Ululation in Levantine society: The cultural reproduction of an affective vocalization

Jennifer E Jacobs, University of Pennsylvania


The vocal practice commonly known as zaghareet 'ululation' within Levantine communities is an ephemeral but widely-recognized affective display which has escaped focused documentation and description. This work investigates zaghareet along several important dimensions: (1) its historical representation in text-artifacts, (2) its acoustic and articulatory form(s), (3) how individuals learn to perform the vocalization to suitable aesthetic and social standards, (4) the meanings and contextual factors of its performance in the Levant, and (5) the shifts in meanings that take place as the acoustic form is disseminated by media technologies both locally and globally. To adequately address such varied dimensions, I employed a number of interdisciplinary methods, including examining text-artifacts spanning the last five thousand years, recording and analyzing acoustic and vocal articulatory data, ethnographic fieldwork, discourse analysis, and the tracking of mediatized representations. Through this work, I show that the form of zaghareet is salient, segmentable, and bearing specific qualities seen to be both 'emotional' and 'communicative'; moreover, the perception of zaghareet as distinctive culture in the world is due to an interplay between cultural and metacultural aspects of its deployment. My conclusion, that these material properties of zaghareet are crucial to its long-term and wide-spread reproduction, helps shed light on the use and influence of vocal signals, and signs more generally, among humans.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Communication

Recommended Citation

Jacobs, Jennifer E, "Ululation in Levantine society: The cultural reproduction of an affective vocalization" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3309571.