Janet C.E. Watson


Documentation of Modern South Arabian languages; Arabic dialectology; phonology; morphology; acoustic and instrumental phonetics


After studying Arabic & Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, I moved to SOAS, London to study Linguistics and then complete a PhD on the phonology and morphology of Yemeni Arabic dialects. I have held academic posts at the Universities of Edinburgh, Durham and Salford. I have also held visiting posts at the universities of Heidelberg (2003-4) and Oslo (2004-5). I took up the Leadership Chair for Language@Leeds at the University of Leeds on 1st May 2013. Together with Prof. Jon Lovett, I founded the Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems in January 2019. The website can be accessed here: https://celce.leeds.ac.uk/
I am on the editorial board and committee of the Seminar of Arabian Studies, the Journal of Semitic Studies, and Zeitschrift fuer Arabische Linguistik, and a member of the advisory board of the Wiener Zeitschrift fuer die Kunde des Morgenlandes.

I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (section H3) in 2013, and co-opted to section H4 in 2016. 

Postgraduate supervision

I would welcome enquiries from students interested in conducting linguistic research on the phonetics of Arabic, on one or more of the Modern South Arabian languages, or on the language-nature relationship.

Current PhD students

My current PhD students are: Kamela al-Barami (language revitalisation through media: The case of Jibbali/Shehret), Khalid Alsubaie (An acoustic investigation of emphasis impact on consonant sequences in Arabic), Hammal al-Balushi (Harsusi phonetics and phonology), Andrea Boom (Language and nature in South Arabia: Ethnographic description of traditional practices of Dhofar and Mahra), Omar al-Kindi (Agricultural nomenclature in Northern Omani Arabic), and Lama Alqurashi (Applying machine learning methods to Arabic poetry attribution issues).

Recently completed supervisions

Dr John Peate completed his PhD on A construction grammar approach to spatial prepositions in Modern Standard Arabic in 2012. Dr Abdallah al-Shdaifat completed his PhD on Arabic nominal morphology in December 2014. The following students completed their PhDs in 2015: Dr Gerry Howley on Acquisition of Manchester dialect features by Romani migrants; Dr Bassil Almashaqba on The phonology and morphology of the Arabic dialect spoken in Wadi Ram, Jordan; and Dr Anas Hneety on The phonology and morphology of the Arabic dialect spoken in Wadi Mousa, Jordan. Dr Mohammad Nour Yousef Abu Guba completed his PhD in 2016 on Arabic loanword phonology. Dr Fuad Mohammed completed his PhD on the Arabic dialect of Hit, Iraq in 2018. Giuliano Castagna completed his PhD, A sketch of the Kuria Muria language variety and other aspects of Modern South Arabian, in December 2018. Roberta Morano completed her PhD on The Arabic dialect spoken in the al-'Awabi district, northern Oman in January 2020. Jawharah Alasmari completed her PhD on A comparative analysis of the Arabic and English verb systems in May 2021.


  • Co-director of Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems

Research interests

Research interests

My main research interests lie in the documentation of Modern South Arabian languages and modern Arabic dialects, with particular focus on theoretical phonological and morphological approaches to language varieties spoken within the south-western Arabian Peninsula. Since 2006, I have been documenting dialects of Mehri, one of six endangered Modern South Arabian languages spoken in the far south of the Arabian Peninsula. My research on Mehri has been supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (2007-8) and a British Academy / Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship (2010-11). Between 2010 and 2012, I collaborated with Dr M. al-Azraqi, Dammam University, Dr B. Heselwood, University of Leeds, and Dr S. Naim, LACVITO-CNRS, Villejuif on the geographical distribution, phonetics, and phonology of lateral emphatics in Saudi Arabian Arabic dialects. This project was funded by the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, Saudi Arabia.

In recent years, I have developed an interest in the multimodality of language, and organised a three-day British Academy-funded Multimodality in Language Research event for ECRs at the University of Leeds, June 2014. I am currently working with Dr Jack Wilson, Andrea BoomAbdullah al-Mahri and Saeed al-Qumairi on gesture in Modern South Arabian.

Current research projects

Between January 2013 and December 2016, I led a 48-month project to document the four most endangered Modern South Arabian languages, eret (also known as Jibbali), Harsusi, Hobyot and Bathari, and collect additional texts on Mehri. The project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. My co-investigators are Dr Miranda Morris, University of St Andrews, Dr Domenyk Eades, Melbourne, Australia and Dr Alex Bellem, Durham University. The principal aims of the project were to compile and archive a large corpus of annotated, transcribed and translated audio data from the four languages, and to produce a comparative cultural lexicon across the six Modern South Arabian languages. The comparative cultural glossary was published in 2019 as a Journal of Semitic Studies supplement. Impact includes the production of children's e-books in Mehri and Shehret, which can be accessed through the project website, the creation of an Arabic-based orthography for these unwritten languages in collaboration with native speakers, and the development of an Android keyboard in collaboration with GBoard. In February 2013, we posted a Shehret oral text transcribed using the new script and translated into Arabic on the website.

Access the project website.

The archives developed at ELAR, SOAS through the documentation project can be accessed through the following links:
Mehri: mehri-watson-0307 | Endangered Languages Archive (elararchive.org) 
Shehret: shahri-watson-0308 | Endangered Languages Archive (elararchive.org) 
Harsusi: The documentation and ethnolinguistic analysis of Modern South Arabian: Harsusi | Endangered Languages Archive (elararchive.org)
Hobyot: hobyot-morris-0309 | Endangered Languages Archive (elararchive.org)
Bathari: The documentation of Modern South Arabian languages: Bathari | Endangered Languages Archive (elararchive.org) 

Between 2015 and 2016, I was involved in a project with multiple partners from the University of Leeds to investigate multi-ethnic accommodation and tension within Kirkgate Market. The pilot stage of this project was funded by a British Academy Small Research Grant (PI Paul Bagguley) and the University of Leeds Sadler Seminar Series (PI Janet Watson). The project team are currently preparing a large grant application to the AHRC.

I led a multidisciplinary AHRC-funded network (2017-2019) on the symbiotic relationship between language and nature in southern and eastern Arabia, with partners from Qatar, Oman, Russia, United States, Canada and the UK. The first conference was held in Qatar in February 2018. I conducted training workshops in Qatar in February and September 2018, and a training workshop in Salalah under the auspices of the University of Nizwa in August 2018. An online conference was held in October 2018. The second conference was held at the University of Leeds in April 2019. An edited book resulting from the network was published in 2023 by Bloomsbury in the Ecolinguistics series, edited by Prof Arran Stibbe.

Access the project website.

I led a Yemeni-Omani team on an ELDP-funded project (2017-2018) on the community documentation of biocultural diversity in al-Mahrah, Yemen. The team included Dr Saeed al-Qumairi, Ali al-Mahri, Abdullah al-Mahri and members of the Mehri Center for Studies and Research in al-Ghaydhah, Yemen. The developing archive can be viewed here: mehri-watson-0484 | Endangered Languages Archive (elararchive.org).

From December 2019, I have held a two-year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship working with Barry Heselwood, Gisela Tome Lourido, Abdullah al-Mahri and Amer al-Kathiri on a laboratory phonology account of two of the Modern South Arabian languages, Mehri and Śḥerɛ̄t.

In August 2023, Saeed al-Qumairi came to the University of Leeds on a British Council International Research Fellowship to work on the ecopoetics of Mehri.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter
  • Diploma in Linguistics, SOAS, University of London
  • PhD in Linguistics, SOAS, University of London

Professional memberships

  • LAGB
  • Friends of Soqotra
  • British-Yemeni Society
  • British Foundation for the Study of Arabia
  • PhilSoc
  • Anglo-Omani Society

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems
  • Language at Leeds
  • Modern South Arabian Languages
  • Dialectology
  • Formal Linguistics
  • Modern South Arabian
  • Conflict
  • Language documentation
  • Popular Culture Research Network
  • Popular culture
  • Language variation
  • Multimodality
  • Speech production and perception
  • Arabic

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>