North American Conference on Afroasiatic Linguistics

Thanks to the generous support of the Center for Language Study, I was able to attend the annual meeting of the North American Conference on Afroasiatic Linguistics (NACAL 42), Leiden, the Netherlands, February 14-16, 2014. The North American Conference on Afroasiatic Linguistics (NACAL) is an annual two- or three-day conference dedicated to linguistic studies of the Afroasiatic language phylum, which includes the language families of Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, and Omotic as well as the better-known families of Egyptian and Semitic. Various linguistic methodologies are represented at the conference with many participants adopting the framework of historical linguistics (including contact linguistics). You can see the program for this year’s conference here and the abstracts here. NACAL typically draws a number of prominent North American scholars as well as several international scholars. This year’s conference was held outside of North America for the first time. The European location enabled a different group of scholars to attend, which was useful in making new contacts and building new collaborative projects.

At the conference, I presented a paper entitled “The Classification of Late Aramaic.” The paper grew out of a chapter that I am currently writing for a book entitled Language Change in the Wake of Empire: Syriac in its Greco-Roman Context, which will be published with Eisenbrauns in their series Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic (LSAWS). The paper was also directly related to my introductory lectures for two courses that I teach on Aramaic here at Yale (syllabi for these courses can be found here and here). Aramaic is a member of the Semitic language family and is related to modern languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, and Amharic. It is first attested in written records from the tenth century BCE in Syria and Mesopotamia and has continued to be spoken in this region until the present day. My paper discussed the classification of the Late Aramaic dialects (ca. 200 – 1200 CE). I argued that a family-tree model (Stammbaum) of classification does not adequately account for the development and classification of the Late Aramaic dialects and that a convergence model is more appropriate. In the paper, I devoted particular attention to theoretical issues of language classification as well as to the history of Aramaic.

Finally, I should mention that I co-convened last year’s NACAL conference here at Yale on February 16-17, 2013 (the poster is available here and the program here). I am currently editing a volume tentatively entitled Studies in Semitic Language Contact, which will contain a selection of papers from this conference as well as a number of solicited contributions. The goal is to have 15-20 papers, spread out over modern and ancient Semitic languages. All of the papers will be united by the theme of language contact. The volume will be published by Brill in their series Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics (SSLL).


Aaron Michael Butts, PhD

Senior Lector of Semitics

NELC, Yale University

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