The Tirawi dialect in Damascus
Mahmoud El Salman
Al Balqa Applied University-Jordan
University of Salford
This study is based on interviews conducted by Mahmoud El Salman with 48 Tirawis who were forced to leave their native village al-Tira (Palestine) as a result of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 or are descended from these people, and who now live in Damascus. The aim of this paper is to investigate linguistic variation in the speech of these immigrants as a result of contact which has taken place between their dialect and Damascene dialect of Arabic. One phonological variable is the focus of this investigatation: the (Q). Our study shows that young and middle-aged people from this village have categorically abandoned their native variant of the uvular [q] of the (Q) in favour of the Damascene glottal stop [?]. Only a small proportion (6.1%) of the older Tirawi speakers still preserve their native variant
1- Tirawis before 1948 and their dialect
This study deals with a group originally from al-Tira, Palestine, (henceforth the Tirawis) who came to Damascus as a result of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Al-Tira is also known as Tirat Haifa in order to distinguish it from a number of other places called al-Tira in Palestine. It is approximately 7 kilometres from Haifa (El Salman 1991).
This study considers the variants of the variable (Q) as used by Tirawis living in Damascus. (Q) is typically considered a key variable in Arabic sociolinguistic studies, and has at least four major variants in different Arabic dialects: [q], [?], [k] and [g] (Kanakari 1988; Al-Khatib 1988).
The Tirawi dialect is distinguished from other dialects used in Haifa and the surrounding villages in having the [q] variant of the (Q) variable as a key dialect feature. Unlike the city of Haifa itself whose population employed the [?] for the [q] and those other villages which were administratively related to Haifa, such as Ijsim and 9ain Hawath, where the [k] is used, in al-Tira, the [q] was considered the native variant. More generally, [q] is used in a few towns and villages in Palestine, and also in the Arab world as a specific dialect feature (although it is the form found in Standard Arabic, as will be discussed later in this section). As a result of this peculiarity, [q] has come to be regarded as an identity feature for Tirawis whether they actually use it or not.
The strong social association between the use of [q] and Tirawi identity has given rise to many jokes and anecdotes. In the past, it was common to refer to Tirawis as people who /qawwasu lbaHar/ ؟shot at the sea؟, indicating their use of the [q] in the form /qawwasu/ ؟they shot at the sea؟. For instance, if a man from Haifa wanted to know if somebody was from al-Tira he might humorously ask him: /inta min illi qawwasu ilbaHar/ ؟Are you one of those who shot at the sea؟. If the answer was ؟yes؟, this question might be followed by a second question: /qarqa9 babuur iTTiirih wilaa ba9duh/ ؟Has the grinding-machine of al-Tira started making a noise, or not yet?؟. Note the appearance of the key feature [q] of this dialect in these phrases which helps convey this humorous and friendly social meaning. The word /qarqa9/ ؟made a grinding noise؟ contains the [q] twice. This confirms the speaker؟s intention to signal the correlation between being a Tirawi and being a user of [q]. Even years after they left their village and went to live in other regions, such as Jordan and Syria, and after many of them abandoned their native dialect, such phrases continue to be associated with Tirawis. Indeed, one of the first things that springs to mind when Tirawis are mentioned is the use of [q], so strong is the association between this phonological variable and Tirawis. The use of [q] is generally analysed in sociolinguistic studies of Arabic as an indicator of a high level of education (Abdel-Jawad 1981, Daher 1998, Al ؟Wer 1991) since for most speakers [q] is a direct reflex of Standard Arabic /q/ (i.e. [q] is the Standard Arabic variant of the variable (Q)). Thus it normally occurs in words which are taken into colloquial speech from Standard Arabic.
In the case of Tirawis, however, [q] is the native variant and is used by educated and uneducated people alike. Thus, SPSS analysis shows that education is not significant in the use of the [q] among Tirawis in Damascus (P<.05 while it is .727 for education in the use of the [q]). In fact, the highest rate of use of the [q] among Tirawis was found to be among the old, most of whom are not only uneducated but also illiterate. Old Tirawis in Jordan, most of whom are also uneducated, appeared to categorically use the [q] variant (El Salman, 2003). When [q] is used by educated people to show a high level of education, it occurs in the context of an attempt to standardise their speech to conform with SA and thus highlight their educated status. It is normally related to certain words classified by many (for example Abdel-Jawad, 1981, Al Wer, 1991, Al Khatib, 1988 and many others) as technical or Standard Arabic words and has a relatively low frequency of occurrence in daily speech as it is not the native variant of these speakers.
In contrast, [q] is the native Tirawi variant and as such is used by them to identify themselves with their village, rather than to make their speech conform to the prestige variety of SA. Tirawis used the [q] throughout the interview. It was used by these speakers in words classified as SA only, words which are used in both SA and colloquial Arabic, and words used only in colloquial Arabic. It is also important to note that when a young Tirawi who has abandoned the [q] variant and adopted another variant tries to use the [q] variant his behaviour might in some cases be considered an attempt to speak standard Arabic, as is typical of educated people. However, among Tirawis, this could also be seen as an attempt to level their speech in order to perform show their link to al-Tira. The determinant of this is to a great extent the kind of word the speaker uses with the [q]. For example, when a young Tirawi who has been found to abandon his or her native variant [q] tries to use the [q] throughout the interview to show that his or her identity is still linked to al-Tira it is noticed that he or she uses it with words known to relate to the daily life and environment of al-Tira. Normally these words are not classified as SA; in some cases they may even be borrowed from a language other than Arabic ؟ Turkish for example. Speaker 7, for instance, uses the [?] variant throughout the interview. He uses the [q] only when he is retelling his mother؟s tale of how bread was made in al-Tira. He says: /kaanuu ystaxdimuu iši asmuh mqHaar iT-Taaboon/ (they used to use something called ؟the stick of the bread oven؟ [Taaboon]). We believe that the speaker uses the [q] in this context because he is quoting the exact words his mother spoke to him. him. He thus uses the [q] just as she did. This is therefore not an attempt to standardise his speech. Rather the [q] variant appears because he is saying something emotionally charged about his village and remembering what his late mother used to say about it. Accordingly, the use of the [q] here should be considered an attempt to show his continuing links to his village. This speaker also uses the [q] only with words which are very much related to the history and environment of al-Tira. These words are not understood in Damascus
Another example is taken from speaker 1 who is from the middle age-group and who has also abandoned the use of the native [q]. He says: /kaanu ahli saakniin fi makaan asmuh izzalaqah/ ؟my family used to live in a place called al-Zalaqah/. The [q] is also used by other [q] non-preservers with certain place-names such as: /quf / (name of a hill), /qa9quur/ (name of a place), /qaraaniif/ (name of a place), and /alqiT9ah/ and /qdiisih/ (names of two agricultural areas). Other examples include words which reflect the environment of al-Tirah such as: /bulluq/ (a kind of plough used to be used by Tirawis before 1948), /qirTyaan/ (a kind of stone which used to be found in the al-Tira area), /qunza9ah/ (the lid of the bread oven [Taaboon]), /miqlaa9/ (a stick used to move the bread in the bread oven), /miqHaar/ (a stick used to prepare the bread in the bread oven [Taaboon]), /qumbaaz/, (a large loose fitting garment which used to be worn by men) and /miqaah/ (farm).
Our point here is that a Tirawi who has abandoned the [q] as a normal colloquial form might howeveruse this variant in an attempt to standardise his speech as is commonly done by educated people in the Arab world. However, what is peculiar to Tirawis who are [q] non-preservers is that the use of [q] might also be an attempt to perform Tirawi identity and signal links with their village especially when the [q] is used with words known to be related to the village and its environment. This does not rule out the fact that there were many cases present in the interviews where the use of the [q] can be considered an attempt to standardise speech rather than levelling it to the code of the al-Tira dialect. This happens in many instances as a result of the speaker؟s high level of education and occurs in words which are known to be technical or academic, for example /aqaafah/ ؟culture؟, /taqriiban/ ؟nearly؟, /aššarq al?awsaT/ ؟the Middle East؟.
2. Tirawis in Damascus
As a result of the war of 1948 Tirawis migrated to one of three surrounding Arab countries: Jordan, Syria or Lebanon. The majority of the Tirawis migrated to Jordan and in particular to the city of Irbid (El Salman 1991). A small number of them migrated to Syria particularly to Damascus and the surrounding areas. Most of these people settled in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus. Here the Tirawis found themselves a minority living among the numerically dominant and linguistically distinct Damascene Arabicnative population. The migrating Tirawis were not only a very small minority in Damascus but they also suffered socially and financially when they arrived there. In addition, they found that the distinguishing feature of their dialect, namely the [q], is stigmatised in Damascus through its association with rural people. According to Daher, in Damascus, the ؟[q] is associated with a rural background, lacking in what is perceived to be the superior status of city life؟ (Daher, 1998: 198). This is because the [q] is also a native variant of certain rural areas in Syria such as the Latakia region. In al-Tira the indigenous Tirawis lived together in a traditional social setting in the same village. They were, accordingly, able to maintain their native dialect and use of [q] conferred status on the speaker. . In Damascus the Tirawis became immigrants and were dispersed over a wide geographical area. In addition, Tirawis like other Palestinians living in Syria have not been granted full citizenship (Kanovsky, 1976) and thus remain to some extent outsiders. This not only undermines their social status but also the status of their dialect. As Wolfram notes, ؟the social value associated to certain groups in society will be attached to the linguistic forms used by the members of those groups؟ (Wolfram, 1997: 120).
4. The sample
Our study includes 48 informants who are either originally from al-Tira and who emigrated to Damascus as a result of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, or who are the descendants of these people. 24 of the informants are female and 24 are male. Three age groups are considered. These are people over 60 years of age (the ؟elderly؟), people over 40 years of age (the ؟middle-aged؟) and people over 18 years of age (the ؟young؟). This size of sample is acceptable and similar to the number of informants in numerous sociolinguitic studies. For example the number of informants in Trudgill؟s (1974) study was 60 in a city with a population of 118,610, and the number of informants in Daher؟s study (1998) conducted in the same city, Damascus, was 46. Labov also notes that ؟the structured nature of social and stylistic variation of language can be studied through samples considerably smaller than those required for the study of other forms of social behaviour؟ (Labov, 1966: 638). In this study, we have used face-to-face tape recorded interviews. The social network framework is followed and the informant is approached in the capacity of a friend or in some cases ؟a friend of a friend؟ (Milroy and Milroy 1978). The large social network of the interviewer (Mahmoud El Salman) enabled us to draw our sample from different kinds of people and from both sexes. The fact that the interviewer is himself a Tirawi helped us to avoid the inherent difficulty of a male to female interview and as such we were not obliged to engage a female to help us in carrying out the interviews. In other words, being a member of the group made the other treat me as a relative, something which makes interviewing female informants by me possible. This is a very problematic issue in the Arab world and has led some sociolinguists to exclude females from their study as happened with Al-Jehani؟s study of Makkan Arabic (Saudi Arabia) because of the cultural norms restricting women؟s contact with men (Al Jehani, 1985). Other researchers have engaged a female assistant to help in conducting their interviews with women as in the case of Al Khatib (1988) in his study set in Irbid (Jordan), Daher (1998) in his study of Damascene Arabic, and El Salman (2003a) in his study set in Karak (Jordan). In our study we were not obliged to exclude females from our study or to engage another female to help in conducting an interview on our behalf.
5. [q] preservers.
Table 1 shows that 90% of elderly male speakers preserve the native [q] and maintain use throughout the interviews, while 10% of them have abandoned the use of the native variant [q] in favour of the local [?]. It also shows that 70% of old females speakers preserve the native [q] and maintain use throughout the interviews, while 30% of them have abandoned the use of the native [q] in favour of the local [?].
Sex M F
Age [q]% [?]% N [q]% [?]% N
Young 17.5 82.5 188 12.8 87.1 281
Middle 16.2 196 234 10.1 89.8 336
Old 90 10 255 70 30 170
All of the Tirawis who preserve the native [q] belong to the old age group. These people, who were very young when they first arrived in Syria did not face the same circumstances as those who migrated to Jordan; the native Damascene [?] is not associated with a rural and Bedouin life style, as is the native [g] of Jordan. As such the [?] is not stigmatised. There is thus no strong social reason which excludes adoption. It is not surprising that the small proportion of the informants who are found to preserve the native [q] variant all belong to the old age group. Age was found to be the most significant factor in the use of the [q] (P<.05 while it is .000 for age in the use of [q]). Figure 1 also shows that the use of [q] increases from young to middle-aged, peaking in frequency among the elderly.
It is well known that the old are subject to much more pressure from their society to preserve their native dialect than the young (Al-Wer, 1991; 91; Walters, 1991: 201). As Eckert reports, ؟community studies of variation frequently show that increasing age correlates with increasing conservatism in speech؟ (Eckert, 1997: 157). This appears to be the case of this speech community as those who still use the [q] are the oldest members of the group. The analysis of individual cases in our data shows that all of the old who preserve the [q] are 75 years old and above. This leads us to believe that their age puts great social pressure on them not to abandon their native variant. At the same time, it is not important for them to follow the code of prestige as ؟the older speakers are prepared to maintain stigmatised variants؟ (Walters, 1991: 210) as ؟an approximation to this [prestige] implies a deviation from the language of one؟s own group؟ (Wodak and Benke, 1997: 132). Their age also forms an obstacle in itself to abandoning their native dialect. As Le Page puts it: ؟their ability to change their behaviour [is] possibly mainly a function of age؟ (Le Page, 1997:28). In addition, it is expected that the old who were born in their native village are more sensitive to preserving their dialect as part of a general attempt on their part to preserve their links to their past and their identity as Tirawi speakers. ؟In order to maintain . . . customs and ethnic heritage, it is vital to maintain the original dialect؟ (Filipovic, 2001: 61). Bonner also notes such a relation in Belize, arguing that ؟diminishing use of the Garifuna language indicates the loss of a vital link to the past؟ (Bonner, 2001: 85).
6. [?] adopters
We believe that the fact that Tirawis in Damascus found themselves living among another dominant group with another dialect played a major role in leading them to abandon their Tirawi [q] variant. Crucially, the [q] is stigmatised in Damascus as it ؟is associated with a rural background؟ (Daher, 1998), while ؟By the norms of DA [Damascus Arabic], the prestigious local dialect that is typically used by most speakers in most situations, [?] is strongly associated with the forces of urbanisation, modernisation ؟ .؟ (Daher, 1998, 189). Blom and Gumperz note that ؟Immigrants ؟ around the world frequently give up their language after a generation if social conditions are favourable to language shift؟ (Blom and Gumperz, 1972: 417).
Before their migration the Tirawis were not immigrants but indigenous population. Following 1948, however, they became immigrants in Damascus. Before 1948 the [q] variant was the local variant and the variants which was actually used by most Tirawi speakers (El Salman, 2003b). The use of it carried the sense of group membership. Before 1948 in al-Tira, any abandoning of the [q] in favour of the [?] would have been taken as an attempt on the part of speakers to disassociate themselves from the rural community to which the speakers belonged. This point made at the end of the interviews by all interviewees who were born in al-Tira. The social pressure to maintain the [q] as a result of living together in the same village played a strong role in causing it to be preserved by most speakers.
In Damascus following the 1948 migration, however, the [q] did not come to convey group membership. Social conditions, thus, became ؟favourable to language shift؟, as Blom and Gumperz (1972: 417) put it. In terms of the ؟cost-benefit؟ model of Myers-Scotton (Myers-Scotton, 1995), [q] in the context of Damascus also came to carry of the ؟cost؟ of association with rurality without yielding the ؟benefit؟ of appearing local. Myers-Scotton and Bolonyal argue that ؟speakers are rational in the sense that their choices depend largely on assessment of possible options in terms of a cost-benefit analysis that takes account of their own subjective motivations and their objective opportunities؟ (Myers-Scotton and Bolonyal, 2001: 5). Moore notes that typically ؟variants superalocalize to accommodate the demand of alternative linguistic markets؟ (Moore, 2002: 1). The use of the [q], by contrast, achieves the opposite of superalocalization, specifically marking the speaker as an immigrant or rural. That the use of the [q] can in some lexical items convey the prestige of SA and is used as an indicator of a high level of education is acknowledged in many studies (Abdel Jawad, 1981, Al Khatib 1988), among others). However, the contexts in which such prestige might arise as a result of the use of the [q] must also be considered. In our study, [q] was only used by those who had the lowest level of education, many of whom were illiterate, and in domains and contexts which are not suitable for the use of SA according to Ferguson؟s (1959) categories. In addition, the [q] was used with lexical items which are classified as purely colloquial. For example Speaker 8 uses three words with the [q]. The first is /9asquul/ (a proper name); he uses this when talking about a cave in al-Tira called /mġaarit 9asquul/ ؟9asquul؟s Cave؟ which is named after a man called /9asquul/. The second and third words are /yHluqu/ ؟[they] cut؟ and /bifaqqi9/ ؟it drives [you] mad؟ (literally ؟it makes [you] explode؟). The word /bifaqqi9/ is a purely colloquial lexical item. Speaker 2 also uses the [q]. Nevertheless, her speech can not only classified as colloquial but also as ؟/9aammiyyat al-ummiyiin/؟ ؟the colloquial of the illiterate؟ in terms of Badawis tri-partite division of colloquial varieties into ؟/9aammiyyat al-ummiyiin/؟ ؟the colloquial of the illiterate؟, ؟/9aammiyyat al-mutanawwiriin/؟ ؟the colloquial of the ؟enlightened؟ [i.e. literate]؟, and ؟/9aammiyyat al-muaqqafiin/؟ ؟the colloquial of the highly educated؟ (Badawi and Hinds, 1986: viii-ix). In particular she uses two words that would not be pronounced in this way by anyone who has even a small amount of education. Education is known to give the person the opportunity to use SA as only SA is used in school curriculum in the Arab world (Al Khatib, 1988) and this increases the ability to use SA and avoid using the colloquial of the illiterate. Firstly, she uses /karhaba/ for ؟electricity؟, whereas someone with even minimal education would say /kahraba/ ؟electricity؟. Secondly, she uses /đayaat/ for ؟lights؟. This is again a form typically only used by old illiterate people. The form used by literate people is typically /aDwaa?/.
Our point here is that a person who shows such readiness to use unambiguously colloquial and stigmatised forms such as /qunza9ah/ or /bifaqqi9/, or /đayaat/ is unlikely to be interested in the prestige associated with SA.
In Damascus both middle-aged Tirawis and the young have categorically abandoned the native [q] variant in favour of the [?] variant. Both men and women behave linguistically similarly in these two age groups in abandoning the native [q] in favour of the local [?]. SPSS analysis show that sex does not have significance in the use of the /?/ (P.05 while it is <..652. for sex in the use of the [?]). Figure 2 also shows this pattern.
It is true that males and females sometimes behave linguistically differently in that ؟Males appear to favour more localized variants which carry some kind of identity-based social meaning in the local community, whereas females identify more with supra-local variants in speech؟ (Miloroy and Milroy, 1997: 55). In Damascus, however, it happens that the local variant is the [?] variant, which is at the same time the prestigious urban variant. As a result we believe that both sexes behave similarly in adopting the [?] but have different intentions in adopting it. That is to say, they differ in the social meaning sought through this single linguistic form. We would argue that not only can a linguistic form have different social meanings in different places, but that, the same linguistic variant can express different social meanings in the same area and be exploited by different group each aiming to construct different identities. Just as a single word can have different denotations (polysemy), a single linguistic form can have different social connotations. We believe that men are prepared to adopt the [?] as it is (a) the local variant, and (b) does not carry negative connotations of softness, or femininty, as it does in Jordan for example (where it competes with the indigenous, rural-oriented, and therefore tougher and more masculine [g]).
According to Daher, ؟both men and women in Damascus have learned DA as their native language for as long as DA has existed ؟؟ (Daher, 1998: 190). The [?] variant is reported in many studies in Jordan in particular not to be used by males (for example Al-Wer, 1991, Al Khatib, 1988) as its use is associated with to softness and urbanisation - attributes appropriate to females rather than males in Arab societies. Males, on the other hand, tend to use the local variant of the (Q) variables. In the studies quoted above, this is the [g] of Jordanian dialects. For male Tirawis in Damascus the [?] is the local variant, while for females it is the variant which ؟carries prestige as the norm associated with urbanization, modernization, and progress؟ (Daher, 1998: 190). The result is that [?] is adopted by both males and females. Where the local variant is found to differ from the variant which is prestigious because of its use in urban centres such as Jerusalem, Cairo, Haifa or Damascus, men and women behave linguistically differently. This makes us argue that while males and females in Damascus both use the [?], they have different aims in using it; men aim to identify themselves with the local code while women aim to identify themselves with the code of prestige.
In addition, for the Tirawis in particular, the [?] is also used in the major city to which this group is attached, namely Haifa. It, thus, is not viewed by these immigrants as completely alien. This contrasts with the Jordanian [g], which is not used at all in the native area to which the Tirawis belong.
The [q], which is the characteristic feature of the native Tirawi dialect, was found to be abandoned categorically by Damascene Tirawis of the middle and young age groups. Middle-aged and young female Tirawis have abandoned their native variant [q] in favour of the local variant [?] because, we believe, the [?] is considered prestigious through its association with urbanisation and softness. These are the two characteristics which have been found to be sought by females in most of the sociolinguistic studies conducted in the area (e,g. Abdel- Jawad (1981) in Amman; Al Khatib (1988) in Irbid; Al- Wer (1991) in Jordan; Ammara (1999) in Bethlehem (Palestine), Daher (1998) in Damascus; El Salman (2003a) in Karak (Jordan)).
Middle-aged and young males have abandoned the native [q] in favour of the local [?]. We believe that males in these two age groups have done so because of the social associations of [?] as a local variant. This follows the pattern of what males have been found to do in the majority of sociolinguistic studies: favouring the variant which conveys local group membership. We believe that the motivating factor making males accept the [?] is: (a) it is the local variant; and (b) it is used equally by both men and women in Damascus. This removes the sense of its being a peculiar characteristic of female speech.
The use of the [q] by younger Tirawis in Damascus can be viewed as an attempt to adopt SA pronunciation which confers an educated identity. However, in specific cases it can, by contrast, be an attempt to level their speech in order to confirm their own Tirawi identity and their link to their ancestral land. The attempts at levelling are related in most cases to words which are classified as purely colloquial and which normally denote features of the natural or social environment of al-Tira. Attempts to standardise, by contrast, are related to words classified in many studies conducted in the area as technical or SA words, such as /aqaafah/ ؟culture؟, /manTiqah/ ؟region؟, /liqaa?aat/ ؟meetings؟, and many others. These are typically found to be used by people who are educated. As most of the studies in the area show, the SA variant [q] is used most frequently by educated people. It was also noticed that when [q] is used as a result of an attempt to standardise speech rather than as part of the native dialect it is used in very limited cases, not exceeding 4 instances in any one interview in our study. The ؟standardising؟ [q] is certainly not used consistently throughout the interview. By contrast, when the [q] is used by the elderly participants as part of their native dialect, it is used throughout the interview, regardless of how the lexical item containing the [q] can be classified. In such cases the [q] is used with words which are stigmatised and classified as purely colloquial lexical items such as /qunza9ah/ ؟the cover of the bread oven [Taboon]؟, and /bifaqqi9/ ؟it drives [you] mad؟.
We also believe that the fact that the [?] variant is the native variant of the city to which the village of al-Tira was administratively related, namely Haifa, has accelerated the process of its adoption by Tirawis and made it psychologically more acceptable. The fact that the [?] is not related to rural or Bedouin life, as is the case with the [g] in Jordan, also contributes to its acceptance. In addition, the fact that the [q] is already stigmatised in Damascus, as it is considered the native variant of certain rural areas in Syria, has accelerated the process of its abandonment it by the Tirawis.
Young and middle-aged speakers categorically abandon the native [q], while a relatively low proportion of the old appear to preserve it. Individual analysis of the informants in fact shows that only those who are over 75 years old preserve the native variant. We can thus report sound change in progress which is near completion in the dialect of Damascene Tirawis with regard to the use of the [q] of their native dialect.
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