Directions of Dialect Change in the Mashreq and the Maghreb: Case of Arabic Varieties Spoken in Amman and Tlemcen Speech Communities

اتجاهات التحول اللغوي في المشرق والمغرب: اللهجات العربية المتحدثة في عمان وتلمسان أنموذجا

Les orientations du changement dialectal à l'Orient et au Maghreb: Cas des dialectes Arabes parlés aux communautés langagières d'Amman et Tlemcen

Khadidja HAMMOUDI et Zoubir Dendane

Citer cet article

Référence électronique

Khadidja HAMMOUDI et Zoubir Dendane, « Directions of Dialect Change in the Mashreq and the Maghreb: Case of Arabic Varieties Spoken in Amman and Tlemcen Speech Communities », Aleph [En ligne], mis en ligne le 14 juillet 2021, consulté le 20 octobre 2021. URL :

The present paper attempts to investigate the results of dialectal contact and accommodation taking place in two geographically and linguistically divergent speech communities, namely Amman, the capital of Jordan in the Levant, and Tlemcen, an urban city in Northwestern Algeria in the Maghreb. In addition to exploring the direction that dialect change takes in both communities, the emphasis of this research is put on understanding the motives that lead native speakers to adopt the outsiders’ variety. With the help of a mixed-methods approach to participant sampling, data collection and analysis, the study reveals that native speakers of both varieties exercise different paths of dialectal change. Whereas Amman participants are moving towards an urbanization process, Tlemcen speakers feel their urban dialect is stigmatized and are therefore riding a counter-hierarchical change towards dialect ruralization. We have also found that the motivation for shift or maintenance is supported by the need of social approval by both genders. Age has also proved to be an influential factor for aspects of convergence, divergence and even levelling. The conclusion of this study ends up suggesting that the two speech communities are undergoing a koineization process paving the way for a regional koiné.

تحاول هذه الورقة البحث في نتائج الاتصال باللهجة والإيواء اللذان يحدثان في مجتمعين مختلفين للتباين جغرافيًا ولغويًا، وهما عمان، عاصمة الأردن في بلاد الشام، وتلمسان، وهي مدينة حضرية في شمال غرب الجزائر في المغرب العربي. بالإضافة إلى استكشاف الاتجاه الذي يتخذه تغيير اللهجة في كلا المجتمعين، يتم التركيز في هذا البحث على فهم الدوافع التي تحفز المتحدثين الأصليين إلى تبني تنوع الغرباء.
بمساعدة منهج الأساليب المختلطة لأخذ عينات المشاركين وجمع البيانات وتحليلها، تكشف الدراسة أن المتحدثين الأصليين لكلا النوعين يمارسون مسارات مختلفة لتغيير اللهجة. في حين أن المشاركين في عمان يتحركون نحو عملية التحضر، يشعر المتحدثون في تلمسان باللهجة الحضرية التي يعانون منها وصمة عار وبالتالي فهم يغيرون التراتب المعاكس نحو ريفية اللهجة. لقد وجدنا أيضًا أن دافع التحول أو الصيانة مدعوم بالحاجة إلى الموافقة الاجتماعية من كلا الجنسين. لقد أثبت العمر أيضًا أنه عامل مؤثر لجوانب التقارب والاختلاف وحتى التسوية. ينتهي ختام هذه الدراسة إلى أن مجتمعي الكلام يخضعان لعملية koineization مما يمهد الطريق لعملة إقليمية.

Cet article a pour objectif l’étude des résultats du contact des dialectes et de l’accommodation linguistique qui a lieu dans deux communautés linguistiques géographiquement et socio-culturellement différentes : Amman, la capitale de la Jordanie au Levant, et Tlemcen, une ville maghrébine urbaine située dans le Nord-Ouest de l’Algérie. En plus de l’exploration des directions du changement dialectal dans les deux communautés, le but de cette recherche est de comprendre les motivations qui mènent les locuteurs natifs à adopter le parler des étrangers. A l’aide d’une approche multi-méthodologique d’échantillonnage, la collecte des données et leurs analyses, l’étude révèle que les locuteurs natifs des deux dialectes exercent différentes voies du changement dialectal. Alors que les participants de Amman opèrent vers un processus d’urbanisation, les locuteurs Tlemcéniens ressentent une stigmatisation désagréable de leur dialecte urbain et vont par conséquent vers un changement contre-hiérarchique, dit ruralisation. Nous avons aussi trouvé que les motivations de la perte du dialect ou sa maintenance sont renforcés par le besoin d’approbation et d’acceptation sociale par les deux sexes. L’âge des locuteurs a aussi un rôle influent dans les aspects de rapprochement, de divergence ainsi que le nivellement des dialectes. La conclusion de cette étude suggère que les deux communautés linguistiques subissent un processus de koinéisation préparant l’apparition d’une koiné régionale.


Heterogeneity in a speech community is an obvious result of contact between its members and outsiders which in turn results in continuous linguistic variation and therefore in aspects of change. Variationist sociolinguistics and urban dialectological work dealing with contact, variation, accommodation and change have been undertaken with regard to the Arabic language in cities and urban areas of the Middle East, what is known as the Mashreq (Chambers et al. 2002). However, focus on other parts of the world where Arabic and its dialects are spoken must be scientifically recognized and investigated in order to obtain a fuller picture of what is really happening in this domain.

Dialect change in Arabic has been explained through aspects of acculturation (Abdel Jawad 1981) as well as migration and socio-economic urbanization (Miller 2007). The phenomenon has been defined as moving from bedouin life style to city-like life and respectively explained in relation to the massive contact and immigration among people of different geographical regions and origins. Nevertheless, a question is to be raised in this regard : Is urbanization the only outcome of what is linguistically happening in the Arabic speaking world ? Besides, are the factors cited the only motives or explanations of dialect accommodation and change occurring in different poles of the Arab world ? Still, data and practical information are needed about many varieties to allow better understanding of directions of dialectal change, and it is through the study of particularities that generalities can be grasped and established.

It is, of course, noteworthy to understand the different categories of Arabic dialects used in the Arab world, namely the Mashreq, i.e., the Middle East, and the Maghreb in North Africa. An initial classification claims the urban-bedouin dichotomy. Before being subject to linguistic corruption, due to contact with foreigners during and following the Muslim conquest of the 7th century, the vernacular of spoken Arabic was purely bedouin (Donner 1981, Larcher 2006, Owens 2005b) and was characterized by its being close to Classical Arabic.

The distinction between the two varieties has survived until todays’ Arabic. The clearcut distinction between bedouin (Badawi) and sedentary (ħadari) was put forward by Ibn Khaldun. Later, the sedentary classification was divided into rural (qarawi) and urban (madani) which is still applied by Arabic dialectologists (Palva 2006, Miller 2007). This typology is applied on any Arabic speaking region while attention should be made to the speech spoken and the origins of its speakers. Yet, the clearcut division is not to be taken for granted by geographical explanation as contact tends to approximate and bring newer linguistic results. Put differently, anyone’s vernacular can be distinguished as bedouin or sedentary by reference to the variants utilized or avoided. Sometimes, if not most of the time, criteria belonging to both classes occur in the speech of one individual leading to dialect mixing which itself leads to the process of koineization, ruralization of the urban or urbanization of the bedouin.

Investigation of the direction of change (from/to the urban/bedouin) cannot be made without fetching an indication to models of linguistic accommodation, processes of koineization and mechanisms of dialect change as done by Trudgill (1986) and Kerswill (2005). For Arabic, what is commonly found is that urban varieties spoken in Arab cities are spoken by urban people (ħadar) who reflect the pure culture and civilization (ħadara) and are good representatives of urbanization (taħaddor) that in order to sound civilized and urbanized, one has to utter linguistic variants that are specific to and characteristic of the urban dialect spoken in the city. According to previous research on Arabic dialects, this results from the fact that the urban will remain urban by speaking that variety; and the rural will converge to the more prestigious urban dialect so as to sound urbanized. Yet, a question is raised: Is this assumption applied to all Arabic-speaking communities?

1. Dialect contact situation in the studied speech communities

1.1 Amman speech community

Due to the contact between Jordanian and Palestinian populations, there emerges a new dialect in Amman speech community which was basically bedouin. Investigation of Mashreq dialectologists, such as the one of Al-Wer (2007), prove that the massive contact situation and accommodation taking place in the city has resulted in many obvious outcomes, notably the occurrence of one variant at the expense of the other where features are fused and mixed among the original and input outside dialects. Al-Wer has also mentioned that another result of the co-existence of urban and rural dialects in Amman is the emergence of new features which have roots in neither of the competing dialects.

Historically, Amman had no original inhabitants of its own ; its population consisted of Circassian settlers, and it did not increase until the period between 1950 and 1990 due to political reasons of the coming migrants. In the 19th and 20th centuries, urban dialects were the most prominent in the history of Jordan referring to a well economically established community. For this, even if some dialects which had bedouin features were still recognized as madani as the one spoken in Sult (a city of Jordan). Meanwhile, in 1923, the birth, renaissance and construction of Amman as the capital of Jordan deprived the city of Sult from its social, economic and linguistic status and has, thence, established a new future for the country, though the latter is still recognized as “authentic” (Al-Wer 2007 : 59). The inhabitants of Amman came from Palestine and Syria bringing their socio-linguistic behaviour which was then associated with a prestigious and more advanced way of life. In parallel, the Jordanian dialect that was spoken was basically a village-like speech rather than a city-like one (Palva 1970, 1989), although sharing some urban features. Direct contact and exposure to the dialects has led Jordanians to converge to the urban variety ; the reverse was very rare.

Migration exploded in the period 1948-1967, but this time it was by villager Palestinians as opposed to the former vague who were the elites of the society leading economy, politics and education. It is mandatory to recall that the comers have a strict distinction between what is urban and what is rural, and only the urban proved to be dominantly influential. Later political issues between the two had driven the enhancement of the Jordanian identity and that Jordan is for Jordanians ; this slogan affected men in many domains and dialect use is no exception, save that females were excluded from larger fields and their jobs were restricted to education and social services where “a pan-Levantine linguistic norm is required” (Al-Wer 2007 :62) whereas men’s positions and professions required the use of the local Jordanian variety.

Dialect change towards the urban has been the fashion in Amman since earlier times (Abdel Jawad 1986, Al-khatib 1988, Al-Wer 2003). Recent studies show that the use of the urban variety is not only contextual but has also socio-economic explanations : upper-middle class and upper classes are said to be leaders of dialect focusing which is, in turn, enhanced by the type of socialization experienced by youngsters. Aspects of convergence and divergence can be explained due to closeness or remoteness of social network distance and the time spent in or outside home (Milroy 1980, Al-Wer 2007).

1.2 Tlemcen speech community

Though scarcely documented, Tlemcen speech has been recognized by dialectologists as an urban pre-Hilali dialect (Marçais 1902) as opposed to other existing bedouin-based vernaculars spoken mainly in the city outskirts and surroundings. Miller (2007) has shown that Andalusi dialects, akin to the one spoken in Tlemcen city, are divided into two categorizations : the original city dwellers and new city dwellers. Whereas the former are speakers of the pure urban variety characterized by elegant speech variants (for example, the glottal stop and loss of interdentals), the latter is depicted by rural features developed on bedouin basics. We suggest that through time, the combination, contact and mixing between those varieties have led, as we believe, to the emergence of a neo-koineized urban Tlemcenian variety.

Historically speaking, conversely to Amman speech community, Tlemcen has long had its original dialect roots that have been traced back to the 7th century onwards with the Islamic futuħat. Back in time, the first wave brought the urban pre-Hilali variety spoken nowadays in Tlemcen city and its nearby urban surroundings. The second wave supplied the area with the Hilali vernacular which is purely bedouin and remained spoken in remote regions and small villages. Consequently, two divergent varieties have co-existed since then ; speakers of the urban variety were recognized as ħadar ‘civilized’ whereas speakers of the latter were labelled as arab/ arubia meaning nomads.

The current linguistic situation happened due to migration of people from differing origins and dialectal backgrounds. Variation reached its peak and started to ‘threaten’ the old urban dialect existing in the city. Consequently, there is an increasingly ongoing process of dialect change (Dendane 2013) which leads to a process of levelling (Dendane 2013, Hammoudi 2017) if not a starting point to a new dialect paving the way for koineization to occur (ibid). However, along this complexity, females, of all age cohorts, beside old people, tend to be preservative of the original dialect noting that gender and age are significant factors in explaining this dialect change phenomenon (Obeidat and Hammoudi 2019).

1.3 Statement of the problem

It is true that dialect contact and variation and their outcomes have seen considerable interest among scholars all over the world. However, the research done in the Arab world remains very limited to some parts excluding others. Much focus has been addressed to the Middle East, and its comparison with North African dialectal Arabic spoken in remote cities of the Maghreb is still abstract. For a concretization of the situation, the researcher has travelled and lived between completely socially and linguistically different cities (Amman and Tlemcen) in order to investigate the actual linguistic situation and be the comparative direct lens of especially lesser known Arabic speaking speech communities.

Having lived in Jordan for almost four years (2015-19) and being a native of Tlemcen dialect in addition to being a young researcher with mixed wide social networks here and there allowed me to accomplish the investigation and build real comparative portrays of the current linguistic stance. Our first and foremost motivation has always been not solely to compare descriptively but also to trace the directions of dialect change among speakers of these communities in addition to finding reasonable explanations to why the local variety - be it urban or bedouin - is stigmatized and avoided by its native speakers.

2. Methodology

2.1 Methods and instruments

For higher degree of scientific integrity, feasibility and authenticity, the researcher has opted for both qualitative and quantitative approaches where triangulation of data gathering instruments is used. Starting from field observation of two separate case studies makes our research inductive in nature where hypotheses can only be answered after the exploration and explication of numerical and descriptive data. In practice, information for analysis have been collected via sociolinguistic questionnaires and semi-structured interviews. Triangulation of methods and tools aims at cross-checking the data to obtain richer findings. Whereas interviews aim at eliciting respondents’ attitudes and opinions, the questionnaires include a section for translation (from Standard to dialectal Arabic) and other close-ended queries related to reasons and motivations behind dialect change. Note-taking and recordings have been used as helping tools for the documentation of raw data.

2.2 Sampling

As the ultimate objectives of the study imply, our sample has been selected from the cities of Amman (Jordan) and Tlemcen (Algeria) consisting of people living, studying and working there. Using a convenient sampling is seen to be the most appropriate method in this type of research in order to reduce subjectivity. The sample is taken from the population that is easy to reach and contact. Interestingly, public places, malls, libraries, coffee shops and so forth are all targeted since people are observed to be available and strongly willing to help and take part in the research. The number of participants involves 120 from Amman and 113 from Tlemcen, chosen according to some variables including age, gender and the original variety they speak (Table 1). This sample is seen to be systematic and, thus, the data obtained allows comparisons among speakers and even across the two cases.

Table 1. Number of participants according to case, gender and age




] 12-17]

] 18-35]

] 40-55]

] 60+ [

Amman (M+F)

7 + 7

13 + 13

30 + 30

9 + 6

3 + 2

Tlemcen (M+ F)

5 + 5

12 + 13

14 + 22

10 + 10

8 + 14

(M) for males ; (F) for females

2.3 Procedures of data collection

The process of data collection started in Amman city. An observation check-list was designed for participants’ direct observation. The focus was mainly on phonological pronunciation. Taxi drivers, shop-keepers, customers and people in the street were observed using their spontaneous speech. Afterwards, the researcher went closer when the context was seen to be easy to interfere, and began conversing with respondents. The discussion was based on how (positive or negative) they reacted to the topic. Interestingly, informal conversations were built wherein the main topic of discussion was about the customs and traditions of the city as the researcher introduced herself as an Algerian student in Jordan which facilitated the work much. Meanwhile, participants were asked about their origins, their way of speaking and were implicitly or explicitly asked about their attitudes towards dialect change and maintenance. A last step after those informal interviews was a questionnaire to complete which helped a lot in bringing up richer results. It is crucial to note that respondents were urban and rural dialect speakers of both genders, and by name of age, they were divided into separate sections and sometimes interviewed in families (in restaurants and malls in Wast Albalad, ‘the city centre’). Sometimes, we needed to consult university students (e.g., Jordanian University) and some schools for further investigations.

A similar procedure was followed in Tlemcen speech community after three successive months of raw data collection in Amman. A questionnaire was developed and administered either verbally or given to be filled up in a written form according to the situation and the respondent as well. In this context, the questionnaire consisted of three parts : the first revealed participants’ age, gender, origin, place of residence, etc. ; the second included sentences to be translated to the home variety and the third part was about attitudes regarding the language situation in Tlemcen. In order to get away from the biased issue of selecting participants according to their family names, the researcher opted for another way of categorization and approached her sample according to the dialect they were observed to be using. Ideally, we selected schools and academic institutions to be our destination (we waited for them outside in order to observe their spontaneous linguistic behaviour - not the one influenced by the academic, formal settings). The reason behind this choice is not only the availability of the sample but also the easiness of categorization in terms of age. All the questionnaires (verbal or written) were administered in Arabic and explained in Tlemcen dialects (rural or urban depending on the interlocutor), sometimes in French when necessary. Conversations in open interviews were so interesting as they tackle directly the social reality in the community including social classes and gender discrimination due to dialect differences.

3. Results

Responses of all questions were recorded manually ; results are illustrated in tables ; qualitative ones are categorized and summarized descriptively.

3.1. Evidence for mixing in both speech communities : the glottal stop as a case

According to Cantineau (1939), all sedentary dialectal varieties, and only they, perform the unvoiced production of Classical qāf realization [ʔ/ q]. By contrast, bedouin vernaculars are seen to pronounce it in its voiced allophonic realization [g]. Following this claim and according to our observation and the pieces translated, they reflect that the expectation which states that Amman inhabitants speak only the sedentary variety was not completely true. Rather, results show parallel occurrence of Jordanian rural and urban varieties in examples as [ʔaddeeʃ vs. gaddeeʃ] ‘how much’, [zahʔan vs zahgan] ‘feeling bored’. This dialect mixing situation also witnesses the presence of some realizations brought directly from Standard Arabic, for instance [taqa :li :d] ‘traditions’, [ʃuru :q] ‘sunrise’. Consequently, in Amman speech, [g] and [ʔ] seem to be used in free variation as one can be substituted by the other without any change in the meaning ; the difference, however, lies in the fact that the use of the former denotes the speaker as rural whilst the latter is for urban dialect (and urbanized) speakers, and thus such variation should rather be regarded in terms of complementary distribution.

On the other site of the investigation, Tlemcen speech has also some frequencies of mixing, for example [derwaʔ vs. derwaq] ‘now’, [ga :l vs. ʔa :l] ‘say’. It is remarkable that [ʔ], [g] and [q] are in free variation with regional differentiation among their users. Sometimes, [g] and [ʔ] are in complementary distribution and are therefore two separate phonemes, e.g. [qarʕa vs garʕa] ‘bottle vs bald’, [neqqi vs neggi] ‘clean vs peal’.

3.2. Dialect change : urbanization or ruralization

In Tlemcen, situations of contact that have been influencing the home variety are summarized in figure (1). Change is assumed to occur from the urban to the rural and vice versa. Travelling outside Tlemcen to other cities or towns requires from both males and females to switch ; however, as opposed to the results in Amman, marriage is noticed not to affect the dialect used especially by males. Similarly, other factors lead males to shift their urban variety more than females.

Figure N° 1. Contextual situations of dialect change in Tlemcen

Image 10000201000002800000018225D8AAA81EDACB91.png

When asked about whether they are obliged to shift or not (figure 2), male speakers had positive answers while very few claimed keeping the use of the urban variety. Females, on the other hand, keep the urban variety with less need and motivation to change.

Figure N° 2. Tlemcen participants’ obligation to dialect change from urban to rural

Image 10000201000002800000015E9FE1CAFCE1D4E34C.png

In Amman speech community however, participants show that the direction of speech is towards the urban variety. Figure 3 mirrors that female speakers of Jordanian origin feel more under obligation to switch (77.27 %) than the other members of the sample. Palestinian males also see it a natural task to switch from one variety to another (33.33 %) as compared to Jordanian males who view it a shame to change their variety (94.12 %). Female Palestinians consider the task of shifting as not important ; they already use the urban variety, so there is no need for them to switch (86.96 %).

Figure N° 3. Amman participants’ pressure to change

Image 10000201000002800000017098CB556082C2D232.png

3.3. Reasons and motivations for retention or shift

The first answer that respondents utter is that they are proud of the variety they speak as it reflects their identity. Some, however, have mentioned that the home dialect is not to be used outside due to different circumstances. Here are some excerpts :

  • Participant 1: [belbeit bneħki gal w golna, ħatta nnisaʔ, bes fi nissaʔ betħeb tetmadden w taħki ʔal, lamma ttalaʕ ej kelma b l ʔel bensˤir bnedaħħak ʕaliha.. betssiir loɣatha ɣariba, w fi nissaʔ bjeħku b l ʔa w ʕadi betħessha labʔetelhom]
    ‘At home, we talk in [g], even women. Yet, there are women who want to be urbanized by talking in [ʔ]. Once she utters a word containing [ʔ], we laugh at her… Her language becomes strange. There are women who talk in [ʔ] and it is normal for us, you feel it adequate for them (it fits them)’.

  • Participant 2: [elʔordonija tʔaqlamu maʕa lfalestinija eli dʒaw men jafa w ħifa, sˤaru jgallduhom w lahʒethom sˤarat galba lelmadani… ida lam jakon fi dˤarura ltaɣjir kalamek, beʕtaberha ʕib, meʃdˤaru:ri ennak tetsˤanna3 loɣa meʃ tabaʕak ʕaʃan toθbit laɣirek ennak enta enu: w meθlu:]
    ‘The Jordanians hav become accustomed to and adapt to the Palestinians coming from Yafa and Hifa, they imitate them and then their dialect became urban-like… if there is not serious reason to change your way of speaking, I consider it as “shame”; it is not necessary to use a language that is not yours only to prove to others that you belong to them and you are like them’.

  • Participant 3: [bossi ... ktir vulgar ennu: lbenet taħki b lgal aw b lkal, aħla eʃi teħki b lʔel, eħna lfalastinije labʔitelna lʔa bas lʔordonja betħessha betetsˤanaʕ .. ana fallaħa falastinija belbit aħki b lka bes barra bɣajir leʔnou lkol bejeħki heik w lʔa ħelwe ʕala lbanat eʃabab bejeħku: binathom belga leʔanha lahdʒa ʃababja]
    ‘Look! It is very vulgar for a girl to talk using [g] or [k], the nicest thing is to talk in [ʔ], we, the Palestinians, the [ʔ] is adequate for us but the Jordanians, you feel it fake. I am a Palestinian Fallaħa, at home I talk in [k] but outside I change because all people talk this way and the [ʔ] is so sweet when uttered by girls. Male youngsters talk with each other using [g] because it is man-dialect’.

The reasons of the use or non-use of urban/rural dialects given by participants can be summarized as follows :

  1. Feminity vs masculinity : The urban dialect is associated with feminine behaviour. This is why males tend to avoid it. Females of Jordanian and fallaħi Palestinian origins tend to use it the most. Originally madani males use the rural variety which is, for them, the mirror of their manhood.

  2. Education : Most elderly and old people’s attitudes, in addition to proofs from children’s observations, show that education plays a significant role in dialect use. Grandparents state that they talk and educate their grandsons using the urban variety. Indeed, when interacting with friends and mates, children use it significantly.

  3. Type of work : Participants working in the army, medical domains, administrative fields and commerce, beside any type of job that require interaction with people, push them to shift according to their audience. Males often use the rural variety, if not all the time. Females, on the other hand, strictly use the urban dialect.

  4. Affiliation : Originally, Palestinian females and Jordanian males share the same degree of pride and belonging; therefore, they use the urban and rural varieties respectively. If change is required, it goes to the urban direction and the reverse never occurs. Participants agree that in Amman, the use of the urban variety is a symbol of social prestige and cultural advancement; it makes conversation more efficient. People belonging to mixed families (Palestinian/ Jordanian parents) prefer the urban variety as a medium of home interaction and children raising.

In Tlemcen, participants show a different attitude towards the urban variety which is avoided in ‘almost’ all cases by males and in some by females. The reason behind the markedness and avoidance of Tlemcen urban dialect lies in its association with effeminacy beside its association with selfishness and social discrimination among some people.

Other participants, though agreeing with the previous claim, advocate that Tlemcen dialect is part of their identity for they have been raised in it and it must be used among family members, recalling that it is the ‘social norm by females’. The rural variety is used by males, but seldom by urban females except in cases of misunderstanding and for clarity of interaction.

Children of both genders are seen to use the urban variety and their speech is not yet ‘corrupted’ by external contact. Change towards the rural, especially by males, starts from adolescence on. Maintenance is achieved by females and old people as well.

4. Discussion of results

The central question that has been raised at the beginning of this comparative research is to find realities of the current linguistic situation taking place in both speech communities with regard to the broader theory of dialect accommodation and change. We want to know whether contact between varieties only leads to situational accommodation via processes of contextual convergence and divergence or it is a prelude to a koineization operation leading to the emergence of a new dialect formation. In fact, former research underlines that speakers of distinct, but mutually intelligible, dialectal varieties exercise different levels of change in their structure and use especially once coming into contact. Undoubtedly, if the contact is contextual, i.e., short in time and reduced in space, convergence to dialects is also temporary and subject to the context itself. However, longer periods of contact make accommodation last long and, therefore, may lead to definite outcomes as it might be the case in the communities studied.

Trudgill (1989 :39) asserts that “speakers accommodate to each other linguistically by reducing dissimilarities between their speech patterns and adopting features from other’s speech”. Accordingly, our results reveal that participants of both cases show adoption of features of the others’ dialects. Quantitative data show that Amman female speakers adopt the urban variety while males tend to keep using the native Jordanian variants in almost all conversations and contexts. On the other hand, Palestinian women never switch to Bedouin Jordanian unless they are from a fallaħi ancestry who use it at home and in intimate contexts.

Conversely, Tlemcen city inhabitants, mainly males, shift from urban dialect to rural speech except in unconstrained circumstances like home, close friends, relatives, in which they use the purely urban variety. However, females, along with old people, resist change and keep using Tlemcen urban speech almost everywhere, except when not understood.

Although speakers experience aspects of convergence and divergence, their accommodation is imperfect as some variants are used in some contexts and not in others (as the case of Amman male speakers and fallaħi female Palestinians) ; a fact that results in a mixed dialect. Similarly, imperfect accommodation is witnessed in the speech of Tlemcen speakers in two different ways : some speakers, mainly, old males tend to use intermediate phonological features (for example, the use of [q] as a realization of Standard Arabic qāf instead of rural [g] or the urban glottal stop, which is still sedentary but not harshly stigmatized). Second, some other speakers, especially urban males, show aspects of hypercorrection where certain variants are used in environments where only one realization is possible in the rural dialect (for instance, saying [gbǝl] instead of [qbǝl], ‘before’, is wrong as only [q] is accepted in this word, and the use of [g] reveals that the speaker is a foreigner or not completely competent in that dialect).

Convergence entails not only using linguistic variants of the others but also similarity and group belonging (Britain 2010) since “identity relates to desire—the desire for recognition, the desire for affiliation and the desire for security and safety” (Norton, 1997 : 410). In this respect, Amman females converge to the urban variety in order to highlight their belonging to the urban group which is the symbol of cultural advancement and social status adequate for city dwellers. In contrast, though Tlemcen male speakers converge to the rural variety, this does not necessarily entail their belonging to the rural group nor do they reduce social dissimilarities with them. The sole goal behind rural variety use is to avoid stigma in public and gain more approval. Tlemcen speakers still value their own speech way as more advanced ; they even underestimate the rural variety as concluded from the results. They are only, actually in need and under socio-psychological obligation to use the rural variety as if they were exercising an inverted convergence where the aim is never to show belonging and identity affiliation but rather to avoid mockery and show manhood. As a matter of fact, they are still proud of their social affiliation, which is not the case for Amman female participants (mainly bedouin Jordanians and fallaħi Palestinians). Thence, the conditions for speech divergence are not completely successful by Tlemcen male native users : a non-truth conditional divergence.

As far as change is concerned, because it is a long-term process, outcomes go beyond accommodation and include mixing, levelling, and simplification. Kerswill and Trudgill (2005) advocate that mixing refers to “the co-existence of features with origins in the different input dialects” (p. 197). Because Amman as a heterogeneous space gathering distinct cultures, origins, and linguistic backgrounds living together for a considerable period, dialects come into a mixing situation : different available variants co-exist. Tlemcen city is witnessing a similar situation, but the data gathered show that mixing is paving the way for another result namely the emergence of a regional koiné. Due to the markedness and stigmatization of many features of rural and urban origins, the expected koiné will be a variety of a middle position, neither completely rural nor extensively urban.

Britain (2010 :197) states that since levelling is one outcome of convergent linguistic accommodation, “highly local dialect forms are often beginning to be eroded, levelled away in favour of spatially more widely distributed variants.” Our results exhibit a situation where minority features are marked and negatively seen and thus tend to be avoided, which is the case of the urban variety in Tlemcen and the bedouin variety in Amman. Therefore, speakers are paving the way for a ruralization process in the former speech community and urbanization in the latter.

Although dialect change is taking two distinct paths in the studied speech communities, one common point to notice is that the majority group of speakers adopts the minority’s speech. This contradicts with Kerswill’s (1994) claim that majority preserve and maintain their own variety. Hence, as Kherbache (2016 :248) states, “when there are minority groups with a non-powerful native majority group, the process of koineization may take place.” A first stage to koiné formation is dialect levelling.

Obviously, the results reveal that social and psychological factors are the main explanations of the phenomenon. These include age, gender, origins, context in addition to perception and evaluation of speech and social acceptance. In Amman, out of the whole sample of females, the biggest proportion, originally Jordanians and Palestinians, use the urban variety ; male speakers, on the other hand, use rural speech characteristics. Gender proves to be influential in Tlemcen community too where males are indeed “leaders of change” (Obeidat and Hammoudi 2019) and females are conservative of the urban dialect. Interestingly, the idea that “women use higher frequencies of innovative [and more prestigious] forms more than men do” (Labov, 2001 : 274) may apply in Amman but not in Tlemcen where males switch more frequently to the supra-local more accepted dialect looking for power and higher social standing ; for a similar motivation, males in Amman use the rural variety.

These results are very much similar to those of Al-Wer and Herin (2011 :406) who explain that in a previous generation in Amman “gender differentiation emerges as an important variable, and the significance of ethnicity (or dialectal background) is blurred since speakers from both backgrounds use both variants.” But in Tlemcen, the direction is towards the rural features, i.e., convergence is more common to rural speech. This applies on very marked features akin to the glottal stop. Interdentals, however, are still favoured by both groups which again is another argument reinforcing the process of regional koiné formation to emerge.

It is also noteworthy to mention that beside all the other significant factors, age reflects the advancement of variation and change. Trudgill (1986) asserts that children tend to be faster accommodators than adults. As this study has been tackled in apparent time, change in fact is seen mainly to start from adolescence, especially in Tlemcen where children only use the urban variety. In Amman, however, the data were a bit surprising as children show some awareness of the sociolinguistic distinction between urban and rural and between what speech makes a male a man and what variants make a female a woman. This is why male children mix the two, (starting in urban and conversing in rural which can be explained by the fact of being with mates who make remarks about each other’s speech and even mock those using the glottal stop) while female children use the urban variety. Adolescents and youths are the one who scored higher frequencies of variation and change. Starting from later elderly ages and old people, all of them have kept their original variety, although most prefer using the urban dialect to raise their grandsons in both speech communities.

Awareness of the salience of some variables has not only been recognized by children but also by other participants from different ages and was especially conveyed by their attitudes and explanations. This awareness is related to the social evaluation of variants and some features being highly stigmatized witnessing a struggle between change and maintenance. The Bedouin variety in Amman, the urban variety in Tlemcen are salient and attitudes are negative with regard to their use by males and females respectively in each community. They, therefore, become stereotyped leading to different directions of change in the two settings : urbanization and ruralization in accordance with the requirements and attitudes of the global society.


The final objective of this research is to concretize a comparison in the use of Dialectal Arabic in the Mashreq and Maghreb, attempting to trace the directions of dialect change in two different Arabic-speaking communities : Amman in Jordan and Tlemcen in Algeria. The stimulus was the similar situation existing and performed by speakers in both settings, i.e., the co-existence of rural and urban varieties. The results show that originally Jordanian female speakers tend to converge to urban speech which is not the case for Tlemcen female speakers who tend to be conservative of the urban variety despite its being highly stereotyped. On the other hand, and due to the search for social approval and power, adolescent and young male speakers of both origins (Amman and Tlemcen) tend to use the rural variety which leads to maintenance in Amman and change in Tlemcen. For these reasons, this comparative study is a particularly interesting one as it provides contributive results that break the world widely conventional rules in the field of urban dialectology, chiefly with regard to Arabic vernacular use and change that the majority of Arab communities adopt the urban variety while research proves Tlemcen an exceptional case where change is counter-hierarchical.

An overall conclusion that one may infer is that the linguistic behaviour of participants enhances dialect change : towards urbanization in Amman and ruralization in Tlemcen. From phonological, morphological and lexical investigations, a koineization process is expected to take place with the coming generations where stigmatized features are levelled away and simplified more socially accepted ones are maintained.

Abdel Jawad, H. (1981) Lexical and phonological variation in spoken Arabic in Amman. (Doctoral thesis). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

-----------------. (1986). The Emergence of an Urban Dialect in the Jordanian Urban Centre. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 5, 53-63.

Al-Khatib, M.A. (1988) Sociolinguistic Change in an Expanding Urban Context : A case study of Irbid City, Jordan. (Doctoral thesis). Durham University, UK.

Al-Wer, I. (2003) New dialect formation : the focusing of –kumin Amman. In Britain, D and Cheshire, J. (eds), Social Dialectology : In honor of Peter Trudgill (59-67). Amsterdam : Benjamins.

--------------. (2007) The formation of the dialect of Amman : from Chaos to Order. In Miller, C, Al-Wer, E, Caubet, D and Watson, J. (eds), Arabic in the city : Issues in Dialect Contact and Language Variation (55-76). Abingdon : Routledge Curzon.

Al-Wer, E. ; Herin, B. (2011). The lifestyle of Qaf in Jordan. Langage et Société n° 138. P. 59-76.

Britain, D. (2010). Supralocal Regional Dialect Levelling ; in Language and Identities, Llamas, C. & Watt, D. Eds. Edinburgh University Press ; pp. 193-203.

Cantineau, J. (1937) Les Parlers Arabes du Département d‗Alger. Revue Africaine. Volume 81 : 703-711. Alger : Office des Publications Universitaires.

---------------- (1938) Les Parlers Arabes du Département de Constantine. Actes du 4ème Congrès de la Fédération des Sociétés Savantes. Rabat. Volume 84 : 849-863.

---------------- (1940) Les Parlers Arabes du Département d‗Oran. Revue Africaine. Volume 84 : 220-231. Alger : Office des Publications Universitaires.

Chambers, J.K., Peter Trudgill, and Natalie Schilling-Estes, eds. (2002) The Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Blackwell Publishers, ISBN 0-631-21803-3, xii+807pp, USD 124.95/GBP 85.00.

Dendane, Z. (2013) The Stigmatisation of the Glottal Stop in Tlemcen Speech Community : An Indicator of Dialect Shift. International Journal of Linguistics and Literature (IJLL). Volume 2, Issue 3.

Donner, F. (1981) The Early Islamic Conquests. Princeton : Princeton University Press.

Hammoudi, K. (2017) The Realization of Qaf as a Glottal Stop between Stigmatization and Retention in Amman and Tlemcen Speech Communities. Magister Thesis. Yarmouk University.

Kerswill, P (1994) Dialects Converging : Rural Speech in Urban Norway. Oxford : Clarendon Press.

Kerswill, P and Trudgill, P (2005) The Birth of New Dialects. In Auer, P, Hinskens, F, and Kerswill, P. (eds), Dialect Change. Convergence and Divergence in European Languages. (196-220). Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Kerswill, P. (2010) Contact and New Varieties. In HICKEY, M. (ed), the Handbook of Language Contact. Oxford : Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Kherbache, F. (2016) A Sociolinguistic Study of Dialect Contact and Accommodation in Beni Snous. Doctorate Thesis. University of Tlemcen.

Labov, W. (2001) Principles of Linguistic Change, Vol 2 : External factors. Oxford : Blackwell

Larcher, P. (2006) Derivation. In EALL, I, ed. Kees Versteegh, associate ed. Mushira Eid, Alaa Elgibali, Manfred Woidich, and Andrzej Zaborski, 573-579. Leiden : Brill.

Marçais, W. (1902). Le Dialecte Arabe Parlé à Tlemcen. Ernest Leroux éditeur. Paris : France.

Miller, C. (2007) Arabic Urban Vernaculars : Development and changes. In Miller, C, Al-Wer, E, Caubet, D, and Watson, J.C.E. (eds), Arabic in the City. Issues in Dialect Contact and Language Variation. New York : Routledge

Milroy, Lesley (1980) Language and Social Networks, Oxford : Blackwell.

Niedzelski, N. ; Giles, H. (1996). Context Linguistics. In H. Goebl & P. Nelde, H. & S. Zdenek, and W. Wolk (eds.), An International Handbook of Contemporary Research. Berlin and New York : Walter de Gruyter.

Norton, B. (1997). ’Language, identity, and the ownership of English’. TESOL Quarterly 31 : 409-29.

Owens, J. (2005b) « Pre-diaspora Arabic : dialects, statistics and historical reconstruction”, Diachronica 22 : 2, 271-308.

Obeidat, H. ; Hammoudi, K. (2019). Men as Leaders of Linguistic Change : Case of Tlemcen Speech Community. Jordan Journal of Modern Languages and Literature vol. 11, No. 3, 2019, pp371-384

Palva, H. (1970) “Balgawi Arabic : texts from 3afey”, Studia Orientalia XLIII : 1, 326.

Palva, H. (1989) “Linguistic sketch of the Arabic dialect of El-Karak”, in R. Wexler, A. Borg and S. Somekh (eds) Studia Linguistica et Orientalia Memoriae Haim Blanc Dedicata, Helsinki : Studia Orientalia, pp. 225251.

Palva, H. (1994) “Bedouin and Sedentary elements in the dialect of Es-Salt : diachronic notes on the sociolinguistic development”, in D. Caubet and M. Vanhove (eds) Actes des Premières journées internationales de dialectologie arabe de Paris, Paris : INALCO, pp. 459469.

Palva, H. (2003) “Negation in the dialect of Es-Salt, Jordan”, in M. Haak, R. de Jong and K. Versteegh (eds) Approaches to Arabic Dialects, Leiden : Brill, pp. 221 226.

Trudgill, P. (1986) Dialects in Contact, Oxford : Blackwell.

Trudgill, P. (2004) New Dialect Formation : The Inevitability of Colonial Englishes, Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press.

Wilson, J. (2010). Moravians in Prague. A Sociolinguistic Study of Dialect Contact in the Czech Republic. Frankfurt am Main : Peter Lang, 267 p.ISBN 978-3- 631-58694-5.

Figure N° 1. Contextual situations of dialect change in Tlemcen

Figure N° 1. Contextual situations of dialect change in Tlemcen

Figure N° 2. Tlemcen participants’ obligation to dialect change from urban to rural

Figure N° 2. Tlemcen participants’ obligation to dialect change from urban to rural

Figure N° 3. Amman participants’ pressure to change

Figure N° 3. Amman participants’ pressure to change


ESP Teaching Research Laboratory – Abu Bekr Belkaid-Université de Tlemcen

Zoubir Dendane

Abu Bekr Belkaid-Université de Tlemcen

© 2017 Aleph, langues, médias et sociétés