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Against Underlying Mid Vowels in Cairene Arabic

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Mid vowels in Cairene Arabic (CA) are claimed to have historically developed from Classical Arabic (CLA) diphthongs through monophthongization. Despite the claims that this is a historical process which no longer applies and that long mid vowels are underlying in CA, the absence of short mid vowels in this dialect raises certain theoretical concerns. This paper examines the distribution of mid vowels and diphthongs in CA and provides evidence that all mid vowels are synchronically derived from underlying diphthongs. Diphthongs, however, surface in systematic environments: after the shortening of underlying long low vowels, across morpheme boundaries, when a geminate glide is involved, and in a few lexical exceptions – contexts which resist phonological processes across languages. I argue that the appearance of CA long mid vowels is the result of total assimilation of two adjacent vocalic root nodes. As a consequence, CA and CLA surface forms can both be derived from diphthongal underlying representations with minimal constraint re-ranking.

Many thanks to Bruce Morén-Duolljá, Martin Krämer and Stuart Davis for their detailed comments and contributions, which greatly improved this article. I'm also grateful to audiences at the 16th Manchester Phonology Meeting, the First International Conference on Comparative Arabic Linguistics and the phonology seminars at CASTL/ University of Tromsø and Indiana University. The usual disclaimers apply.

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