Professor Janet C.E. Watson

Leadership Chair for Language at Leeds

+44 (0)113 343 7069

Summary: Documentation of Modern South Arabian languages; Arabic dialectology; phonology; morphology; acoustic and instrumental phonetics

Location: Michael Sadler Building


After studying Arabic & Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, I moved to SOAS, London to study Linguistics and then complete a PhD on the phonology and morphology of Yemeni Arabic dialects. I have held academic posts at the Universities of Edinburgh, Durham and Salford. I have also held visiting posts at the universities of Heidelberg (2003-4) and Oslo (2004-5). I took up the Leadership Chair for Language@Leeds at the University of Leeds on 1st May 2013.
I am on the editorial board of the Seminar of Arabian Studies, the Journal of Semitic Studies, and Zeitschrift fuer Arabische Linguistik, and a member of the advisory board of the Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes.

I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (section H3) in 2013, and co-opted to section H4 in 2016. 

Research interests

My main research interests lie in the documentation of Modern South Arabian languages and modern Arabic dialects, with particular focus on theoretical phonological and morphological approaches to language varieties spoken within the south-western Arabian Peninsula. Since 2006, I have been documenting dialects of Mehri, one of six endangered Modern South Arabian languages spoken in the far south of the Arabian Peninsula. My research on Mehri has been supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (2007-8) and a British Academy / Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship (2010-11). Between 2010 and 2012, I collaborated with Dr M. al-Azraqi, Dammam University, Dr B. Heselwood, University of Leeds, and Dr S. Naïm, LACVITO-CNRS, Villejuif on the geographical distribution, phonetics, and phonology of lateral emphatics in Saudi Arabian Arabic dialects. This project was funded by the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, Saudi Arabia.

In recent years, I have developed an interest in the multimodality of language, and organised a three-day British Academy-funded Multimodality in Language Research event for ECRs at the University of Leeds, June 2014.

Current research projects

Between January 2013 and December 2016, I led a 48-month project to document the four most endangered Modern South Arabian languages, Śḥeret (also known as Jibbali), Harsusi, Hobyot and Bathari, and collect additional texts on Mehri. The project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. My co-investigators are Dr Miranda Morris, University of St Andrews, Dr Domenyk Eades, Melbourne, Australia and Dr Alex Bellem, Durham University. The principal aims of the project were to compile and archive a large corpus of annotated, transcribed and translated audio data from the four languages, and to produce a comparative cultural lexicon across the six Modern South Arabian languages. Impact includes the production of children's e-books in Mehri and Shehret, which can be accessed through the project website, and the creation of an Arabic-based orthography for these unwritten languages in collaboration with native speakers. In February 2013, we posted a Śḥeret oral text transcribed using the new script and translated into Arabic on the website:

The project website can be accessed here:

Between 2015 and 2016, I was involved in a project with multiple partners from the University of Leeds to investigate multi-ethnic accommodation and tension within Kirkgate Market. The pilot stage of this project was funded by a British Academy Small Research Grant (PI Paul Bagguley) and the University of Leeds Sadler Seminar Series (PI Janet Watson). The project team are currently preparing a large grant application to the Leverhulme Trust.

I am currently leading a multidisciplinary AHRC-funded network (2017-2019) on the symbiotic relationship between language and nature in southern and eastern Arabia, with partners from Qatar, Oman, Russia, United States, Canada and the UK. The first conference was held in Qatar in February 2018. The second conference will be held at the University of Leeds in 2019.


Authored books

  • Watson JCE (1993) A syntax of San’ani Arabic. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Watson JCE (1996) Sbahtu? A course in San’ani Arabic. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Watson JCE (1996) Lexicon of Arabic horse terminology. London: Kegan Paul International.
  • Dickins J; Watson JCE (1999) Standard Arabic: An advanced course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Watson JCE; al-Amri AA (2000) Wasf San’a: Texts in San’ani Arabic. 23, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Mutahhar AA; Watson JCE (2002) Social issues in popular Yemeni culture. San’a, Yemen: al-Sabahi Press.
  • Watson JCE (2002, 2007) Phonology and morphology of Arabic (the phonology of the world’s languages). USA: Oxford University Press.
  • Watson JCE (2012) The structure of Mehri. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Edited books

  • Edzard L; Watson JCE eds. (2006) Grammar as a window onto Arabic humanism: A collection of articles in honour of Michael G. Carter. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Miller C; al-Wer E; Caubet D; Watson JCE eds. (2007) Arabic in the City. London: Routledge.
  • Watson JCE; Retsö J eds. (2009) Relative clauses and genitive constructions in Semitic. Oxford University Press.
  • Watson JCE; Arnold W eds. (2009) Mehri-Texte aus der jemenitischen Sharqiyyah. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Weninger S; Khan G; Streck M; Watson JCE (2011) The Semitic Languages. Walter de Gruyter: Berlin.
  • Elmaz O; Watson JCE (2014) Languages of Southern Arabia: Supplement to the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 44. Archaeopress: Oxford.

Selected journal articles and chapters

  • Watson JCE (2004) In search of the green donkey: changing colour terminology in San’ani Arabic. In: Woidich M; Aguadé J Estudios de dialectología norteafricana y andalusí, 8, Zaragoza, Spain: Instituto de Estudios Islámicos y del Oriente Próximo, pp. 253-264.
  • Watson JCE (2005) Patterns and functions of repetition in a popular Yemeni genre. Folia Orientalia 41, pp. 93-106.
  • Watson JCE; Stalls BG; al-Razihi K; Weir S (2006) Two texts from Jabal Razih, North-west Yemen. In: Edzard L; Retsö J Current issues in the analysis of Semitic grammar and lexicon II: Oslo-Göteborg cooperation 4th-5th November 2005, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp. 40-63.
  • Watson JCE (2006) Arabic morphology: diminutive verbs and diminutive nouns in San’ani Arabic. Morphology, 16, pp. 189-204.
  • Watson JCE (2007) Syllabification patterns in Arabic dialects: long segments and mora sharing. Phonology, 24, pp. 335-356.
  • Watson JCE (2007) Ein Märchen im arabischen Dialekt von Ibb. Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguistik 47, pp. 1-31.
  • Watson JCE (2009) Children of San’a. In: Arnold W; Jursa M; Müller WW; Procházka S Philologisches und Historisches zwischen Anatolien und Sokotra: Analecta Semitica in Memoriam Alexander Sima, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp. 383-394.
  • Watson JCE (2009) Annexion, attribution and genitives in Mahriyyōt. In: Watson JCE; Retsö J Relative Clauses and Genitive Constructions in Semitic. OUP, pp. 229-244.
  • Watson JCE; Bellem A (2010) A detective story: emphatics in Mehri. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 40, pp. 345-356.
  • Watson JCE; Al-Azraqi M (2011) Lateral fricatives and lateral emphatics in southern Saudi Arabia and Mehri. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 41, pp. 425-432.
  • Watson JCE; Bellem A (2011) Glottalisation and neutralisation in Yemeni Arabic and Mehri: an acoustic study. In: Heselwood B; Hassan Z Arabic Instrumental Phonetics, Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp. 436-456.
  • Watson JCE (2011) South Arabian and Yemeni dialects. Salford Working Papers in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, 1, pp. 27-40.
  • Watson JCE (2011) Word stress in Arabic. In: Oostendorp MV; Ewen C; Hume E; Rice K The Blackwell companion to phonology, 5, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Watson JCE (2011) Arabic dialects (general article). In: Weninger S; Khan G; Streck M; Watson JCE The Semitic Languages. Walter de Gruyter: Berlin, pp. 851–896.
  • Watson JCE (2011) Dialects of the Arabian Peninsula. In: Weninger S; Khan G; Streck M; Watson JCE The Semitic Languages. Walter de Gruyter: Berlin, pp. 897–908.
  • Watson JCE; Rowlett PA (2013) Negation in Mehri, stages of Jespersen’s cycle. In: Eades D Grammaticalisation in Semitic, Journal of Semitic Studies supplement series, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 205–225.
  • Watson JCE; Eades D; al-Mahri M (2013) Camel culture and camel terminology amongst the Omani Bedouin. Journal of Semitic Studies, 58, pp. 169–186.
  • Heselwood B; Watson JCE (2013) The Arabic definite article does not assimilate. In Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics and Phonetics, 18, pp. 34–53.
  • Heselwood B; Watson JCE; Maghrabi R (2014) The Ancient Greek psiládaséa distinction as a possible source for the majhūrmahmūs distinction in Sībawayhi’s Kitāb. Historiographia Linguistica, 41, pp. 193–217.
  • Watson JCE (2014) Southern Semitic and Arabic dialects of the south-western Arabian Peninsula. In O Elmaz & JCE Watson (eds), Languages of Southern Arabia: Supplement to the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 44, pp. 147–153.
  • Bellem A; Watson JCE (2014) Backing and glottalization in three SWAP language varieties. In: MEB Giolfo (ed.), Arab and Arabic linguistics: Traditional and new theoretical approaches. OUP: Oxford, pp. 169–207.
  • Heselwood B; Watson JCE (2015) The Arabic definite article: A synchronic and historical perspective. In: Lutz Edzard (ed.), Arabic and Semitic Linguistics Contextualized: A festschrift for Jan Retsö. Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden. 157–176.
  • Watson JCE;  Heselwood B (2016) Phonation and glottal states in Modern South Arabian and San’ani Arabic. In: Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics 28. Benjamins: Amsterdam. 3–37.
  • Watson, JCE (2017) ‘Translation, mistranslation and seasons in Mahrah’. In: R.G. Stiegner (ed.), Süd-Arabien / South Arabia: A Great “Lost Corridor” of Mankind, Volume 1: 251–261. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.
  • Bellem A; Watson JCE (2017) ‘South Arabian sibilants and the Śḥerɛ̄t s̃ ~ š contrast’.  In: A. al-Jallad et al (eds), To the Madbar and back again: studies in the languages, archaeology, and cultures of Arabia dedicated to Michael C.A. Macdonald. 622–644. Brill.
  • Watson JCE; al-Mahri A (2017) ‘Language and nature in Dhofar’. In: S. Bettega & F. Gasparini (eds), RiCOGNIZIONI. Rivisti di Lingue e Letterature straniere e Culture moderne (University of Turin).
  • Watson JCE; Wilson JJ (2017) ‘Gesture in Modern South Arabian Languages: Variation in multimodal constructions during task-based interaction’. In: S. Bendjaballah & P. Ségéral (eds), Journal of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics, Volume 9, Issue 1: 1–24. Brill.

Postgraduate supervision

I would welcome enquiries from students interested in conducting linguistic research on any dialect of Arabic, on one of the Modern South Arabian languages, or on aspects of multimodality.

Current PhD students

My current PhD students are: Fuad Mohammed (The Arabic dialect of Hit, Iraq), Roberta Morano (Reinhardt’s Omani Arabic a century later: A comparative grammar of the dialect of the al-‘Awabi district), Giuliano Castagna (The grammaticalization of definiteness markers in Modern South Arabian languages: a fieldwork and corpus based analysis), Sameer Olimat (Translations of euphemism in the Holy Quran: A corpus-based approach), Rakan al-Zamel (the phonology and the morphology of the Bani Khalid dialect, Jordan), Kamela al-Barami (language revitalisation through media: The case of Jibbali/Shehret), Jawharah Alasmari (a comparative analysis of the Arabic and English verb systems)

Recently completed supervisions

Dr John Peate completed his PhD on A construction grammar approach to spatial prepositions in Modern Standard Arabic in 2012. Dr Abdallah al-Shdaifat completed his PhD on Arabic nominal morphology in December 2014. The following students completed their PhDs in 2015: Dr Gerry Howley on Acquisition of Manchester dialect features by Romani migrants; Dr Bassil Almashaqba on The phonology and morphology of the Arabic dialect spoken in Wadi Ram, Jordan; and Dr Anas Hneety on The phonology and morphology of the Arabic dialect spoken in Wadi Mousa, Jordan. Mohammad Nour Yousef Abu Guba completed his PhD in 2016 on Arabic loanword phonology.