Report from the Arabic Linguistics Forum (ALiF2020)

The Arabic Linguistics Forum (ALiF) is an international biennial conference which fosters academic exchanges on the linguistics of the Arabic language family. It brings together researchers from across Europe, the Middle East, and beyond and prompts scholarly contributions in all related fields of research.

The fourth ALiF forum was due to be hosted by the University of Leeds between 30 June and 02 July. For the first time, the conference was held on a virtual platform due to the the uncertainties and the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This new endeavour was made possible through the combined efforts of the organising team for ALiF2020 included staff and students from the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies: Dr Roberta Morano with Sarah Almutairi, Malek Chaieb, Nouran Khallaf, and Dr Ruba Khamam, supported by the guidance of Professors Janet Watson and James Dickins.

The realisation of this virtual Forum was possible thanks to the support of the School of Languages, Cultures, and Societies at University of Leeds, Language@Leeds, and Meet In Leeds, which dealt with all the technical and logistical support to facilitate moving the Forum online. ALiF2020 was the first virtual event to be co-organised by Meet In Leeds and hosted on the new Aventri events app, leading the way for future virtual events at the University of Leeds.

Hosting an international forum like ALiF online enabled us to reach out to students and scholars in the Middle East and other parts of the world, where participation in UK conferences is often hampered by travel or visa restrictions. Another significant benefit of the online event was the reduction in carbon footprint, in line with the new University of Leeds Sustainability strategy. A recent survey conducted by the University shows that international conference travel is responsible for the majority of the University’s carbon emissions.

The conference attracted 170 registrations (80 more than the last face-to-face ALiF forum hosted by SOAS in 2018) from 23 countries: the UK, USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Germany, France, Italy, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The percentage of total participants by country can be seen in the following chart:

Chart showing the countries of provenance of registrants to ALiF2020.


The Forum hosted 54 presentations in total on topics ranging from Phonology to Syntax, and from Pragmatics to Language Acquisition, including fantastic keynote talks by Dr Barry Heselwood (University of Leeds) and Dr Marijn Van Putten (Leiden University) on day one, and Dr Nancy Hawker (Aga Khan University), Professor Stuart Davis (Indiana University) and Dr Ahmad Al Jallad (Ohio State University) on days two and three.

A total of 21 researchers from across different schools in the host university either presented academic papers and/or were involved in organising the conference: Mashael Al Amr, Hammal, Saleh Al Balushi, Sarah Al Mutairi, Sarah Alajlan, Areej Alshutayri, Khalid Alsubaie, Eric Atwell, Claire Brierley, Bethan Davies, James Dickins, Malek Chaieb, Barry Heselwood, Maab Ibrahim, Michael Ingleby, Nouran Khallaf, Ruba Khamam, Alison May, Souhaila Messaoudi, Roberta Morano, Taghreed Tarmom, and Janet Watson.

The Forum began with a study day on the languages of the Arabian Peninsula, with the aim of bringing together younger scholars in order to showcase the range and types of research currently being conducted on the Peninsula, and to create effective networks for all.

As a result of this Forum, we are aiming to publish an open-access volume or Special Issue including works presented on the study day on the Arabian Peninsula with Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Moreover, we are in the process of creating a dedicated YouTube channel for ALiF2020 with the presentations of scholars who agreed in sharing them publicly. More details to be given in due course.

Participant Feedback

I appreciate the extra time to watch the talks, as I had exam boards all week and so was not able to watch them all - great that I will not now miss out.

I really enjoyed the conference and thought the presentation and discussion were excellent. The organization was incredible given the situation. I do hope to attend ALiF again in two years.

It gave me a good overview of current research on Arabic linguistics, and who to contact for various topics.

Naturally, the online platform doesn't allow for meeting other attendees and informal chat and networking. However, it still met the conference's purpose of allowing everyone to give their talks, and I think having the Q&A live was excellent, because it allowed for natural discussion of the topics. So while an online conference doesn't fully meet every need of an in-person one, this was a great success in every way possible in this format.

The conference was a phenomenal success given its non-standard format. I commend the organizers for their professional work. Most of the presentations were of high quality, and the blind abstract selection process certainly helped in this regard.