A digital philological investigation of the history of hā hunā constructions

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In modern spoken Arabic dialects, the proximal locative demonstrative “here” is derived either from *hunā or *hā hunā, with no dialects preserving both forms or contrasting between them. In formal written Arabic both forms are used, and so this study investigates the contrast between hunā and hā hunā in an 800 million word collection of written Arabic texts in order to shed light on the development of hā hunā in the spoken dialects. The study, however, finds that there is no semantic or pragmatic contrast in the usage of the two phrases, though changes in the relative frequency of use reflect larger changes in the centers of literary production and political power and the dialects of those centers. The study concludes that formal written Arabic must be treated as an autonomous register which has developed according to the needs of that register and therefore written Arabic reflects the spoken language only to a small degree.

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