The description is submitted to:


Session R6356 (The Multilingual Shift in Middle Eastern Studies), 2021
Modern linguistics strives to study language as a human faculty. However, many works in linguistics focus on a single language or groups of related languages. Since the 1950s, such study of language has been augmented by formulating cross-linguistic principles. Generalizations are often based on aggregated data from a multitude of languages, but there is still a preponderance of work on English, which is presented, falsely, as representative of human language more broadly. In several sub-disciplines of linguistics, e.g., sociolinguistics, historical linguistics and psycholinguistics, it is perhaps more obvious to researchers that monolingualism is an anomaly: most societies are multilingual at both individual and communal levels. It thus makes sense to study and teach the structures and functions of Middle East/North African languages in this multilingual context. Languages such as Tamazight and Aramaic, relegated by history to non-dominant status in the region, have had significant substrate effects on Arabic; Arabic has influenced the vocabulary of genealogically unrelated languages such as Turkish and Persian. Modern Hebrew is an outcome of a revitalization process fueled by its speakers’ multilingual backgrounds. Code-switching, a phenomenon usually involving embedding words from language B into language A, is rampant worldwide. In some multilingual Palestinian communities, it is often the case that discerning which language is embedded in which is equivocal. My interest in multilingualism in the region has led me to collect data and seek explanations for present-day linguistic phenomena that stem from language contact (e.g., Arabic-Hebrew contact in historic Palestine). The ‘texts’ I use are predominantly oral utterances that I record in an array of communicative situations; particular linguistic features that exhibit variation and/or are undergoing change across the community are then analyzed. In setter-colonial settings, e.g., the Israeli occupation of Palestine, daily interactions often shape the structure of multilingualism and even impose it upon the occupied population. My sociolinguistic field-based research tackles these issues in terms of the linguistic structures that result from such impositions and of the underlying socio-political processes that trigger them.
In teaching languages such as Arabic, purism abounds. For pedagogical and other reasons, we often create an impression that one either speaks Arabic or a co-territorial language. This approach ought to be revisited. Not only does it constitute ‘dumbing down’ the complexity of multilingual communities, but it also misleads students, and ultimately entire learned communities, into a romanticized (not to say Orientalist) view of the linguistic reality in the region.