Contagious Inflection: What the relative pronoun tells us about the history of Arabic
Imar Koutchoukali
(Tallinn University)
Friday (April 21st), 15:15-15:40
Lipsius 147

In my talk I will discuss the morphology of the relative pronoun in the medieval Arabian Nights to ascertain whether this reflects a literary standard or a spoken feature. 

The morphology of the relative pronoun is one of the defining discrepant features between Classical and dialectal Arabic: in Classical Arabic, the relative pronoun is inflected for both gender (masculine and feminine) as well as number (singular, dual, and plural); in contrast, all dialects of Arabic possess a single uninflected relative particle. Although it is sensible to assume that the dialectal forms reflect a simplified form of the Classical pronoun, epigraphic evidence shows that the uninflected pronoun is already found in the pre-Islamic period, centuries before the formalisation of Classical Arabic. 

Considering the age of the relative pronoun, the analysis of the medieval Arabic texts known as Middle Arabic – so named as they do not fully reflect either ‘high’ (Classical) nor ‘low’ (dialectal) Arabic – has become of significant importance. Although it has been assumed that the non-Classical elements of these texts are the result of imperfectly acquired Classical Arabic, recent research has shown that these do reflect a literary standard. One of the most important texts written in this register is the Arabian Nights; it is my goal to establish whether the text reflects a literary standard, in particular by looking at the behaviour of the relative pronoun, and comparing this to texts of a similar linguistic nature and contemporary dialectological research.