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Redefining Arabic: New Approaches to the Study of Arabic's Past and Present

Date(s) - 02/23/2024 - 02/24/2024
8:30 am - 3:00 pm

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University of Texas at Austin


Free to Attend USD
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The University of Texas at Austin- College of Liberal Arts



The study of Arabic is characterized by certain classificatory terminology used to distinguish various kinds (usually called registers) of the Arabic language, such as colloquial/dialectal Arabic (Arabic al-ʿāmiyyah) and Classical/Modern Standard Arabic (Arabic al-fuṣā). This distinction is as old as the native Arabic grammatical tradition, and this distinction serves as the bedrock of the scholarly framework within which scholars have worked until today. However, much recent scholarly work on corpora ranging from pre-Islamic inscriptions, medieval texts, and modern dialects, has demonstrated that this paradigm is problematic in many respects. For example, pre-Islamic inscriptions attest varieties of Arabic that are not like either Classical Arabic or the modern dialects. Medieval texts written in non-Classical forms of Arabic, typically called ‘Middle Arabic,’ strongly suggest the presence of prestigious varieties of Arabic other than Classical Arabic. And in fact, Classical Arabic itself is turning out to have evolved and, depending on time and place, to have included many features not typically considered ‘standard’ today. While each of these claims is by now rather uncontroversial, due to the unfortunately typical siloing of scholars working on different corpora from different time periods, the degree to which the implications of these developments have been brought to bear on work in each is rather minimal and haphazard.

This symposium brings together scholars from a number of sub-fields, working on corpora from all periods of Arabic’s attested history, in order to bring the latest developments in each into conversation with each other. Special focus will be on questions surrounding how the various corpora might be brought into conversation, methodological issues in comparing the varieties of Arabic on which each works, and especially on the usefulness – or lack thereof – of the regnant terminology used in the field.

All are welcome to come and listen in to what is sure to be a very interesting and fruitful set of conversations.

Sponsored by the Donald D. Harrington Fellows Program, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, Department of Religious Studies, and Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins

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