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Faculty of Languages & Literatures

Chair of Arabic Studies – Prof. Valentina Serreli

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Current Research Projects

Modernity, Migration and Minorities: Three Case Studies of Arabic in Contact

New DFG Project at the Chair of Arabic Studies since April 1, 2020


  • Prof. Dr. Valentina Serreli (more)
  • Prof. Dr. Jonathan Owens (more)
  • Ms. Muhadj Adnan, Doctoral candidate


The intimate relation between variation and change was one of the “founding” ideas of Labov’s quantitative approach to sociolinguistics, and it continues to inform much research in the field. The current project continues this tradition examining three situations which, are exemplary not only for their intrinsic sociolinguistic value, but also for their special status within a rapidly changing modern world. Large scale migration increasingly brings populations into contact with new sociolinguistic environments whose linguistic effects are palpable, but often unappreciated and underdescribed.

Within the overarching unity of Arabic, three detailed case studies will be examined using classic comparative sociolinguistic methodology based on large-scale oral corpora. Two of the case studies deal with populations which have been displaced from their homelands and into new linguistic environments. Large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees moved to Germany between 2015-18, and similarly large numbers of rural Nigerian Arabs in the wake of the Bokko Haram insurgency beginning in 2011 were forced out of their home areas and into refugee camps, inter alia in Maiduguri in NE Nigeria. In the third case of Siwan Berbers it is large-scale immigration of Egyptian outsiders into the Siwa Oasis since 1980 which has created new sociolinguistic realities. Whereas among older speakers the model of L2 Arabic was a Shahibat Bedouin dialect close to Eastern Libyan Arabic, for younger ones Egyptian (Cairene) is becoming the dominant model.

Using the classic “apparent time” construct to ascertain degree of change within a speech community, demographically stratified corpora from each variety will be recorded, transcribed, and subjected to standard quantitative sociolinguistic analysis. In the case of Nigeria and Siwa one dialectal/ethnic group will be studied whereas for Germany, Iraqi and Syrian Arabs will be treated initially at least as separate populations. While each sociolinguistic context is different, language contact is typically associated either with dialect/language maintenance/shift or koineization, and these constructs inform the current project. It is hypothesized that koineization will be the outcome of the Nigerian and German situations, with younger speakers leading the adaptation to new norms defined by local realities. On the other hand, in the Siwa Oasis for Arabic L2 Siwan Berbers cross-generational comparison is expected to document a shift from a Bedouin to Egyptian (Cairene-like) L2 Arabic.

An added dimension of interest is the status of all three groups as minority ones, which might, for instance, influence how a koineized variety develops. This tightly controlled, empirically-conceived study promises to expand our understanding of the many factors impinging on the dynamics of spoken Arabic in the contemporary world, and to embed it within the larger domain of migration, contact and language change.

Webmaster: Juniorprofessor Valentina Serreli

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