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Topics in Arabic Linguistics


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, specialisation Arabic Studies or the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) is required. Students must hold a BA in Arabic Studies or have an equivalent level of proficiency in Arabic (level B2 European Common Framework, i.e. at least 80 EC = 2240 hs of language courses at BA level). Please, contact the student advisor or Dr. A.M. Al-Jallad, if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of one of the above-mentioned MA programmes and/or you are not sure whether your level of Arabic is sufficient.


This course outlines the historical and comparative grammar of Arabic. Beginning with Proto-Semitic, we examine how the linguistic innovations which characterize Arabic developed, and how the different varieties of Arabic, both ancient and modern, in turn evolved from Proto-Arabic. Our discussion will be guided by reading selected texts from different phases of Arabic, beginning with the pre-Islamic period and the evidence attested in the Ancient North Arabian scripts and ending with the contemporary spoken dialects. We will also discuss the various scripts used to write Arabic and the evolution of the Arabic script from its Nabataean forebear.

Proto-Semitic and Old Arabic
1. The linguistic landscape of Arabia and the position of Arabic within Semitic
2. The Old Arabic consonants
3. The vowels of Old Arabic, diphthongs, and triphthings
4. Nominal and pronominal morphology
5. Verbal morphology, negation, and existential predication

Later stages of Arabic
6. The Qurʾānic Consonantal Text
7. The Poetic Koiné
8. Dialects of the Arabian Peninsula
9. Dialects of the Levant and Mesopotamia
10. Dialects of North Africa

Course objectives

  • Gain familiarity with the documentary sources of Old Arabic

  • Learn to read early Arabic and Ancient North Arabian epigraphy

  • Be able to critique linguistic and philological arguments regarding the nature of Old Arabic

  • Gain an understanding of the diversity of the modern dialects of Arabic



Mode of instruction


Attendance and participation are mandatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the conveners and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end paper and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

1) Classes: 4 contact hours per week = 13×4: 52 hours
2) Literature reading: 10 hours reading for ca. 12 classes: 120 hours
3) Weekly assignment: 2 × 12: 24
4) Preparing presentation: 8 hours
5) Preparation of the two paper assignments: 76 hours
= 280 hrs.

Assessment method

  • (Mid-term) Paper followed by class presentation (20%). Deadline paper: 28 March.

  • Participation in class (10%)

  • Assignments (30%)

  • Term paper of c. 6,000 words (40%) to be completed before the end of the course.

The term paper is 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. The first version is due 9 May, 9.00 AM. The final version on 20 June, 9.00 AM.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=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.


A Lesson Plan will appear weekly on Blackboard with literature and assignments.

Reading list

Will be posted weekly on Blackboard.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


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 accommodations 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).