Morphophonemic convergence and divergence in Palestinian Arabic


SFU Harbour Centre- Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada


Fri, 11/04/2016 - 12:00am to Sat, 06/25/2022 - 3:22am


The CMES Student Travel Award

William Michael Cotter, Joint PhD student in Anthropology & Linguistics 
New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV) 45


This paper provides a sociophonetic account of variation in the Arabic feminine gender marker, a word final vocalic morpheme realized variably in Arabic varieties as [a, ɛ, e, i] (Al-Wer 2007). 1,132 occurrences of this morpheme were analyzed acoustically in Praat (Boersma & Weenink2016) from a sample of 22 speakers, representing three age groups, two genders, and two sectors of the Palestinian community: indigenous Gaza City Palestinians and refugees from Jaffa who have lived in Gaza City since 1948. Occurrences of this vowel were normalized to control for physiological differences using the formula (F2-F1)/F1, providing a normalized (raising index) score for each occurrence that was treated as the dependent variable in the subsequent Linear Mixed Effects analysis.

Gaza City (Bergsträßer 1915; Salonen 1979, 1980) is reported to realize this vowel as [a], in contrast to other urban Levantine dialects (e.g. Jaffa) that raise this vowel to [e] except after back consonants (Al-Wer 2007). For instance:

Gaza City                                                   Urban Levantine (e.g. Jaffa)

‘pretty []’ [ħilwa]                                               [ħilwe]

‘freedom’ [ħurrijja]                                                  [ħurrijje] – but:
‘good []’ [mniːħa]                                             [mniːħa]
The present study indicates that Gaza City residents and Jaffa refugees are undergoing similar processes of lowering and backing of this vowel across generations (Figures 1 & 2). Younger speakers in both communities have a lower and backer vowel for this variable (henceforth (ah)) (Tables 1 & 2, p<0.01) than elderly speakers. This suggests that refugees are diverging from the raised [e] realization of their traditional dialect, while both communities are converging on a similar realization of this morpheme in the speech of the youngest generation.
Table 1: Summary of the realization of (ah) at the vowel midpoint, with reference levels Elderly and Gaza. Signif. codes: 0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05
(Intercept)            Jaffa (Background)            Middle (Age)           Young (Age)
Est.: 2.02167          Est.: 0.04749                      Est.: - 0.11595          Est.: - 0.47264
Error: 0.14486        Error: 0.16024                    Error: 0.16735         Error: 0.16209
t-value: 13.956       t-value: 0.296                     t-value: - 0.693         t-value: - 2.916 
Sig. ***                     Sig.                                       Sig.                             Sig. ** 
Table 2: Summary of the realization of (ah) at the vowel midpoint, with reference levels Elderly and Jaffa. Signif. codes: 0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05
(Intercept)               Gaza (Background)           Middle (Age)         Young (Age) 
Est.: 2.06916            Est.: -0.04749                    Est.: - 0.11595         Est.: - 0.47264  
Error: 0.16980         Error:  0.16024                   Error: 0.16735        Error: 0.16209
t-value: 12.186        t-value: -0.296                    t-value: - 0.693       t-value: - 2.916 
Sig. ***                      Sig.                                       Sig.                           Sig. ** 
These changes come as a result of long-term dialect contact that has been taking place in Gaza City between different varieties of Palestinian Arabic over the past seven decades. Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, refugee migration has created a situation in which today over 70% Gaza’s population is of a refugee background. These results highlight the ways in which this prolonged contact has affected different varieties of Palestinian Arabic spoken in Gaza, and provides one of only a limited number sociophonetic analyses of Arabic.