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Arabic Indefinites, Interrogatives, and NegatorsA Linguistic History of Western Dialects$
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David Wilmsen

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198718123

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198718123.001.0001

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On the age and origins of spoken Arabic vernaculars

On the age and origins of spoken Arabic vernaculars

An unresolved question

(p.21) 2 On the age and origins of spoken Arabic vernaculars
Arabic Indefinites, Interrogatives, and Negators

David Wilmsen

Oxford University Press

The labels ‘Old Arabic’, ‘Middle Arabic’, and ‘Neo-Arabic’ used in Arabic linguistics give the impression of a chronological sequence, implying that the oldest form of Arabic is something like the language that was codified as the Arabic of writing in the 8th–10th centuries AD. Not based in any linguistic principles, these labels have tended to channel inquiries into the history of Arabic into narrow, predetermined conclusions, one being that negation in the relatively young dialects of Arabic follows a Jespersen’s Cycle. Yet the Arabic dialects retain many archaic Arabic features, now rare in modern Arabic writing. Furthermore, they exhibit features shared with other Semitic languages that written Arabic lacks, indicating that the dialects, too, are old.

Keywords:   Jespersen’s Cycle, Old Arabic, Middle Arabic, Neo-Arabic, Semitic retentions

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