The Historical Linguistics of the Intrusive *-N in Arabic and West Semitic
Owens, Jonathan, The Journal of the American Oriental Society
I term the -n (realized variously as -in, -an, -inn, -ann, -unn, -anna) that occurs before object suffixes in many Semitic languages and varieties the "intrusive -n," or simply "-n." (1) The origin of this morpheme has been widely discussed among Semiticists in particular, and more recently among Arabicists (Holes 2011). Among Semiticists there are two broad explanations for its appearance. The more widespread approach, represented inter alia by Robert Hetzron (1969), David Testen (1993), and Rebecca Hasselbach (2006), is to interpret the intrusive -n as an inherited proto-Semitic verbal suffix with various, uninterrupted reflexes across the different varieties. An alternative perspective is offered by Jan Retso (1988: 92; also Barth 1907), who sees the -n as originating independently from common "deictic elements," a massive parallel independent development, as it were. The former approach tends to derive the morpheme from common verbal aspect-mode values, two functions of which are the Akkadian ventive (motion towards speaker) and the Classical Arabic so-called energicus (nun al-ta'kid in the Arabic tradition, also termed energetic or energic in the Western tradition). The latter approach, on the other hand, is sceptical of shared proto-functions, instead emphasizing the basically formal property of pronoun object marking.
In this article I will attempt to combine elements of each of the two perspectives. As in the first position, there is a common, shared origin to all occurrences of the -Vn in West Semitic. However, following Retso, the only functional unity that characterizes them is the grammaticalized function of marking a pronoun object suffix. As will be seen, the explanation advocated here basically confirms the analysis of Carlo Landberg (1909: 738). (2)
Partly for strategic reasons, and partly because of the breadth of material that would have to be treated in detail to work out a completely comprehensive development, I will concentrate on the West Semitic languages in general, and on Arabic in particular. To the extent that the West Semitic languages have the intrusive -n, they are remarkably similar to one another in grammar, while Arabic is of particular interest for two reasons. First, the -n is attested in a number of varieties of it, and at different chronological eras; and second, a close look at the general syntax of the -n in a major text of Classical Arabic will allow a detailed evaluation, and refutation, of the idea that the -n derives from a proto-verbal function.
I begin in section 2 with a summary of the situation in Arabic, first the dialects, then a corpus-based summary of the energic -n in Qur'anic Arabic. This will form the basis in sections 2.2 and 2.3 of the first of two reconstructions developed in this paper, namely, a reconstruction of the development of the energic as a grammatical category in Classical Arabic. In section 3 the data from other West Semitic languages are presented, and in section 4 an overall historical development is offered. In section 5 individual interpretive issues related to the proposed solution are addressed.
2. THE INTRUSIVE -N IN ARABIC
2.1. Arabic dialects
The properties of -n are quite uniform among contemporary Arabic dialects. In all Arabic dialects where it occurs--viz., Eastern Arabian dialects of former South Yemen, Oman, the Emirates, and Bahrain; those of eastern Syria, Khorasan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan; and Bagirmi Arabic in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, and western Chad--an intrusive -n is added onto the active participle only before an object suffix.
In Yemen (specifically, Dathina, in former South Yemen; cf. Landberg 1909: 720ff.) it occurs in all forms of the AP. The -n is geminate except before the -n initial suffixes -ni 'me' and -na 'us'. Gemination nearly always occurs before a vowel, although there are a few examples of -nn-ha (mayaahib-Inne-ha "he has accompanied her," as well as mithaddin-inn-ha "he carried her in the arms"; subjects are provided from context in the following examples):
(1) mehaalif-inn-ak "[he is] your ally" (allied-N-you-M)
muhaalif-iin-in-na "[they are] allied to us" (allied-MPL-N-us)
kaatib-et-inn-eh "[you (F)] have written it (M)"
kaatb-aat-inn-a "[they (F)] have written it (M)"
In Oman -in is added to any stem form (Reinhardt 1972: 139): (3)
(2) daarb-Inn-ek "he has hit you (M)"
daarb-ft-n-hum "she has hit them (M)"
daarb-fin-n-ek "they (M) have hit you (M)"
daarbaat-inn-is "they (F) have hit you (F)"
Here -n is added to the MPL directly, rather than as -in + pronoun suffix, as in Yemen. …