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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Rooms 8 & 9, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Wednesday, 8 June, 2022 - 17:00

2022 Ullendorff Lecture in Semitic Philology, given by Lameen Souag

Among the language families of the world, Semitic stands out for its extensive use of pattern morphology, a type of non-concatenative morphology in which root (or stem) consonants are inserted into a ‘pattern’ whose vowels and shape are fixed independently of the root; thus Arabic uktub ‘write!’, kataba ‘he wrote’, kutiba ‘it was written’, kātib ‘writer’, etc. Morphology of this type is almost unique to the Afro-Asiatic phylum, to which Semitic belongs; it is absent from many Chadic and Cushitic languages even within this phylum.

One might therefore be excused for expecting that shared morphology of this type could arise only through common inheritance. In a number of cases, however, such morphology can be shown to have been borrowed, an outcome made possible by long-term bilingualism. This is particularly prominent for adjectival comparison (the “elative”), productively borrowed from Arabic into a number of Berber, Neo-Aramaic, and Modern South Arabian varieties; other patterns have variously been borrowed for both derivation (e.g. diminutives, mediopassives) and inflection (plurals).

The long historical attestation of Semitic, and the wide geographical spread of Arabic in particular, provide a unique opportunity to examine the behaviour of pattern morphology in language contact. The results indicate that patterns that require triliteral root inputs can much more easily become productive in languages which already have triliteral roots and pattern morphology; even patterns that take stem inputs presuppose stems of the right shape, usually provided by pattern morphology. As a result, pattern morphology is productively borrowed almost exclusively between Afroasiatic languages.