Scientific Program

The activities conducted in the network are organized in two main strands of research.

Strand 1. Areal Studies – The Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. (coord. Sabrina Bendjaballah, CNRS, LLING)

The Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa

  • host a great variety of Afroasiatic languages
  • constitute currently a research topic at the intersection of several disciplines: archeology, history, genetics, geography, linguistics, politic sciences etc.

As a matter of fact, they constitute a coherent area in various respects: the relationships between both sides of the Red Sea have a long history (; and population movements in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula are currently intensive (

From a linguistic point of view, the similarities between some languages spoken in the Horn of Africa and in the south of the Arabian Peninsula are a topic of debate (see e.g. the question of the relationships between Ethiosemitic and Modern South Arabian). The area thus receives particular attention from the perspective of language reconstruction. In the last decade, researchers have tried to combine linguistic evidence with genetic evidence and archeological evidence in order to date the population movements across the Red Sea, and the history of the settlement of the area. Despite this effervescence, no definite conclusion has been reached: the evidence in the scientific fields above does not seem to converge, and there are several methodological issues with glottochronology.

Our position is that in order to go beyond the obvious similarity of various general features at a superficial level, it is necessary to have a precise description and analysis of the relevant languages. Yet many langages spoken in the area are still insufficiently known at the present stage, many crucial data/linguistics facts are still missing, and, as a consequence, some of the generalizations at the basis of much recent work might turn out to be wrong. The aims of our network are thus:

  • to supply solid and complete descriptions
  • to establish a reliable empirical basis for further research
  • to provide a comparative analysis of linguistic systems spoken in the region.

WP1. Understudied & endangered languages: A case study, Modern South Arabian (coord. Sabrina Bendjaballah, CNRS LLING & Aaron Rubin, PSU)

Modern South Arabian languages are spoken in Yemen and in Oman. They represent the last remaining indigenous languages of the southern Arabian Peninsula. Modern South Arabian languages are all endangered, to varying extents, and still remain understudied. This work package relies on a group of researchers who have a solid history of collaboration, and is thus expected to significantly advance our knowledge of this language family.

WP2. Music & language: Poetry in the Arabian Peninsula and in the Horn of Africa (coord. Julien Dufour, ENS-Ulm, Cefas & Martin Orwin, Napoli L’Orientale)

The Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa share a common cultural characteristic: poetry is held in high regard and represents the most prominent form of expressive culture. The members of this work package instantiate different areas of specialization: descriptive linguistics, literature, metrics, and phonetics. It is expected to shed new light on the poetry of the region, as well as on the relationship between language and music.

Strand 2. Comparative studies – Language-variation: grammatical & sociolinguistic issues (coord Julien Dufour, ENS-Ulm, Cefas)

Variation in human languages is pervasive, but not arbitrary: the features of languages pattern into clusters that define typological classes. ALL aims at :

  • comparing the details of the morpho-phonological and morpho-syntactic expression of grammatical features in the respective langages.
  • combining different levels of analysis (phonological, morphosyntactic, pragmatic, and typological) in order to provide a fine-grained study of the multifactorial nature of language contact, and lay the foundations of a typology of language contact phenomena in Afroasiatic.
  • investigating the sociolinguistic conditioning of contact-induced change

WP3. Morpho-phonological & morpho-syntactic variation (coord. Sabrina Bendjaballah, CNRS LLING & Azeb Amha, Leiden ASC)

One of the salient characteristics of the Afroasiatic languages is the fact that they use morphophonological processes to express various categories that are encoded in the syntax in other languages, e.g. Indo-European. For this reason, the questions pertaining to the morphophonological / morphosyntactic interface are crucial for a proper understanding of the grammar of these languages. ALL is expected to foster a fruitful interaction of phonologists and syntacticians, and thus to bring to light new generalizations on the intricate morphosyntactic systems of Afroasiatic languages.

WP4. Language contact: Sociolinguistics, contact-induced change coord. Jairo Guerrerro, Catherine Miller, IREMAM & Maarten Kossmann, Leiden LUCL)

As most languages in the world, Afroasiatic languages experience various types of linguistic contact. This is particularly the case between Cushitic, Omotic and Semitic languages in the Horn of Africa, where the three families have co-existed for millennia. Contacts are also massive between Arabic and Nilo-Saharan languages in Africa, between Arabic and Berber languages in North Africa, and between Arabic and Modern South Arabian languages in the Arabian Peninsula. Language contact can be viewed as one of the triggering factors for linguistic change, and each of the situations above entails different degrees of linguistic heterogeneity raising important questions about the causes of contact-induced change.