From Medieval Tribes to Modern Dialects: on the Afterlives of Colonial Knowledge in Arabic Dialectology

In: Philological Encounters
Adam Benkato University of California Berkeley

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By producing certain types of knowledge and discourse and rendering medieval sources such as Ibn Khaldūn into the terms of that discourse, colonial Orientalists delimited what it was possible to know about both the medieval and modern Maghrib. Concerned with the narrative of the “Arabization” of the Maghrib distilled out of Ibn Khaldūn by colonial scholars, the field of Arabic dialectology attempted to use linguistic research on modern Arabic to buttress this narrative while employing it to categorize its results. This article examines how particular categories such as divisions of “Bedouin” dialects originated through this type of colonial scholarship, and how they have lived on until now as the categories into which current research is fit.

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