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Linguistic History of the Middle East


Admission requirements



This course is intended as an overview of languages and language use in the Middle East. The Middle East (however you define it) is home to a wealth of languages, which together display a staggering level of diversity – and this is no less true today than it was in the past. In this course, students will gain familiarity with the way that these languages operate, where they come from, in what scripts they are written, and how they are or were used in everyday life to construct the identities of their speakers and their societies. The course will proceed from the historical origins and development of these languages, past and present, as analyzed from multiple disciplinary and theoretical perspectives. In examining their affiliations with other languages according to traditional genetic linguistics (Stammbaumtheorie), language contact and areal linguistics, and linguistic typology, students will come to understand the rationale between different approaches to the study of language more generally. In addition to the structural aspects of these languages, students will find out how we know what we know about them, be it through archaeology, reconstructions, linguistic field work, or continuous literary traditions. Beyond this, the course will guide students as they delve into the way in which language use varies between and within groups, and how this variation (or the perception thereof) helps to define and renegotiate the boundaries between nations, ethnicities, ages, social classes, and genders.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to engage in informed conversation about the linguistic histories and of the languages in the Middle East, including when and where they are/were spoken, as well as their genetic and areal affiliations. They will know what sort of writing systems are/were employed to write these languages, and the size and topical breadth of the bodies of literature (oral or written) attested in them. They will be able to make educated guesses with a reasonable degree of accuracy regarding the family, area of origin, and time period to which a written or spoken example of a Middle Eastern language might belong. Most importantly, they will acquire a basic knowledge of common methodologies employed in structural, historical, and socio-linguistics which they can develop ion their ongoing study of language(s) from any region or time period.


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Mode of instruction

Attendance is not obligatory for lectures. The conveners do not need to be informed in case of missed classes. Information and knowledge provided in the lectures greatly contribute to the subsequent courses of the programme. In order to pass the course, students are strongly advised to attend all sessions.

Online in Kaltura Live Room
Lectures will be recorded live as they are given and uploaded to the “Lectures” section of the Brightspace site for the corresponding week. This may not always work out as planned, however, so the best course of action to ensure a fulfilling experience (and high grade) is to attend lectures regularly. Lecture slides (and occasionally, notes) will be made available shortly after every lecture in the same fashion, i.e. on Brightspace.

Assessment method

Partial Assessment Weighing
Online Self-Assessments These will be conducted in the form of short quizes on Brightspace, and are intended to make sure that the student has fulfilled the weekly learning objectives set out by that weeks assignments. They are to be conducted weekly after the completion of a lecture, any time in the following week. Students will be able to re-take any non-short-anwser questions as many times as they like; the assessment is for the benefit of the student to make sure they have understood the main points of the readings/viewings and lectures correctly. Complete assessments will be graded according to a system of 0 (not completed), .5 (completed, but left some questions wrong/blank), and 1 (completed until all non-short answers correct). 20%
Discussion Board Contributions Students must make a brief contribution to the Brightspace Discussion Board each week, preferably before the lecture for that week. Contributions may take the form of a question about the reading/viewing that the student would like to pose (either to the other students, or the instructor), a meaningful response to such a question, an astute observation, a related anecdote, or a supplementary article or video which the student would like to share, as long as it is accompanied by their own short commentary. Contributions should be around 100 words. 20%
Final Exam The final exam will consist of multiple choice, true/false, map-labeling, and short answer questions. These will cover information from either the readings/viewings, or the lectures. Questions will largely replicate the weekly Self-Assessments in form and content, and conform to weekly learning objectives as stated on Brightspace. 60%


Final marks will be calculated on the basis of the weighted average of the above tasks.


Final Exam resits are available for those whose overall mark is lower than 5,5. The resit will also be weighted at 60% of the overall mark.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Weekly readings/viewings will be announeced at least one week in advance in the “Readings” section for the relevant week on Brightspace. (i.e., students will ideally read the material in the “Readings” folder for Week X before the lecture for Week X).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.


Nicholas (Niko) Kontovas


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

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).