Blanc SHS 2 - Blanc - SHS 2 - Développement humain et cognition, langage et communication

The modern South-Arabian languages in Oman – OmanSaM

Submission summary

The project is dedicated to the study of two Modern Southarabian languages (MSAL) spoken in Oman: Omani Mehri and Jibbali. This topic is motivated as follows: i) these languages are endangered: spoken by minorities, no official status, under the pressure of Arabic, ii) they are understudied in the field of Semitic studies.
In addition to the evident need to gather data on these languages, the task is thus urgent. The participating institutions will not only profit from the project's scientific merits, but also contribute to safeguarding this part of the human linguistic heritage. We pursue an old tradition in MSAL going back to the French consul F. Fresnel, who, in 1837, introduced MSAL to the scientific community.
The project has two main objectives:
1. Documentation : update and increase the database on Omani Mehri, and on Jibbali ; constitution of an electronic corpus accessible to the scientific community
2. Linguistic analysis focussing on 4 issues : Phonetics and phonology of the larynx ; morphological structure of the verbal system ; determiners and modifiers in the nominal phrase ; dialectology and comparative Semitic linguistics.
These issues were selected, because they a) are presently understudied, b) raise important questions for linguistic theory, c) constitute a common interest in the research team.
The study of glottal activity will contribute to the understanding of the phonology and phonetics of MSAL, and will be relevant to general phonetics as well. Particular attention will be paid to ejectives (which combine ejectivity, pharyngealization, creaky voice, voicing, and change of place of articulation) and to the voiceless non-ejectives, whose phonological properties are intriguing.
On the basis of new elicitated verbal paradigms of Omani Mehri, we will uncover the mechanisms underlying two intriguing properties of the verb system : the absence of Forms II and III, and the mobility of the thematic vowel. An explanation of these two properties will prove crucial for the understanding of the overall organization of the verbal system of the language, and beyond, of the status of templates in grammar.
Nominal determiners and the Construct State remain ill understood in Mehri and Jibbali. The definite article is absent in Yemeni Mehri, and it surfaces in various different forms in the Omani dialects that have one. It exists in Jibbali, but its surface realizations are complex. Our task consists in the clarification of its phonetic realization, its phonological representation, and its syntactic status.
These three issues are tightly related: understanding the phonetic reality and phonological effects of glottal activity is a necessary condition for the morpho-phonological and syntactic study of verbal prefixes and determiners.
Finally, the systematic study of dialectal variation in MSAL will contribute to the debate in comparative Semitic linguistics at three levels: structure of MSAL, South-Semitic, and Semitic.
The project counts on a team of specialists working on MSAL in France, and on eminent international scholars specialized in Semitic and Afroasiatic languages. It covers the main linguistic domains beyond the boundaries of theoretical frameworks, and it strives at establishing an internationally visible, active, and innovative network of scholars working on MSAL.
In addition to regular presentations at international specialist conferences, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and the organization of conferences and workshops, the project will deliver the following
- an electronic corpus of linguistic data of Mehri and Jibbali
- a monograph about the verbal system of Mehri
- a special issue of Arabian Humanities on the importance of MSAL to comparative Semitic studies.

Project coordination

Sabrina BENDJABALLAH (Laboratoire de Linguistique Formelle)

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.


UMR 6310
LPP - UMR 7018 Laboratoire de phonétique et phonologie
CEFAS - USR 3141 Centre français d'archéologie et de sciences sociales de Sanaa
LLF - UMR7110 Laboratoire de Linguistique Formelle

Help of the ANR 231,998 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2013 - 42 Months

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