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Topics in Arabic Linguistics (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to 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 convener of the course, Dr. Al-Jallad, if you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether your level of Arabic is sufficient. Students of the regular MA Middle Eastern Studies are kindly referred to the regular MA course.


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
    1. The Old Arabic consonants
    2. The vowels of Old Arabic, diphthongs, and triphthings
    3. Nominal and pronominal morphology
    4. Verbal morphology, negation, and existential predication

Later stages of Arabic

  1. The Qurʾānic Consonantal Text
    1. The Poetic Koiné
    2. Dialects of the Arabian Peninsula
    3. Dialects of the Levant and Mesopotamia
    4. 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

Part 1: Lectures (introductory section)
Part 2: Tutorials. Students will prepare a rough historical sketch on the phonology of morphology of a dialect of their choice to be presented in class. A list of possible dialects will be provided in class.

Weekly attendance is mandatory. Two unexcused absences will result in a failing grade.

Course Load

1) a) Classes: 4 contact hours per week = 13×4: 52 hours b) Tutorials for ResMA students: 6 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: 70 hours
= 280 hrs.

Assessment method

  • (Mid-term) Paper followed by class presentation (20%).

  • Participation in class (10%)

  • Assignments (30%)

  • Term paper of c. 7,000 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 paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convenor of the course.)

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.



Note: there is no separate Blackboard page available for this ResMa course. Please subscribe to the Blackboard page of the regular MA course.

Reading list

Will be posted on Blackboard

For ResMA students additional reading will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ field of interest. Extra sessions will be organized to discuss this extra literature.


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.”.

Contact information

Dr. A. 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 accomodations 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).