CE27 - Culture, créations, patrimoine

Ancient and Modern Languages of South Arabia: A cross-disciplinary approach to a linguistic area – Almas

Submission summary

ALMAS (the Arabic word for ‘diamond’), is an international and interdisciplinary consortium composed of excellent scientific partners based in different countries of Europe and America and aiming at renewing the study of the living and extinct languages of South Arabia (Oman, southwestern Saudi Arabia, Yemen).
All these languages belong to the Semitic family and fall into three ‘fields’, which have up to now corresponded largely to separate academic traditions with few interconnections: a set of four ‘Ancient South Arabian’ languages (ASA), now extinct (Sabaic, Qatabanic, Minaic, Hadramitic); a group of six living ‘Modern South Arabian’ (MSA) languages with no written tradition, all endangered (Mehri, Harsusi, Bathari, Hobyot, Jibbali, Soqotri); a rich array of highly diversified and archaic Arabic vernaculars spoken throughout the region (‘South Arabian Arabic’: SAA).
In order to disentangle the complex linguistic landscape of South Arabia, ALMAS has been designed around seven scientific tasks: three field-specific tasks concern the investigation of the individual languages (ASA, MSA, SAA); four transversal tasks are organized according to different lines of action: contact linguistics, phonetics and phonology, morphology and Semitic comparison.
ALMAS will apply a threefold scientific methodology relying on (1) the already available original sources, (2) the collection of new data and (3) the IT treatment of both these groups of sources. First, a systematic re-examination of the literature and of the text critical editions will be undertaken, which is an essential pre-requisite to any research. Secondly, ALMAS will conduct regular fieldwork seasons in two of the modern countries of South Arabia, in order to collect new epigraphic and oral data. Finally, ALMAS will treat all relevant data through the most modern IT tools for digitization and exploitation of linguistic data.
The novelty of ALMAS lies in the interdisciplinary synergy it creates in three ways: by cross-fertilizing synchronic and diachronic approaches to the abovementioned languages; by stimulating contacts between researchers of the three ‘fields’ of the project; by developing complementarity between linguists from different schools and approaches.
ALMAS will set a landmark in the domain, by documenting the languages through fieldwork and creating a digitally-enhanced open-access database, thus contributing to the study and the protection of these languages; analyzing the data in order to reach an adequate understanding of the languages’ structures; reevaluating the relationships between the languages (phylogenetic relatedness and/or language contact).
Moreover, as ALMAS focuses on endangered or understudied languages, it will have a vast socio-cultural impact In particular, ALMAS will help preserve linguistic heritage; foster cultural awareness among speakers of minority languages; influence educational policies and practices.
In order to support the efforts of the consortium and all its manifold activities, the project includes dedicated structures for the scientific and administrative management of the network. A technical task intends to develop a web-based system to manage, analyze and share the study material and the scientific results of the project. Finally, ALMAS results will be disseminated through a diversified dissemination and exploitation plan addressed to different settings in the Western world and in the Arab countries (scientific milieu, governments, education, broad public).

Project coordination

Julien Dufour (Centre français d'archéologie et de sciences sociales)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CEFAS Centre français d'archéologie et de sciences sociales
Orient et Méditerranée, textes - archéologie - histoire
LPP Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie
Università di Pisa / Dipartimento di Civiltà e Forme del Sapere
Pennsylvania State University / Department of Classic and Ancient Mediterranean studies
Ohio State University / Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

Help of the ANR 386,484 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2019 - 48 Months

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