Professor Jeff Heath delivered a keynote address at the Linguistics in the Gulf-4 conference in March 2013. This conference is a relatively new meeting that has been held bi-annually at Qatar University since 2007, and signals the growth of interest in linguistics in the Gulf region. Our Department has played no small role in this growth—two of the current faculty members of the Department of English Literature and Linguistics at Qatar University are Michigan alums. Rizwan Ahmad (PhD, 2007) is currently serving as the chair of this Department, and Joseph Tyler (PhD, 2012) is a visiting assistant professor in the Department.
This presentation gave Jeff an opportunity to revisit some of his early research on Moroccan Arabic. In his presentation, entitled "Early Moroccan Arabic as a pidgin/creole", Jeff reviews the history of Moroccan Arabic, and argues that some of properties of Moroccan Arabic that make it unique among Arabic languages point to an early pidginization origin for Moroccan Arabic. The full abstract of Jeff's presentation is given below.
Early Moroccan Arabic as a pidgin/creole
Moroccan Arabic has undergone heavy language contact over the 1300 or so years of its existence, not including any prior creolization or koineization. This talk focuses on the 150 years from the initial incursion until the much later foundation of the first true Arab city, Fes. In the absence of early texts, we must first strip away (a) the Spanish and French influence beginning with the Protectorates 1912-56, (b) the influxes of Medieval Spanish and Judeo-Spanish speakers in and after 1492, (c) the fusion of spoken MA dialects into a koine in postcolonial Morocco, and (d) the Hilalian beduin influx that reached Morocco by the 13th century. This unpacking leaves us with the recorded but recessive pre-Hilalian dialects: far northern Morocco (Tangier, Tetuan, Chaoen), archaic urban Muslim dialects (Rabat, Fes, Taza), the few Arabic-speaking villages on the southern flank of the Rif mountains, and the Judeo-Arabic dialects spoken throughout Morocco in Arabic- as well as Berber-speaking zones. These dialects, here informally called "northern" MA, have unusual vowel systems characterized by the phonetic neutralization of vowel length, apparently unique in the entire Arabic world. In addition to substantial paradigmatic simplification, northern MA is also characterized by an unusual possessive preposition /di/ of contested etymology. I suggest that both of these features reflect early pidginization of Arabic as learned by Late Latin speakers in the Roman towns that were occupied by small groups of Arab soldiers and administrators in the formative period, and only slowly spread to Berbers who were gradually incorporated into Arab-led armies.