Aspects of Grammatical Variation in Jordanian Arabic

Title: Aspects of Grammatical Variation in Jordanian Arabic
Authors: Al-Shawashreh, Ekab
Date: 2016
Abstract: This study investigates some aspects of grammatical variation in vernacular Jordanian Arabic (JA), namely word order variation and pro(noun)-drop variation. Much previous research on word order and subject expression in Arabic has been hampered by the use of eclectic methodologies (Bakir 1980; Eid 1983; El-Yasin 1985; Fassi Fehri 1993; Aoun & Li 1993; Brustad 2000). Conspicuously rare in contemporary studies of syntactic variation in Arabic are systematic analyses of spontaneous speech data (Edwards 2010: 94; but see e.g., Owens, Dodsworth & Rockwood 2009; Owens, Dodsworth & Kohn 2013). The dearth of quantitative studies of word order variation, as well as pro-drop variation, in colloquial Arabic provides the primary motivation for the present investigation. Drawing on the framework of variationist sociolinguistics (Labov 1972), I conduct an accountable analysis of word order variation, as well as pro-drop variation in a corpus of vernacular Jordanian Arabic recorded in the Irbid metropolitan area in 2014. The corpus is based on over 30 hours of digitized recordings obtained from 30 speakers stratified by age, sex, education, as well as urban/rural origin. I exploit these spontaneous speech data to: (i) assess the frequency of different word order and pro-drop variants in vernacular JA; (ii) ascertain which social and linguistic factors constrain the selection of major word order and pro-drop variants; and (iii) determine whether the apparent time component incorporated into the research design reveals any evidence of change in progress. Distributional and multivariate analyses of 4500 tokens (2049 for word order and 2422 for pro-drop) coded for the aforementioned social factors, in addition to an array of linguistic factors hypothesized to constrain variant choice (e.g., morphloexical class of subject, grammatical person and number, type of clause and transitivity) confirm that word order variation, as well as pro-drop variation, are subject to multiple constraints (Holes 1995; Owens et al. 2013). A first important finding concerns the quantitative preponderance of SV(O) word order in vernacular JA, which competes with less frequent VS(O). Another important finding is that null subject pronouns are the norm in vernacular JA. Statistical analyses of the linguistic factors conditioning the observed variability reveal that transitivity and definite subject pronouns are key predictors of SV(O) word order choice, while switch reference and person and number of subject are key predictors of overt subject pronouns, as determined by the relative magnitude of these effects. Particularly compelling is the social embedding of the variation in the case of word order variation. Age- and sex-differentiations in the data (Labov 1990), in addition to urban-rural split, reveal statistically significant differences, offering provisional indications that alternation between SV(O) and VS(O) word orders is implicated in ongoing change. Younger speakers, women and urban-origin speakers lead in the use of SV(O). The results foreground the utility of empirically accountable analyses of spontaneous speech in elucidating key issues relating to syntactic variation in modern varieties of spoken Arabic. The results generated by this approach reveal new findings not previously available from the intuited, elicited or written material on which much previous work on Arabic has been based.
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