Meaningful Variation and Bidirectional Change in Rural Child and Adolescent Language

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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This study investigates the spread of two urban features used in Syrian urban centers such as Damascus and Hims to the vernacular Arabic of non-migrant, rural children and adolescents who are residing in the Syrian village of Oyoun Al-Wadi. The first of the two features is the spread of the urban glottal stop in place of the rural voiceless uvular stop. The second is the spread of the low back vowel [a] in place of the rural mid front vowel [e]. The study shows that linguistic change in this village is moving in two opposing directions. Girls continue to use their initially acquired mothers’ urban features in their adolescent years, whereas boys who initially acquired and used their mothers’ urban features start to switch to the village features around the age of eight and increase their use of these features with age. The study also shows that the observed variation and changes result from the different meanings associated with the urban and rural sounds under investigation, and that these variation and changes are gender- and age-related. In addition, the study shows that the youth’s emotional involvement in building a social identity starts in pre-adolescence, which indicates early sociolinguistic maturity and competence in kids.

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