, spoken in the past and today. Students will also acquire a basic understanding of the goals and methods of the Arabic grammatical tradition.

Theory and methods: Students will study the theory and methods of historical linguistics and theories of language classification. They will also be able to follow and critically evaluate linguistic arguments.



Mode of instruction

Seminar, attendance is mandatory.

Course load

140 hours:

  • Seminar: 2 contact hours per week = 13×2: 26 hours

  • Reading: 4.5 hours reading for ca. 12 classes: 54 hours

  • 9 home assignments, 9x ca. 3 hours: 27 hours

  • Preparing the presentation: 5 hours

  • Preparation of each term paper: 2×14 hours: 28 hours

Assessment method

  1. Problem Sets. After each lecture, students will be assigned a problem set to complete at home (20%). These are due at the beginning of the following lecture
    1. Mid-term paper. Students will reconstruct the phonological development of a dialect of Arabic of their choice in Neogrammarian terms (30%).
    2. Final paper. Students will compare and contrast two theories on the development of Arabic (40%, 12-15 pages).
    3. Participation and attendance (10%).

The final mark is composed of 1, 2, 3 and 4.
The papers are written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version.

Midterm paper
First version: Monday 6 October 2014.
Final version: Monday 3 November 2014

Final paper
First version: Monday 1 December 2014
Final version: Monday 12 January 2015

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an an overall mark of “6” or higher.

The course is an integrated whole and must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Yes, see Blackboard&

Reading list

Will be given through Blackboard

Contact information

Dhr Dr. A.M. Al-Jallad



Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).