Evidence of Variable Gender Role in Defining Language Change Leadership in Syrian Arabic


This study aims to present evidence of gender variability among leaders of language change across different sociolinguistic variables, five phonological variables (a consonant and four vowels) and a discourse variable in Syrian Arabic, within the same speech community. Employing a sociolinguistic variationist approach and comparing children to adults yielded different gendered linguistic behavior. Children show the same dramatic gendered linguistic difference as adults regarding the variable (q), with males using much more rural [q] than urban [ʔ] than females. Regarding the vowel variables, children dramatize their gendered linguistic difference much more than adults; boys show much higher use of the rural vowels than girls compared to the difference between men and women. This pattern is reversed in the discourse variable (yaʕni) ‘that is/I mean’; the gendered linguistic difference is more dramatic among adults than it is among children, and gender effect diminishes in the linguistic distribution of the variable. This multidirectionality in gender effects bears implications for sociolinguistic variationist research. Variables indexed to urban refinement/prestige and social meanings such as femininity/masculinity are more likely to be led by females than males. Conversely, variables that lack these types of social/gender identification indexicality, regardless of whether they are phonological or discursive, do not follow the same pattern of leadership.


Rania Habib


gender leadership variability, indexicality, multidirectionality, rural, urban, Syrian Arabic