Ancient North Arabian epigraphy

2017. Pre-Islamic ” Ḥamāsah ” Verses from Northeastern Jordan: A New Safaitic Poetic Text from Marabb al-Shurafāʾ, with further remarks on the ʿĒn ʿAvdat Inscription and KRS 2453. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 47: 117-128.

This contribution presents a decipherment of a new Safaitic inscription argued to contain a short war poem. This is followed by a discussion of its relationship with the other two Old Arabic poetic texts known to date, KRS 2453 and the ʿĒn ʿAvdat inscription. The article concludes with some further notes on KRS 2453.

2017: Marginal notes on and additions to An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions (ssll 80; Leiden: Brill, 2015), with a supplement to the dictionaryArabian Epigraphic Notes 3: 75-96.

This contribution provides a preliminary update to An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions (ssll 80; Leiden: Brill, 2015) based on new inscriptions and the re-interpretation of previously published texts. New data pertain to phonology, demonstratives, verbal morphology, and syntax. The supplement to the dictionary contains hundreds of new entries, mainly comprising rare words and hapax legomena.

2016. An ancient Arabian zodiac. The constellations in the Safaitic inscriptions, Part II. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 27.1: 84-106.

The second part of ‘An ancient Arabian zodiac. The constellations in the Safaitic inscriptions’ discusses the position of the Arabian zodiac visa -vis other parapegmata from antiquity, and takes up a comparative etymological study of the zodiac names in an attempt to locate their source. Four appendices discussing tangential issues that arose in the course of this study follow.

2016. A few notes on the alleged occurrence of the group name ‘Ghassān’ in a Safaitic inscription. Archiv für Orientforschung 53, with M.C.A. Macdonald.

A recently published Safaitic inscription was alleged to contain the group name Ghassān (i.e. the Ghassanids).  We re-examine the inscription, and conclude that this interpretation was based on a misreading.  Instead, the text provides the first pre-Islamic attestation of the Ṭayyiʾ deity “Fals”.

2015. Echoes of the Baal Cycle in a Safaito-Hismaic Inscription. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religion 15.1: 5–19.

This article provides a new reading and interpretation of the undeciphered Ancient North Arabian inscription KRS 2453. It is argued that the text is composed in a mixed Safaito-Hismaic script, and contains a three-line poem recounting the conflict between the Canaanite deities Baal and Mōt as known from the Ugaritic Baal Cycle. The inscrip-tion’s Ancient North Arabian context is also discussed, and its style and structure are examined in light of the ʿĒn ʿAvdat inscription, the only comparable Old Arabic text.

2015. A Thamudic B Abecedary in the South Semitic letter order. In A. Butts (ed.), Semitic Languages in Contact. Leiden: Brill, pp. 1–15, with A. al-Manaser.

This paper publishes the first Abecedary in the Thamudic B script, and offers a few speculative remarks about its origin and the significance for the question of literacy among the nomads of North Arabia.

2014. An ancient Arabian zodiac. The constellations in the Safaitic inscriptions, Part I. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 25.2: 214–230.

This contribution identifies a previously unrecognised mode of reckoning time in the Safaitic inscriptions – the stars. Twelve zodiacal constellations are identified, along with the constellations Orion and the Pleiades.


2017. Graeco-Arabica I: The Southern Levant. In A. Al-Jallad (ed.), Arabic in Context. Leiden: Brill, 99-186.

This paper is the first installment of a series of four articles which will survey the linguistic features of the Arabic material in Greek transcription in the epigraphy and papyri of the Roman and Byzantine Near East.

2016. New Epigraphica from Jordan II: three Safaitic-Greek partial bilingual inscriptions. Arabian Epigraphic Notes 2: 55-66., w. Ali al-Manaser.

This paper publishes three new Safaitic-Greek bilingual inscriptions. One of them is the first to contain a translation of the Old Arabic prose into Greek. In addition to their decipherment and translation, the paper offers a few grammatical observations on the Arabic and Greek and remarks on the growing evidence for Arabic-Greek bilingualism in the Harrah.

2015. New Epigraphica from Jordan I: a pre-Islamic Arabic inscription in Greek letters and a Greek inscription from north-eastern Jordan. Arabian Epigraphic Notes 1: 51–70. With A. al-Manaser.

This article studies two unique Greek inscriptions from Wadi Salma innorth-eastern Jordan. The first contains seven lines of Old Arabic written in Greek letters, and is our first secure example of Arabic prose writtenin Greek in the pre-Islamic period. The inscription sheds light on severalgrammatical features otherwise obscured by the consonantal skeletons of the Semitic scripts, such as the presence of case inflection, the realizationof III-w suffix-conjugated verbs, and the vowel pattern of the prefix conjugation. The second inscription is written entirely in the Greek language,but contains a long section of prose that is thematically similar to what is typically found in the Safaitic inscriptions.

2013. The Arabic toponyms and oikonyms in 17. In L. Koenen, M. and J. Kaimio, and R. Daniel (eds.), The Petra Papyri II. Amman: ACOR, pp. 23–48, with R. Daniel and O. al-Ghul.

This paper identifies the Arabic vocabulary of P.Petra II and discusses their etymologies and possible pronunciation. These words provide precious insights into the pronunciation of Arabic in the 6th century CE, immediately before the Islamic Conquests.

Historical Semitic linguistics

2017. The Case for Proto-Semitic and Proto-Arabic Case: A reply to Jonathan OwensRomano-Arabica 17: 87-117, w. Marijn van Putten

In several works (1998a;b, 2006/9, 2015), Professor J. Owens has developed a revisionist history of the Arabic system of nominal case inflection. Rather than reconstructing the case system of Classical Arabic, cognate with Akkadian and Ugaritic, for Proto-Arabic, he proposed several scenarios in favor of a caseless variety of Proto-Semitic from which the modern Arabic dialects descend. This article engages with the Owens’ methodology, data, and claims in a defense of the traditional reconstruction – Proto-Arabic had a nominal case system similar to Classical Arabic that was lost in the modern dialects. We reconstruct a historical scenario to explain the eventual breakdown and disappearance of case in modern Arabic.

This article revisits the problem of the orthography of III-w nouns belonging to the CaCaCat pattern in the Qur’anic Consonantal Text. The third radical of these nouns is spelled with a waw in the unbound state, but with an alif when followed by a pronominal clitic. Scholars have offered a variety of solutions to account for this anomaly, ranging from the influence of Aramaic to Arabic-internal sound changes, but none has so far been entirely satisfactory. In this paper, we integrate the understanding of this spelling into the broader issue of the collapse of triphthongs in Arabic, concluding that the collapse of the triphthong awa, and the quality of the ensuing monophthong, was dependent upon the position of the accent.

2016. New evidence from a Safaitic inscription for a late velar/uvular realization of ṣ́ in AramaicSemitica 58: 257-270.

A new Safaitic inscription from Jebel Qurma transcribes the Aramaic reflex of Proto-Semitic *ḍ with the q glyph, reminiscent of Old Aramaic. This attestation suggests that the velar/uvular realization of the emphatic lateral in Aramaic persisted in some dialects till the end of the first millennium BCE, if not later.

2015. On the voiceless reflex of *ṣ́ and *ṯ̣ in pre-Hilalian Maghrebian Arabic. Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguistik 62: 88–95.

This paper argues that the voiceless reflex of the emphatics *ṣ́ (ḍād) and *ṯ̣ (ẓāʾ) in some pre-Hilalian Maghrebian Arabic dialects is in fact an archaism. These phonemes were voiceless in Old Arabic, as proven by Greek transcriptions from the pre-Islamic period, and so pre-Hilalian Maghrebian Arabic may continue the original situation. The voiced reflexes, more common in other modern Arabic dialects and in the conventional pro-nunciation of Classical Arabic, are then interpreted as a later development.

2015. Yusapʿil or Yuhapʿil, that is the question – two solutions to sound change > h in West Semitic. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 165.1: 27–39.


2015. What’s a caron between friends? A review article of Wilmsen (2014), with special focus on the etymology of modern Arabic ši. Bibliotheca Orientalis 72: 34–46.

This paper reviews the book Arabic Indefinites, Interrogatives, and Negators: A Linguistic History of Western Dialects (Wilmsen 2014), focusing on its central thesis, namely, that the various function words in modern Arabic with a š-element are not derived from the word šay᾿un ‘thing’, but from the Proto-Semitic anaphoric demonstratives/3rd person pronouns, *su᾿a, *si᾿a, etc. I refute this claim on the basis of historical phonology, and highlight several other errors of reconstruction which arise from the general disregard for sound correspondences. I go on to defend the traditional etymology of ši as being derived from the word šay᾿un ‘thing’ by explaining the unproblematic phonological derivation of the former from the latter, and locate its origins in the Old Arabic of the Safaitic inscriptions.

2014. Final short vowels in Ge’ez, Hebrew ‘atta, and the Anceps Paradox. Journal of Semitic Studies 49/1: 315–327.

The term ‘anceps vowels’, as used by Semiticists, refers to word-final vowels which do not seem to exhibit consistent reflexes across languages. This paper will argue that the irregular reflexes of final vowels in Gə‛əz and in several environments in Hebrew emerged from an incorrect ordering of sound rules and an incomplete picture of both proto-Ethiopic and Proto-Canaanite morphology. By correcting these two issues, the traditional ‘anceps’ vowels can be derived from original final short vowels through regular sound laws.

2014. On the genetic background of the Rbbl bn Hfʿm grave inscription at Qaryat al-Fāw. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and Asian Studies 77.3: 445–465.

It is widely believed that the Rbbl bn Hfʿm grave inscription found at Qaryat al-Fāw is the earliest example of Old Arabic. The ten-line inscriptionwritten in the Sabaic script attests the common Arabic definite article, ʾl, plus several other non-Sabaic linguistic features. I argue that the definite article is not a suitable diagnostic of genetic affiliation, and other features, such as mimation, the conjunction ʿdky, and more, should also be given consideration. Through a close linguistic examination based on the principle of shared morphological innovations, I demonstrate that none of the morphological innovations which characterize Arabic are attested in this inscription. As such, its language is probably not a descendant of proto-Arabic. Our results further suggest that the ʾl-article, which has previously been used as a marker of Arabic, was simply one of many definite article forms which spread to Arabic, and other Semitic languages of Arabia, through areal diffusion.

2014. Aṣ-ṣādu llatī ka-s-sīn: evidence for an affricated ṣād in Sibawayh?: Folia Orientalia 51: 51–57.

This paper argues that the Ṣād of the early Islamic period was still an affricate. Evidence for this comes from a close reading of Sibawayh’s description of the phoneme in light of early Greek transcriptions.

Handbook articles

Forthcoming. The earliest stages of Arabic and its linguistic classification. In R. Bassiouney and M. Benmamoun (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Arabic Linguistics.

2015. Provincia Arabia: Nabataea, the emergence of Arabic as a written language, and Graeco-Arabica. In G. Fisher (ed.), Arabs and Empires before Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 276–373, with Z.T. Fiema, M.C.A. Macdonald, and L. Nehmé.