Associate 2009-10

Abbas Benmamoun


A Comparative Syntactic Description of Five Arabic Varieties

In the Arab world, two main Arabic varieties occupy the linguistic scene: Standard Arabic or Formal Arabic, which is the official language shared by all Arab countries; and Colloquial Arabic or Spoken Arabic, which displays a great degree of variation across the vast geographical space where it is spoken. Standard Arabic is learned mostly through formal education, and most Arabs find the language easier to read and listen to than to speak spontaneously. The colloquial dialects, by contrast, are learned and used at home, in casual daily interactions, and in spontaneous unscripted speech.

Thus each Arabic-speaking country has at least two languages in play – a linguistic phenomenon known as diglossia that presents certain challenges when it comes to studying and teaching the language(s). Professor Benmamoun plans to address this area by producing detailed parallel syntactic descriptions of five Arabic varieties: Standard Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Jordanian Arabic, Kuwaiti Arabic, and Moroccan Arabic.

During his Center appointment Professor Benmamoun will describe and analyze a large number of syntactic and morphosyntactic patterns and constructions, and create a resource that provides systematic comparisons among the five varieties. The resource will also serve as a template that can be extended to a large number of other dialects. The work has application in a number of areas, including comparative Arabic syntax, syntactic research within different frameworks, computational linguistics, historical linguistics, linguistic change, dialectology, first- and second-language acquisition, and the maintenance and loss of heritage languages.