A Description of the Bedouin Dialects of Southern Sinai, Testing and Adapting Models of Quantitative Comparison
06 / 2003 - 02 / 2007
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)
Wedged between the eastern and western Arab world lies the Sinai Peninsula. The status of the dialects spoken in this area has long been a point of major controversy in Arabic dialectology. In previous research (De Jong 2000) the applicant has shown that the northern part of this key area forms a linguistic bridge between these main dialect groups of Arabic. The dialects spoken in this part of the peninsula constitute an area of transition between the Bedouin dialects of northwest Arabia (Palva's Northwest Arabian dialects, or NWA, see Palva 1990 ) in the east and the sedentary dialects spoken in Egypt in the west. (The area of transition is also one between two major types in which dialects of Arabic are traditionally subdivided: the bedouin type and the sedentary type. In De Jong 2000: 46-61 this basic subdivision is extensively defined in terms of binary oppositions.) The present proposal builds on the hypothesis (see De Jong 2000: 586) that along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, Palva's NWA group continues south, and that the as yet undescribed dialects of southern Sinai (just across the Gulf of Aqaba) are a continuation of this group. The first research question is to what extent the dialects of this area show similarities with the NWA group in northern Sinai, and whether these dialects can indeed be regarded as a southern continuation in Sinai of this group. Research into these southern Sinaitic dialects is urgently needed since they are rapidly disappearing. During the research period a descriptive analysis of the phonology and morphology of these dialects will be made, whereby one of the last blind spots on the maps of Arabic dialectology will be filled in. The second primary purpose of the research is to make a quantitative study of the phenomena identified. For this purpose two tools will be further developed and applied. The first model is the "Feature Frequency Method", as developed in Hoppenbrouwers & Hoppenbrouwers 2001. This model was used to classify Dutch dialects on the basis of their phonetic differences/similarities. In the proposed research this method will be used as a tool for the typological measurement of the identified phonetic phenomena. A second tool that will be applied is the "step calculation" method (used to typologically group dialects on the basis of a mixture of phonological, morphological, phonotactical, grammatical and lexical differences/similarities) introduced in De Jong 2000. The identified phenomena will be interpreted not only in relation to each other, but also from a larger dialect-geographical perspective. To successfully apply these models of comparison, a distinction will be made between "parallel" forms, "bedouinising" forms and "koiné" forms. To facilitate future research into the dynamics of language change, these forms will not be ignored in the description. Both the application and further development of the interdisciplinary combination of the quantitative analysis with the qualitative analysis, which have led to excellent results in the classification of Dutch dialects, as well as the involvement of "parallel", "bedouinising" and "koiné" forms in the description constitute an entirely novel approach in the field of Arabic dialect studies.