This book traces the origins and development of the Arabic grammatical marker š/ši, which is found in interrogatives, negators, and indefinite determiners over a broad dialect area that stretches from the southern Levant to North Africa and includes dialects of Yemen and Oman. David Wilmsen draws on data from old vernacular Arabic texts and from a variety of Arabic dialects, and shows that, contrary to much of the literature on the diachrony of this morpheme, š/ši does not derive from Arabic šay 'thing'. Instead, he argues that it dates back to a pre-Arabic stage of West Semitic and probably has its origins in a Semitic demonstrative pronoun. On this theory, Arabic šay could in fact derive from š/ši, and not vice versa. The book demonstrates the significance of the Arabic dialects in understanding the history of Arabic and the Semitic languages, and claims that modern Arabic dialects could not have developed from Classical Arabic. It will be of interest to historical linguists of all persuasions from graduate level upwards, particularly all those working on Arabic and other Semitic languages.
David Wilmsen is Professor of Arabic in the Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages at The American University of Beirut. He has spent 40 years studying Arabic, and 20 years living in Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon. He has previously held posts at The American University in Cairo and Georgetown University, and his work has been published in a number of journals including Zeitschrift fur Arabische Linguistik, Journal of Semitic Studies, and Arabica.