When the Construction Is Axla, Everything Is Axla: A Case of Combined Lexical and Structural Borrowing from Arabic to Hebrew

In: Journal of Jewish Languages
Roey J. Gafter Tel Aviv University Tel Aviv Israel

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Uri Horesh Northwestern University Evanston, IL USA

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This article examines a borrowing from Arabic into Hebrew, which is a combination of a lexical borrowing and a structural one. The Arabic superlative aħla ‘sweetest, most beautiful,’ pronounced by most Modern Hebrew speakers [axla], has shifted semantically to mean ‘great, awesome.’ Yet, as our corpus-based study illustrates, it was borrowed into Hebrew—for the most part—with a very particular syntactic structure that, in Arabic, denotes the superlative. In Arabic itself, aħla may also denote a comparative adjective, though in different syntactic structures. We discuss the significance of this borrowing and the manner in which it is borrowed both to the specific contact situation between Arabic and Hebrew and to the theory of language contact in general.

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