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Image: Nabataean betyl by Anderson, Bjorn. University of Iowa

Benjamin Suchard receives Veni grant for research on Nabataean Aramaic as a spoken language

Was Nabatean also a spoken language? And if so, for how long? These are just two questions that historical linguist Benjamin Suchard will address in his new research project. Suchard is one of three LUCL researchers to receive a coveted Veni grant of 250.000 euros from the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

The Nabataean Kingdom: Aramaic vs. Arabic

The Nabataean Kingdom was a political entity in the 4th century BCE –  106 CE, which we now know as present-day Jordan and surrounding areas. While the inhabitants of the Nabataean Kingdom wrote Aramaic, they probably (also) spoke Arabic. By studying Nabataean texts, specifically looking for non-Arabic features in Nabataean Aramaic grammar, Suchard will investigate how the language changed over time.

Nabataean betyl by Anderson, Bjorn. University of Iowa

Exciting crossroads

As Suchard puts it: ‘I think this project is really exciting because the Nabataeans are right at the crossroads of the Aramaic-writing of Ancient Near East, the Roman Empire, and the Arabic world of early Islam. A lot of groundbreaking research on the earliest history of Arabic has recently been done at LUCL (Veni-laureates Marijn van Putten and Ahmad Al-Jallad), and the Nabataean texts have incredible potential to add to that.’

The last time Nabatean Aramaic was comprehensively described was in the 1930s. Since then many new texts have been discovered and will also be examined in this project. In collaboration with leading expert on Nabataean epigraphy and archaeology Laïla Nehmé (French National Center for Scientific Research), Suchard’s ultimate goal is to contribute to a new assessment of what the Arabic linguistic material in the Nabataean corpus tells us about Pre-Islamic Arabic.

NWO Veni

A total of 25 young researchers from Leiden have received a Veni grant. Each year, NWO awards the Veni grants to young researchers, many of whom have recently obtained their PhDs. They receive a maximum of 250,000 euros for curiosity-driven research. Together with Vidi and Vici, the Veni is part of NWO's Innovational Research Incentives Scheme.

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