A new perspective on Arabic grammatical šī: functions and possible origins – Research Talk

We are glad to invite you to the second Research Talk of 2021 hosted by the Arabic PGR Satellite group.

Dr David Wilmsen (American University of Sharjah) will give a talk entitled

A new perspective on Arabic grammatical šī: functions and possible origins

In the Arabic dialects in which it operates, the grammatical particle šī, also realized as šay(y), šē, or ši, variously and inconsistently functions as an existential, a disjunctive, a negator, a partitive or quantifier, a polar interrogative, and one of many words expressing the concept ‘thing’. It has been assumed that these various grammatical functions of šay(y)/šē/šī derive from the latter meaning, but that has become a point of debate. There are reasonable arguments to be made either for or against. Arguing against is recent work with the Modern South Arabian language Mehri, where a similar particle, ɫī, performs most of the same functions that šay(y)/šē/šī performs in Arabic. It is now possible to entertain the idea that the origin of šay(y)/šē/šī is not a native Arabic word but a borrowing from the ancestor(s) to the Modern South Arabian languages.

Dr Wilmsen has spent nearly thirty years in the Arabophone world, teaching in and administering Arabic-as-a-foreign-language study-abroad programs at the American University in Cairo, the American University of Beirut, and the American University of Sharjah. He is interested in the linguistic history and prehistory of the Arabic dialects, especially the grammaticalization of syntactic features, such as object markers, interrogatives, negators, and existential particles. A consistent preoccupation has been the search for and documentation of dialect features that are independent of the Arabic of writing that might reasonably be dated to the early Islamic era or before, thereby offering some proof that the modern Arabic dialects cannot have descended directly from pre-classical Arabic.

The talk will be hosted on University of Leeds Zoom on Monday, March 29th at 3pm BST.
Please email r.morano@leeds.ac.uk for the Zoom invitation if you wish to participate.