Semitic and Arabic Studies Scholar at Freie Universitšt Berlin to Receive ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council

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Linguist Dr. Simona Olivieri (PhD) will receive grant worth over 1.49 million euros for her research project on the Arabic language

Simona Olivieri, Semitic and Arabic studies researcher Image Credit: Personal co
Simona Olivieri, Semitic and Arabic studies researcher Image Credit: Personal collection
Semitic and Arabic studies scholar Simona Olivieri from Freie Universitšt Berlin has been selected by the European Research Council (ERC) for an ERC Starting Grant worth over 1.49 million euros. The funding will be used to finance a five-year research project titled "Arabic Linguistic Discourse in the Making" (ALiDiM), aimed at investigating the roots of Classical Arabic and its reception. The research data and the original sources will later be made freely available to the public. The goal of ERC Starting Grants is to support researchers who have already produced excellent supervised work and help them make the transition to carrying out independent research.

Classical Arabic, as spoken and written by ancient scholars, is the main object of research of the ALiDiM project, involving intensive research and metalinguistic analysis on the language. The findings may shed new light on previous notions surrounding the roots of the Arabic linguistic tradition.

"The cultural environment influences not only the way languages are used, but also shaped. Arabic is a very good example of how languages are depicted as being representatives of cultures," says Olivieri. Since the seventh century C.E., Arabic language scholars have worked to define the structure of Classical Arabic, presenting the language as the key to the Arabic-Islamic culture. For example, part of their work was to collect sources and linguistic data, and they selected those that were most meaningful to the emerging community. This included pre-Islamic Bedouin varieties and poetry as well as the Koran. "In the ALiDiM project, we will explore the dynamics behind this grammar-making. With this, we will produce a new reading of the formative period of Classical Arabic and show how the language has been central to configuring and challenging cultural and social boundaries." says Olivieri.

Following an interdisciplinary approach, the researcher aims to place the linguistic development of Classical Arabic within a larger cultural framework. The ALiDiM project will explore the formation and development of Arabic linguistic discourse between the seventh and tenth centuries C.E. The work will revolve around the linguistic and extralinguistic components that contributed to the process, including the cultural factors. "We will examine the sociopolitical context in which Classical Arabic emerged, the methodology adopted by the scholars who first systematized the language, as well as the sources they used and the lexicon they developed. In addition, we will also investigate the influence of the Greek linguistic tradition on that of the Arabic. This aspect is particularly relevant since a deeper look into the way knowledge circulated in the intellectual circles of the region is essential to tracing the development of specific linguistic ideas. The objective is to examine how Classical Arabic was originally described and systematized, but also to shed light on its functions as a culture-based means of communication and as a bond for the emerging Arab-Islamic community," explains Olivieri.

Digital versions of the research results, data, and original sources will later be made freely accessible to the public on the project website.

Simona Olivieri is a postdoctoral researcher at Freie Universitšt Berlin’s Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies. She has been the principal investigator of the OBUA - Ombudswesen@BUA project since 2021, a project funded by the Berlin University Alliance. She studied Near Eastern languages and cultures with a focus on Arabic and linguistics in Venice and Rome, where she obtained her doctoral degree in 2016.

Following the completion of a postdoctoral scholarship at the University of Helsinki, sponsored by the Suomen Kulttuurirahasto (Finnish Cultural Foundation), Olivieri originally joined the Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies at Freie Universitšt Berlin as a recipient of a postdoctoral fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. After completing the fellowship in 2020, she stayed on at the Seminar as a research associate and lecturer. Her work at Freie Universitšt includes research and teaching in the fields of Arabic and Semitic linguistics, linguistic theories, and digital humanities.

Olivieri’s areas of interest comprise linguistics, metalinguistics, Arabic linguistic thinking and grammatical tradition, and the transfer of linguistic knowledge. In her research, she deals with Classical Arabic, the formative period of Classical Arabic, and the Arabic linguistic tradition. Here, she investigates the philosophy of language, scientific methods, and specialized lexicon used in grammatical sources. In her current research, she is also examining contact between different linguistic traditions, in particular between the Greek, Syriac, and Arabic traditions.