Monday, August 15, 2016

Microvariation in Dellys Arabic

There are plenty of factors that one naturally expects to condition linguistic variation: age, sex, location, class, ethnicity, religion - in short, any variable such that people are more likely to talk with those who match their value for it than with those who don't. Dellys offers clear examples of several of these:
  • Age: There's an obvious gap between the generation born before Independence and those born since then, the latter having had much greater freedom of movement and access to media as well as education. Within my extended family, my father's generation all negate verbs indifferently with ma... ši ما...شي or ma... š ما...ش, whereas their children and grandchildren uniformly use only the latter. Similarly, the older generation use mazəlt مازلْت for "I am still...", conjugating it as a verb, while the younger ones consistently use mazalni مازالني; many of the older generation use -ayən ـاين for the dual (eg يوماين yumayən "two days"), while the younger generation all use -in ـين.
  • Sex: Only women use the exclamation a məħħənti أ محّنتي "oh my goodness!"; only men, as far as I've noticed, use the quasi-expletive jədd جدّ "grandfather" (eg nəħħi jəddu نحّي جدّهُ, approximately "remove the damn thing"). In less integrated French loans, women of my generation or younger use a uvular R, whereas almost all men (and older women) substitute a trill ; this sex differentiation is acquired well before the age of ten.
  • Location: The most salient distinction at a local level is classic in Maghreb dialectology: urban (more or less pre-Hilalian) vs. rural (Hilalian). People from Dellys proper say qal قال "he said" and ṣab "he found"; people from the villages and small towns around it instead say gal and lga.
Such variation is easily understood. But a lot of variation I'm noticing seems to show no such patterning. Out of three brothers, fairly close together in age and all currently working in the same family business:
  • Two have baš باش for "so that"; the third - unlike anyone else I know - uses li baš لي باش.
  • All use lukan لوكان for "if (hypothetical)", but one also uses lakun لاكون and the other yakun ياكون.
Maybe this is somehow explained by their earlier backgrounds - the one who uses li baš لي باش and yakun ياكون had more education, perhaps he picked it up where he went to school, or where he used to work when he was younger? But there are many other variables like this. I similarly don't see any pattern to the choice between bəṛk برْك and kan كان for "only", or yəsħaq and yəsħaj يسحاج for "he needs", or yʊɣləq يُغلق and yəʕləq يعلق for "he closes", or (at least for older speakers)yəqdər يقدر and yənjəm ينجم for "he can". People of the same age and gender, living all their lives less than a kilometer from each other and sometimes even in the same household, consistently use one or the other. Presumably something must explain the difference, but it looks like it would require a pretty intensive social network analysis to find out...

This is actually fairly similar to what Nancy Dorian found for the Scots Gaelic of East Sutherland fisherfolk: "Surprises in Sutherland: Linguistic Variability amidst Social Uniformity". She observes that this kind of variation usually tends to be ignored: "Oftedal, my immediate predecessor in Gaelic dialect studies, noted that the Gaelic of his single source and that of the man’s wife differed in a number of respects, despite the fact that the two had grown up as next-door neighbors; but after noting the existence of such differences in an early footnote, he never referred to the wife’s Gaelic again." While Algerian Arabic is far from endangered, the two situations are not as different as you might think: in both cases, small towns were substantially expanded over the 19th century by rural refugees fleeing land confiscations and wider upheavals, and left to sort out the resulting mess of dialect variation among themselves without that much pressure towards standardization. Perhaps such variables would have correlated more clearly with speakers' background a century ago, and have been left today as relics too scattered by later changes to be assigned a social meaning any longer.

Do these examples of variation seem familiar to you? What kind of individual-level variation have you noticed between friends and family?

17 comments:

S.Haouchine said...

I think of the same micro variations in the town of Tizi Wezzu for speakers in my neighbourhood (downtown) :

- In Arabic: Kabyle-native (especially villagers) speakers will always say "Qal" and "Sab/Lqa" and have an Algerois accent meanwhile Arabic-speakers of Tizi speak a Bedouin variety with Kabylisms "Gal"/"Lga". Some want to be more posh by mimicking Algiers "Nta thani" instead of "Ntaya Daghen". Older speakers use "Lxalat" instead of "Lebnat/Lemra". Younger speakers have a profusion of French loanwords in their speech.

- In Kabyle : you can clearly know if a speaker uses Kabyle as a first language or near-native skill if one says "Macci" instead of "Mačči" and "Nuggwaḍ" frequently becomes "Nuggaḍ" in the bilingual plains west of the town of Tizi Wezzu. Also one freely use "Lemmer" while others use the Arabic "Lukan" for if.

Note that urban people have less linguistic proficiency than villagers depending of their mother tongue (the linguistic border for the Sebaou valley seems to be Tizi Wezzu town : east of it is the realm of Amrawa Ufella who speak Kabylie while Amrawa Tahtani are rather Arabic-speaking though bilingualism is rife up until Tawerga)

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thanks for an excellent, closely observed comment! In Dellys we don't have daghen, but we do have variation between thani and gana. It would be wonderful to see a study of bilingual dialectal variation in Tizi-Ouzou someday...

David Marjanović said...

In less integrated French loans, women of my generation or younger use a uvular R, whereas almost all men (and older women) substitute a trill ; this sex differentiation is acquired well before the age of ten.

That's fascinating.

I've never noticed gender variation around myself. What variation there is – mostly the amount of influence by Standard German – is by peer group mostly during formative years, in which age and location are of course factors.

Etienne said...

Lameen: the French dialectologist Albert Dauzat gave examples of this sort of microvariation in various French dialects, so I don't think there's anything specifically North African about the phenomena you're describing.

David, Lameen: my understanding is that the gender difference involving the realization of the French rhotic phoneme (uvular r for women, trill for men) in Algeria dates back to colonial French times: Men who were exposed to/acquired French did so chiefly through military service, where their officers were typically from Corsica or Southern France, and thus used a dental/trilled /r/: women, on the other hand, who were exposed to/acquired French chiefly did so in schools, where their teachers' realization of the French rhotic phoneme was uvular. Thereby creating a gender divide in terms of the realization of this rhotic phoneme, which from what Lameen writes is being transmitted to the next generation.

I've never noticed any such gender divide in language contact phenomena in Quebec either, David: I suspect that in Quebec and Austria there didn't exist enough gender segregation for linguistic influence to enter through different channels according to gender.

David Marjanović said...

Makes sense. But there are languages with very noticeable gender divides spoken by societies without gender segregation: Pirahã-speaking women merge |si| and |hi| as /hi/, men instead treat word-initial [k] and [ʔ] as interchangeable...

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Etienne, David: Gender segregation may be a sufficient condition, but hardly a necessary one: even English has some minor gender differences in language use. If you unironically call something "mauve", you're probably a woman, or at least trying to project a feminine identity. I can't speak for Austria or Quebec, but in every society I've experienced, there are at least some contexts in which people attempt to project a specifically masculine or feminine identity rather than a unisex one, and language use is one way to do that.

Etienne: That account might have some validity at the national level, but at the local level, the timing is out: I don't think I've met any women born before independence who use uvular r. Knowledge of French became widespread among women only after independence; before that, it was limited to a very small elite.

petre said...

"If you unironically call something "mauve", you're probably a woman, or at least trying to project a feminine identity."
I never knew that.I'm red-green colour-blind (Daltonian), and always took 'mauve' to be a real colour, between purple and blue, that I just coulnd't see.

David Marjanović said...

If you unironically call something "mauve", you're probably a woman, or at least trying to project a feminine identity.

Surprises me – I expected "you probably work in the fashion industry or at least sell clothes".

petre said...

Uvular 'r' is still used by some men in non-urban communities in Yorkshire (England), but virtually never by women.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Well, OK, I should probably have added "unless you're a fashion designer or an interior decorator or something".

David Marjanović said...

I didn't know women outside those professions use such terms unironically in English.

Uvular r? I had no idea.

Emad Odel said...

Talking about colors, in Tunisia, men nearly never use the word "violet", they use "mauve" or the more rural word "ḥbaṛi". Women, on the other hand, nearly never use the latter.

As for the microvariation, I noticed a couple of things in general Tunisian dialect (except the rural dialects): ɛa > aa, aɛ > aa, and dropping the negation prefix "ma" in some expressions or when answering a rhetorical question (2): ma neɛrefši > neɛrefš > neɛrešš > naarešš (stress on "ešš"). 2: ṭṭirš eddjaja? ṭṭirš!

petre said...

Well, it's true I'm a faggot anyway, but I truthfully didn't believe I was being faggoty, still less 'ironic', by using the word 'mauve'.
We live and learn, then we die and forget it all.

David, did you really not know the Yorkshire uvular 'R'? It was very common among the miners from the region, but I have never heard it from the lips (or throat, I suppose) of a woman, except when parodying male speech for comedic effect. It is, or was, an absolute gender give-away.

I'm still reeling from the colour terminology: I know 'lavender' is reliably gay, as a word, but Daltonian that I am I would be hard put to distinguish it from mauve or Emad's 'violet'.

So many things to worry about in this life, but never fear, it'll soon be over.

Alexis Michaud said...

About gender-related differences in the realizations of rhotic phonemes: here is a "phonetic-psychoanalytical" comment.
It happens in some languages that trilled [r] is characteristic of men's speech, as opposed to women's speech. Ivan Fonagy (La Vive voix) reports some cases in detail in Central European languages. Fonagy's 'psychophonetic'/'phonostylistic' interpretation is that the tongue bears an analogy to a certain part of the male anatomy, and proudly 'tensing' it in a trill is a way to pose as a True Male. For details see Fonagy's (more delicately phrased) analysis.
Martine Vanhove observed something similar in Beja (Cushitic): there is allophonic variation between [r] and [l], with men using [r] and women using [l]. I pointed her to Fonagy's analysis and she seemed to find that it shed light on the Beja facts as well.
Obviously it's only part of the story: the pattern of allophonic variation in Arabic is different (uvular variant); there are different structural pressures in different cases, and different influences from language contact. Still, maybe there is a 'universal' trend involved there. The idea is that, among cases of allophonic variation between [r] and a softer sound, a language where men have a 'soft' [l] allophone and women a 'hard' allophone (tap, trill...) would be less numerous than the reverse.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Alexis: That is certainly a striking hypothesis! I'm not sure it's a necessary one though: both in Central Europe and in Algeria (not sure about Beja), the observed pattern seems equally consistent with the much broader generalization that women tend to adopt new prestige variants more quickly and more readily than men. The ideal test case to compare would be a language in which a new and prestigious trilled r was spreading at the expense of an older uvular r, but I can't think of any such case offhand; perhaps northern Italy might offer some examples? The Yorkshire example is not too far off though.

Alexis Michaud said...

Thank you for the healthy reminder that the relevant parameters are linguistic! I agree that "phonetic-psychoanalytic" factors should only be invoked as a last resort.

petre said...

Lameen, I think the Yorkshire example does fit your bill, except that the 'new' r is an approximate, rather than a trill. Uvular R there is now strongly both age and gender specific.