SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics

Introduction to Arabic Linguistics

Module Code:
Unit value:
0.5 units
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3


Either General Linguistics 152900069 and/or Arabic 1 155900896

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This course will introduce students to the aspects of Arabic that are of particular interest to linguists, and to some extent to Arabists who focus on the linguistic aspects of the language.

We start with diachronic and synchronic context, that is, historical development, dialect classification and function (‘levels’ of use and the notion of ‘diglossia’). The major part of the course will focus on the formal structure of Arabic, i.e. morpho-phonology and syntax. We will use Standard Arabic as a core, but look at dialect variation where relevant and appropriate.

By the end of the course, students should have a basic understanding of what we mean by ‘Arabic’, both as a language and as a language system, and they should have a good grasp of some of the major topics of interest to linguists who work on Arabic.

They should have read some of the important introductory texts and be in a position to be able to read some of the primary literature (where this is not too theoretically advanced). They should be able to analyse the formal structures of the language and have the knowledge and confidence to discuss this both orally and in writing.

Scope and syllabus

Course outline:
  • The development of the Arabic language (from Afro-Asiatic and Semitic to the modern Arabic dialects and their classification)
  • Dialectology
  • Functions (levels or registers vs diglossia)
  • Morphology (root-template / non-concatenative): verbal (measures) and nominal (including the case system); Classical and Standard vs dialects
  • Phonology: the consonantal system; dialect variation and isophones; the vowel system; segmental phenomena (vowel-zero alternations and consonant clustering, including the g(a)háwa syndrome) and assimilation; imāla and tafkhīm (‘fronting’ and ‘emphasis’)
  • Syntax: the notion of ‘governance’ in the Arabic linguistic tradition; word order (S and V order and agreement, and pro-drop); question formation (and agreement); word order typology; mubtada’ and khabar (subject / topic and predicate)

Students wishing to continue the study of Arabic Linguistics beyond term 1, may wish to sign up for  the course Extended Essay in Linguistics (B) 152900098.

Method of assessment

One two-hour written examination in May/June (60%); a 500 word analysis of data set - morphology due in week 7 of term 1 (10%); a 500 word analysis of data set - phonology due in week 11 of term 1 (10%); a 2000-2500 word essay due in week 1 of term 2 (20%).

Suggested reading


  • Holes, C. (2004) Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions and Varieties [revised edn.] Georgetown University Press
  • Watson, J.C.E. (2002) The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic Oxford University Press
  • Versteegh, K. (2001) The Arabic Language Edinburgh University Press
  • Badawi, E., M.G. Carter & A. Gully (2004) Modern Written Arabic: A Comprehensive Grammar Routledge


  • Altoma, S.J. (1969) The Problem of Diglossia in Arabic Harvard University Press
  • Andrew Freeman's Perspectives on Arabic Diglossia (
  • Badawi, E. (1973) Mustawayāt al-عarabiyya al-muعāsira fī Misr Cairo: Dar al-Maarif (English summary to be given in class – see also Elgibali, 1996)
  • Behnstedt, P. & M. Woidich (2005) Arabische Dialektgeographie: Eine Einführung Brill
  • Blanc, H. (1964) Communal Dialects in Baghdad Harvard University Press
  • Blanc, H. (1969) “The Fronting of Semitic g and the qāl-gāl Dialect Split in Arabic” in: Proceeedings of the International Conference on Semitic Studies, Jerusalem, 19-23 July 1965
  • Cadora, F.J. (1992) Bedouin, Village and Urban Arabic: An Ecolinguistic Study Brill
  • Elgibali, A. (ed.) (1996) Understanding Arabic : Essays in Contemporary Arabic Linguistics in Honor of El-Said Badawi Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press
  • Ferguson, C.A. (1959) "Diglossia" in: Word 15: 325-340
  • Fischer, W. & O. Jastrow Handbuch der arabischen Dialekte Wisebaden: Otto Harrassowitz
  • Ingham, B. (1982) North East Arabian Dialects Kegan Paul International
  • Johnstone, T.M. (1963) “The Affrication of kāf and gāf in the Arabic Dialects of the Arabian Peninsula” in: Journal of Semitic Studies 8(2): 209-26
  • Kaye, A.S. & J. Rosenhouse (1997) “Arabic Dialects and Maltese” in: R. Hetzron (ed.) The Semitic Languages Routledge
  • Kaye, A.S. (1997) “Arabic Phonology” in: Phonologies of Asia and Africa (Including the Caucasus) in: A.S. Kaye (ed.) Eisenbrauns. Vol. 1: 187-204
  • McCarthy, J. & A. Prince (1990) “Prosodic Morphology and Templatic Morphology” in: M. Eid & J. McCarthy (eds.) Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics II: Papers from the Second Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics John Benjamins
  • Rouchdy, A. (ed.) (2002) Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic: Variations on a Sociolinguistic Theme RoutledgeCurzon
  • Versteegh, K. (1997) The Arabic Linguistic Tradition Routledge
  • Wehr, H. (1971) A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic J.M. Cowan (ed.) Ithaca (or: 1961 [1966, 1971, 1979], Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz; 1974, Beirut: Librairie du Liban)
    (Selections may also be made from relevant descriptive grammars)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules