Aktionsart, word form and context: On the use of the active participle in Gulf Arabic dialects

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A line has been drawn between the dialects of Oman and those of the coastal Gulf states in classifications of the Arabic dialects of the Arabian Peninsula (Johnstone 1967; Holes 1989 Holes 1996). Most studies reporting on this divide have dealt with the phonology, morphology and, to some extent, lexis. Little is known, however, about the degree to which these dialectal groups differ from or correspond to one another in grammatical structure. As a contribution to filling this gap, we have undertaken a joint project that compares two databases of authentic speech with the aim of studying syntactic differences and shared features. We have chosen the temporal and aspectual values and functions of the active participle (AP) as a starting point for our comparisons and the topic for a pilot study.

The role of aspect and/or tense in Arabic has long been disputed, and this is particularly so with respect to the active participle (AP). In previous studies, the AP has been described as specifying various meanings associated with tense and aspect. Such analyses have been problematic due to the fact that the Arabic AP is formally a noun and lacks verbal morphology. Hence, various scholars (Eisele 1999; Kinberg 1992; Mughazy 2005) conclude that the AP in and by itself can only express present tense and/or simultaneity with the moment of speech or reference point of an utterance. All tense/aspect inference is dependent on context and/or the lexical semantics of the underlying verb. In our analysis of the AP in Gulf Arabic dialects, we have found reason to broaden our perspective and point out, maybe even more explicitly than has been previously stated, the importance of drawing a clear line in the analysis between the notion that aspectual meaning is conveyed by the AP on one hand, and the Aktionsart value of individual verb stems from which participles are formed on the other.

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  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-367
JournalJournal of Semitic Studies
Volume58
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes