Better the variable you know?

Ghada Khattab (SocioPhonAus3 Keynote Speaker)

Thursday, December 15th, 2022, 9.00am – 10:00am


Research within Arabic socio-phonetics has traditionally focussed more on consonantal variables, for obvious reasons. The consonant inventories of Arabic dialects are much larger than their vowel counterparts, even when considering that vowel inventories in dialects go beyond the 3-corner vowels typically reported for Standard Arabic. Popular variables that have been reported on in many varieties include (q), (k), (θ), (ð), (ʤ), (dˤ), (ðˤ), along with pharyngealization (emphasis) more generally, the latter being the subject of so many phonetic, phonological and sociolinguistic investigations (e.g. Hassan and Heselwood 2011).

In this presentation I explore variables not typically considered in the variation literature due to being thought of as less susceptible to sociolinguistic variation. These include dialectal variation in the stop voicing contrast in Arabic, emerging differences in articulatory strategies for pharyngeals and their potential role in sound change, and the role of language-specific dynamic vowel properties in understanding production in a second language. I demonstrate that advanced experimental phonetic analysis can reveal fine systematic differences in patterning of sounds that are important for social and linguistic representation; it also allows us to revisit old variables with a new lense.

I highlight theoretical debates in sociophonetics where Arabic presents interesting parallels with work carried out on English, as well as challenges; these include the role of gender, the relationship between prestige and the standard, and identifying leaders of change. I finish with methodological and theoretical recommendations for advances in Arabic sociophonetics.