Word-final imaala in contemporary Levantine Arabic : a case of language variation and change
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The phenomenon of word-final imaala, or taa-marbuuTa raising, in the Levantine dialects of Arabic was well documented about 50 years ago by renowned Arabists who described the phenomenon as a purely phonological one. Today, after some major historical and sociological changes have taken place in Arab societies, this feature deserves to be revisited since this might shed some light on the processes of language change in those societies. The scope of this paper is to look into the issue of word-final imaala in contemporary Levantine Arabic (specifically after raa) through a wide lens, and to establish 1) whether there are patterns governing the production of taa marbuuTa after raa, and 2) whether the existing phonological rules account for all instances of word-final imaala as they appear in the speech of Levantine speakers nowadays. In order to do that, instances of all word tokens ending in -ra were extracted from 252 phone conversations recorded in 2004 and found in the LDC Levantine database. Those tokens were analyzed and the word-forms they represent were divided based on whether they exhibit any instances on word-final imaala. It soon became clear that the existing sound rules cannot account for all current instances of taa-marbouTa raising. Two main factors were identified as having a possible effect on the production of taa marbuuTa after raa: word frequency and phonological word classes. Because of a lack of speaker-related information in the database coupled with some imaala-related discrepancies found in the transcriptions of the conversations, it was impossible to determine the exact social meaning(s) of word-final imaala in Levantine communities. However, this study shows that enough changes have taken place since the 1960’s in terms of taa-marbuuTa raising, to consider it a case of language change in progress. This study also establishes some hypotheses which can be used as the base for a future sociolinguistic study whose scope will be to assign social meaning to word-final imaala in Levantine dialects.