Na'ama Pat-El

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2012/2013
discipline Linguistics
Assistant Professor of Hebrew Linguistics in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies of the University of Texas at Asutin

Research project

Features, Processes and Common Descent: 
Re-evaluating Parallel Development in Historical Linguistics


Languages change all the time; not in a grand, dramatic sweep, but rather slowly, feature-by-feature. And yet they also retain many features, which were inherited from their common ancestor. But how to explain these changes? What motivates them and can we detect any commonalities in their slow evolution? Even more difficult: how can we evaluate similarities between languages? My suggested project examines parallel development in syntactic reconstruction, and its implications to our understanding of stimuli of change. If two related languages share a pattern that is not inherited from their ancestral origin, there should be a traceable factor, which motivated the emergence of this pattern. I suggest that the stimulus for the change is a feature of the structure, i.e. a structural similarity shared by both languages which allowed for the change to take place. I further suggest the following definition of syntactic parallel development: parallel development is the independent development of similar changes in languages of common genetic origin because of their common genetic origin. On the basis of my initial work, I tentatively suggested that (i) languages with similar structures are amenable to use common solutions to common problems; (ii) the result of parallel development cannot be used for subgrouping, but they expose stimuli of change, which given (i) are likely to be repeated; (iii) understanding the causes of parallel development may help formulate better constraints on change; (iv) the result of parallel development-induced change may reflect shared structural features not otherwise easily reconstructable.



Na’ama Pat-El is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Linguistics in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies of the University of Texas at Asutin. She holds a Ph.D. in Semitic Philology from Harvard University. She has published extensively on syntax and historical linguistics of the Semitic languages.


Her research fields of interest are Comparative Semitic Linguistics, Historical Linguistics, Syntax, Languages in Contact and Linguistic Methodology.

Selected publications


Studies in the Historical Syntax of Aramaic, Gorgias Press, Piscataway, 2012.


‘On Verbal Negation in Semitic’, Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, vol.162, no.1, 2012, pp.17-45. 


‘Syntactic Aramaisms as a Tool for Internal Biblical Chronology’, in C. Miller and Z. Zevit (eds), Biblical Diachrony, Eisenbrauns, 2012, pp.245-264. 


‘Third Person Possessive Suffixes as Definite Articles in Semitic’, with J. Huehnergard,
Journal of Historical Linguistics, vol.2, no.1, 2012, pp.25-51. 


‘On Periphrastic Genitive Constructions in Biblical Hebrew’, Hebrew Studies, vol.51, 2010, pp.43-48.


‘The Development of the Definite Article in Semitic: A Syntactic Approach’, Journal of Semitic Studies, vol.54, no.1, 2009, pp.19-50.


‘On Adnominalization of Prepositional Phrases and Adverbs in Semitic’, with A. Treiger, Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, vol.158, 2009, pp.265-352.


‘Traces of Aramaic Dialectal Variation in Late Biblical Hebrew’, Vetus Testamentum, vol.58, 2008, pp.650-655.


‘Historical Syntax of Aramaic: A Note on Subordination’, in H. Gzella and M. L. Folmer (eds), Aramaic in its Historical and Linguistic Setting, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 2008, pp.55-76. 


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Literature
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Social Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Philosophy