Sociolinguistics: Dialect change, Large-scale and Small-scale

Sociolinguistics: Dialect change, Large-scale and Small-scale

The modern Arabic dialects stand at the end point of thirteen centuries of evolution in the dialects which migrating Arabs, beginning in the mid-seventh century, took with them to Spain, North Africa, Egypt, the Levant, Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia. Since that remote period and in that vast area, migrations, wars, invasions, colonial settlements, and other upheavals have often been the cause of ‘macro’ dialectal change.

Two well-known medieval cases are the expulsion of the trouble-making Banī Hilāl and Banī Sulaym tribes from Egypt to the Maghreb by the Fātimid ̣ Caliphate in the eleventh century, and the devastation and depopulation of Baghdad wrought by the invasion of the Mongols in February 1258, followed by a second episode of destruction at the hands of Tamerlane in 1400–1.

Sociolinguistics Dialect change: Bedouinization

These events had profound effects on the dialect geography of North Africa and Iraq respectively, the results of which we still see today. The Bani Hilāl migration transplanted into the Maghreb the ‘Bedouin’ dialect type, quite different from the ‘pre-Hilālī’ ‘sedentary’ dialects brought there and to Spain by the first Arab armies two to three centuries earlier. These Bedouin, whose migration continued intermittently over about a century, gradually spread their dialects throughout the North African countryside and also eventually influenced the dialects of neighboring towns, in a process known as ‘Bedouinization’.

Sociolinguistics: Iraq – Large-scale

In Iraq, the mass slaughter of the Muslim population of Baghdad (the Christians and Jews were largely spared) left a depopulated city which was gradually refilled over the next five centuries by in-comers, the majority of whom were Muslims and spoke dialects ‘bedouin’ in character and different from those of the original Muslim population who, like the Baghdadi Christians and Jews, had spoken a ‘sedentary’ qǝltu-type dialect, as they still do in the north of Iraq today (Blanc 1964).

The long-term result for Baghdad was the creation of a new communal Indexicalization of dialect-type, Muslim v. Christian/Jewish; a minor one, Christian v. Jewish continued the pre-1258 situation. These are just two of the many examples one could cite ‘macro’ language change triggered by force majeure.

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Sociolinguistics: Dialect change

Turning now to less dramatic causes of language change: gradual, accretive urbanization and the contact phenomena associated with it have been the main driver. Among studies of urbanization and its effects, we note the work of Emam Al-Wer on Amman, now a city of several million which was no more than a village as recently as the 1930s, but grew exponentially as a result of inward migration, much of it Palestinian in the aftermath of the wars with Israel of 1948 and 1968.

Sociolinguistics: Amman – Small-scale

In Amman, a process of leveling has occurred which is resulting in entirely novel forms, such as the ‘compromise’ focusing of the 2 com pl enclitic pronoun-kum, which is now replacing original-ku (typical of the Jordanian ‘input’ dialects) and original-kon (typical of Palestinian ‘input’ dialects) as the default Ammani form in the speech of the younger generations. This -kum is an ethnically neutral adopted form (possibly borrowed from MSA) and forms part of an embryonic new linguistic identity for the city (Al-Wer 2007).

Something similar occurred on a smaller scale in the Iraqi town of Hīt (Khan, this volume): the Arabic dialect of the Karaite Jews of that town developed novel forms, apparently as a result of local Bedouin influence. All the Jewish dialects of Iraq have q as a reflex of OA*/q/ and -to as the 2sng s-stem from, thus all typically have ‘sedentary’ qǝltu ‘I said’. But the Karaite Jews of Hīt innovated the form qilit, a compromise based on the Iraqi ‘bedouin’ gilit but with ‘Karaite’ q for g.

Khan attributes the motivation for this innovation to the openness of this particular Karaite community to assimilation into the surrounding culture, as shown, for example, by their use of the Arabic script in many of their writings. Other Iraqi Jewish dialects, spoken by socially less open and inclusive Jewish communities, did not develop such hybrid forms.

Sociolinguistics: Dialect change

Sociolinguistics: Dialect change

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