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Samuel Joseph Liebhaber
President and Fellows of Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT 05753-6004)
Bedouin Without Arabic: Language, Poetry, and the Mahra of Southeast Yemen

My project will explore the sociolinguistic conundrum presented by the Mahri tribes of Southeast Yemen. On one hand, the Mahra embody the essence of “Arab authenticity” (asála) due to their preservation of a semi-nomadic lifestyle along the southern edge of the Empty Quarter. On the other hand, the Mahra do not speak Arabic, a key ingredient of “Arabness," but rather one of the few substrate languages left on the Arabian Peninsula: mehríyyet. Whereas scholarship on sociolinguistics and language diversity in the Arab world tends to focus on variation within the Arabic language community, my project will examine a rare situation in which indigenous language variation in the Middle East occurs outside of the Arabic language. Using Mahri poetry as my chief platform for analysis, I will investigate how the Mahra perceive themselves within contemporary discourses of “Arabness” and the strategies that they employ to negotiate their status as Arabs and citizens of the Republic of Yemen.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
Near and Middle Eastern Languages

Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2011 – 6/30/2012