Linguistics doctoral student Rawan Bonais successfully defended her dissertation and completed the requirements for her PhD on Monday, March 21. Pictured above (top row) are Rawan Bonais, co-chair Marlyse Baptista, committee member Susan Gelman, and (bottom row) committee member Sally Thomason and co-chair Acrisio Pires.

Dissertation title: The Role of Transfer/Substrate Influence in the Development of Gulf Pidgin Arabic


This dissertation has two goals: First, it applies Jarvis’s (2000) framework of language transfer in L2 acquisition to examine the role of transfer/substrate influence in the development of Gulf Pidgin Arabic (henceforth, GPA). GPA is a recently evolved Arabic-based pidgin used for communication between Gulf locals in the Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf and (South) Asian immigrant workers who are speakers of many languages. Second, it builds upon the Selection and Competition (Mufwene, 2001, 2008) and Hybrid Grammars (Aboh, 2015) frameworks to investigate the process of feature selection and (re)combination of the lexifier/superstrate language (Gulf Arabic, GA) and three substrate languages (Hindi/Urdu, Bengali and Malayalam) in GPA’s grammars. Additionally, the current study considers both external factors (e.g., superstrate/substrate effects) and language-internal motivations, as driving forces in the development of GPA, as evidence of “multiple causation” (Thomason and Kaufman, 1988). To fulfill these goals, the dissertation provides a detailed cross-linguistic comparison of the syntactic and semantic properties of the demonstrative hada ‘GA, this’ and the multiple functions of fi (lexified from the GA preposition in) and their counterparts in the source languages. The GPA data comes from structured interviews including three language elicitation tasks with immigrant workers residing in Saudi Arabia. Quantitative and qualitative analyses offer evidence that the additional functions of the demonstrative hada (40% as a definite marker, and 21% as a 3rd person pronoun), and fi (50% as an auxiliary verb, 8% as a copula, and 35% as an existential marker) in GPA show transfer as the result of substrate influence. This dissertation is the first analysis to show transfer effects in the additional functions of hada and fi in GPA that are shared with the substrates. Moreover, the results indicate the interplay between the source languages, leading to the selection and (re-)combination of grammatical features in GPA. In the case of hada it seems that while the morphophonological form and demonstrative function got transmitted from the lexifier/ superstrate/language, GPA has inherited additional syntactic/semantic features of hada as a definite determiner and a third personal pronoun from the substrates whose demonstratives also function as definite determiners and third-person pronouns. This conflation of functions is absent in the lexifier language. The findings also show that the multifunctionality of fi involve pressures from the substrates, and not just the lexifier language. This is indicated by fi being used as an auxiliary verb or a copula due to substrate influence, and as an existential element which got transmitted from GA and is a function shared with all three substrates. This lends support to Aboh’s (2015) Hybrid Grammars under which GPA grammar is viewed as a result of recombining functional features of the source languages, rather than a simplified form of the lexifier language as described in many GPA studies. Lastly, the results indicate that hada and fi seem to be going through semantic bleaching. In other words, they are losing their original functions as demonstrative and preposition, respectively. This may reflect an interaction between internal pressures from GPA’s system and contact effects, which is compatible with the multiple causation approach to language change in which internal and external motivations are at play.

Congratulations, Rawan!