Liesbeth Zack is Assistant Professor in Arabic language and linguistics. Her research interests include historical sources of the Egyptian Arabic dialects, Middle Arabic, modern Egyptian Arabic, Arabic sociolinguistics, and Egyptian dialect literature.
She is currently working on a research project entitled "The making of a capital dialect: Language change in 19th century Cairo". She is coordinator of the research group "Historical Sociolinguistics: Language Contact and Language Change" at the Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication.
The language situation in the Arab world is known as diglossia, which means there is a high variety (Classical Arabic / Modern Standard Arabic) used for official purposes, and a low variety (dialect) used for informal communication. In Ottoman Egypt the language situation was complicated further because the language of the government and the elite was Turkish.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Arabic dialect of Cairo changed in many respects: some features which the dialect until then shared with the surrounding rural dialects, disappeared, while other features were replaced by innovative ones.
Structural properties of the language alone cannot explain the change in the dialect, because the features that started to disappear then, had been part of the language for centuries. Therefore, the social context also has to be taken into account. In the 19th century, dramatic changes in the social structure of the city took place. Cairo in that period attracted many labourers from the rural regions of Egypt. The mixing of urban and rural dialects led to linguistic changes and the emergence of a different dialect known as modern Cairene.
The change of the official language of the government from Turkish to Arabic also had its impact on the dialect, since the elite who spoke Turkish until then, switched to Arabic. The urban population and the Turkish elite wanted to dissociate themselves from the speech of peasants and, accordingly, avoided stigmatized 'rural' features.
This project aims at analyzing the characteristics of this dialect and the changes that took place, explaining these changes by studying the language in its social context, and producing a digitalized corpus that can be used in future studies.
1998, MA (doctoraal) in Arabic Studies, cum laude, from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The subject of my thesis was an analysis of the Egyptian dialect used by the Egyptian novelist Yūsuf al-Qaʿīd in his novel Laban ilʿaṣfūr ("The milk of the bird").
1997-2006, Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo, Assistant Arabic Studies.
2006-2009, Lecturer of Arabic at the University of Amsterdam.
2009, PhD thesis: Egyptian Arabic in the seventeenth century: a study and edition of Yūsuf al-Maġribī's "Dafʿ al-iṣr ʿan kalām ahl Miṣr".
2009-present, Assistant Professor in Arabic Language and Culture at the University of Amsterdam.
2012-present, project: "The making of a capital dialect: Language change in 19th century Cairo". Veni-grant 2012-2015 from NWO (The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research).
Alexander-Bakkerus, Astrid; Fernández Rodríguez, Rebeca; Zack, Liesbeth; Zwartjes, Otto (eds.) (2020). Missionary Linguistic Studies from Mesoamerica to Patagonia. Leiden, Boston: Brill. (Brill’s Studies in Language, Cognition and Culture; 22).
Missionary Linguistic Studies from Mesoamerica to Patagonia presents the results of in-depth studies of grammars, vocabularies and religious texts, dating from the sixteenth – nineteenth century. The researches involve twenty (extinct) indigenous Mesoamerican and South American languages: Matlatzinca, Mixtec, Nahuatl, Purépecha, Zapotec (Mexico); K’iche, Kaqchikel (Guatemala); Amage, Aymara, Cholón, Huarpe, Kunza, Mochica, Mapudungun, Proto-Tacanan, Pukina, Quechua, Uru-Chipaya (Peru); Tehuelche (Patagonia); (Tupi-)Guarani (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay).
The results of the studies include: a) a digital model of a good, conveniently arranged vocabulary, applicable to all indigenous Amerindian languages; b) disclosure of intertextual relationships, language contacts, circulation of knowledge; c) insights in grammatical structures; d) phone analyses; e) transcriptions, so that the texts remain accessible for further research. f) the architecture of grammars; g) conceptual evolutions and innovations in grammaticography.
Zack, Liesbeth and Schippers, Arie (eds.). Middle Arabic and Mixed Arabic: Diachrony and Synchrony.
In recent scholarship, the connection between Middle Arabic and Mixed Arabic is studied in a more systematic way. The idea of studying these two varieties in one theoretical frame is quite new, and was initiated at the conferences of the International Association for the Study of Middle and Mixed Arabic (AIMA). At these conferences, the members of AIMA discuss the latest insights into the definition, terminology, and research methods of Middle and Mixed Arabic. Results of various discussions in this field are to be foundin the presentbook, which contains articles describing and analysing the linguistic features of Muslim, Jewish and Christian Arabic texts (folklore, religious and linguistic literature) as well as the matters of mixed language and diglossia.
Contributors include: Berend Jan Dikken, Lutz Edzard, Jacques Grand'Henry, Bruno Halflants, Benjamin Hary, Rachel Hasson Kenat, Johannes den Heijer, Amr Helmy Ibrahim, Paolo La Spisa, Jérôme Lentin, Gunvor Mejdell, Arie Schippers, Yosef Tobi, Kees de Vreugd, Manfred Woidich, and Otto Zwartjes.
Publisher: Brill, Leiden.
Series: Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics 64.
Publication date: April 2012.
Dafʿ al-iṣr ʿan kalām ahl Miṣr دفع الإصر عن كلام أهل مصر " Removing the burden from the speech of the Egyptians", was written in 1606 by Yūsuf al-Maġribī يوسف المغربي (d. 1611), and provides its readers with valuable information about the Egyptian dialect used in the 17 th century. The work is unique because it was one of the earliest attempts to study colloquial Arabic. It is a list of Egyptian Arabic words, which al-Maġribī checked for consistency with Classical Arabic. His aim was to prove that many Egyptian dialect terms, which were considered to be "incorrect"Arabic, in fact had their roots in the Classical Arabic language. Al-Maġribī focused on the words used in daily Egyptian life, such as the names of tools and utensils and food and drink, as well as the speech of traders and artisans. These entries are often adorned by anecdotes and lines of colloquial poetry and therefore, provide the reader with insight into the culture and daily life of Egypt in this period. This volume, which was published in 2009, consists of two parts: the first is a study of aspects of daily life, the colloquial poetry, the linguistic characteristics of the dialect of this period, and a glossary of the words which are mentioned by al-Maġribī. The second parts is the edition of the Arabic text, based on the autograph.
Last update: May 2023
The research group Historical Sociolinguistics organizes a workshop Methodological Challenges in Historical Sociolinguistics: 'Oral and Written Texts' and 'Elite Bilingualism and Diglossia' (23 and 24 May 2023, online). Please see the announcement for more details: Announcement. The programme and abstracts can be downloaded here. If you would like to attend the lectures, please send me an e-mail: e.w.a.zack[at]uva.nl.
The research group 'Historical sociolinguistics' studies how language and society have interacted in the past, combining the fields of sociolinguistics and historical linguistics. This research group focuses on language contact and change in its socio-historical context. Language contact happens when speakers of different varieties of a language, or of different languages, interact with each other, causing the languages to influence each other.
The research group is based at the Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication (ACLC) https://aclc.uva.nl/
Muhadj Adnan, Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Saenz, Margreet Dorleijn, Rebeca Fernández Rodríguez, Sune Gregersen, Camiel Hamans, Guillermo Olivera, Caroline Roset, Manfred Woidich, Arjen Versloot, Liesbeth Zack (coordinator), Ewa Zakrzewska.