Professor Janet Watson to deliver keynote speech at the Arabic Linguistics Symposium 28, University of Florida, Gainesville

On 13 March, Professor Watson will discuss the relationship between phonation categories in Arabic and Modern South Arabian and the Arab grammarians' categories of hams and jahr.

There has been some debate in recent years over the interpretation of the phonation categories hams and jahr, given by the early Arab grammarians. These terms have generally been interpreted in western literature as voiceless and voiced respectively, but questions have arisen about the inclusion of consonants /ṭ/, /q/ and /ʔ/ within the majhūr class. Several have argued that the classification of /ṭ/ and /q/ as majhūr indicates that these sounds were originally produced with vocal fold vibration; however, this argument does not hold for the canonical glottal stop, by definition voiceless. There is, also, no written evidence that the early Arab grammarians knew about the workings of the vocal folds.

In this paper, prepared in collaboration with Barry Heselwood, I look at acoustic and laryngographic evidence from San’ani Arabic and Modern South Arabian languages to argue for a two-way phonation categorisation, not on the basis of presence or lack of vocal fold vibration, but rather on the basis of open or closed vocal folds. The majhūr consonants are all characterised by lack of aspiration, while the mahmūs consonants exhibit considerable aspiration. In this regard, I argue that the marked category for these languages is aspiration – or open vocal folds – and not, as often claimed in the literature, voice.

In the second part of the paper, I consider the qalqalah consonants in Qur’anic recitation: qalqalah consonants include all the majhūr consonants, apart from /ʔ/. I look at the purpose of tajwīd, the phonetic characteristics of qalqalah and, on the basis of my findings for San’ani Arabic and Modern South Arabian, hypothesise why these consonants and only these consonants should be recited with qalqalah bounce.