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al-Tira - الطيرة: Migration and lexical variation in the dialect of Tirat haifa. Mahmoud El Salman and thomas Roche

Posted by محمود السلمان on May 9, 2010

Picture for al-Tira Village - Palestine: : منظر عام تظهر بقايا متناثرة من اثار القريةعلى سفح الكرمل - ربيع 2003 Click Image For Town Details
This article is published in Journal of humanities and Social Sciences. Any citation from it must indicate the reference. The reference is:
El Salman,Mahmoud and Roche, Thomas 2009 The Role of Migration in Lexical Variation of the Arabic Dialect of Tirat Haifa, Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol. XVII, (1) 61-71.

Dedicated to My village Tirat Haifa (Tirat al Carmel) in my country Palestine
Mahmoud El Salman

Migration and Lexical Variation in the Arabic Dialect of Tirat Haifa

Mahmoud El Salman

Thomas Roche


This study investigates the nature of lexical variation in the speech of the Tirawi who emigrated from Tirat Haifa (Palestine) to Irbid (Jordan) as a result of the Arab–Israeli war in 1948. Based on data collected in naturalistic interviews with 48 participants, the authors argue that their migration, which brought about the abandonment of traditional farming practices, lead to a great number of lexical items associated with that lifestyle disappearing from use. While elderly group members interviewed categorically preserve lexical items from their native dialect when talking about farming, middle-aged and young group members use Tirawi lexical items at a very low rate if at all. The study also shows that prestige has not played a crucial role in the variation studied as no new local lexical items have replaced the abandoned items. The study suggests that when a community migrates and abandons traditional practices (farming or otherwise) lexical items relating to that lifestyle disappear. Descriptions of practices and tools last slightly longer than names for the constituent parts of those tools. Whereas non-work related dialect items such as /xayta/ ' my sister', /xayya/ 'my brother', /siidi/ 'my grand dad' and /sitti/ 'my grand mum' are more readily preserved even by the younger generation.

1. Introduction

The village of Al-Tira, also referred to as Tirat Haifa (i.e., "the Tira of Haifa") to distinguish it from other Tiras, is located on the northwestern slopes of Mount Carmel, Palestine, overlooking the coastal plain abutting the Mediterranean Sea. The Crusaders called it St.Yphan de Tira (Khalidi, 1992: 195). Written documents first from 1596 first mention the village Al-Tira in the district known as the Nahiya of Shafa (also liwa’ lajjun) with a population of 286 (Khalidi, et al, 1992). A recent archaeological survey suggests a history of continuous settlement which can be dated to the Paleolithic era (Khalidi 1992: 196). In 1947, during the last years of Palestinian ownership of the land, its population was recorded as 10, 000 (El Salman, 1991). At that time Tirawi livelihood was based around the cultivation of crops such as olives and grains as well as the herding of stock, predominately sheep and goats.
The emigration of Tirawis from their village led not only to the scattering of those people in many countries but necessitated a change in Tirawi lifestyle. The migrants searched for work in the towns and cities in which they found themselves. The majority of Tirawis were relocated in a refugee camp in the western part of Irbid, Jordan, there they were accommodated in small housing units where maintaining their previous agricultural lifestyle was no longer possible.
The village was not only completely emptied of its original inhabitants but also of the Arabic Tirawi dialect which was spoken there until 1948. The Tirawi dialect emigrated with its users to Jordan where contact with other Arabic dialects was inevitable. As a result of this move, the Tirawi dialect is under threat; three major factors are presently believed to jeopardize this
Transcription. The most noteworthy symbols used in transcribing Arabic words given in this article are ? glottal stop, q, uvular stop, 3 voiced pharyngeal frivative, j voiced alveolar (or palatoalveolar) affricative

dialect to the point of extinction: 1) The death of many Tirawis who still use this dialect; 2) the abandoning of this dialect by younger generations as a result of their contact with new dialects (El Salman, 2003); and 3) the change in the material circumstances in which the Tirawis now live. This study explores the nature of Tirawi dialect change with a specific focus on the extent to which the third factor might have affected the Tirawi dialect, specifically in relation to lexical items.
The following section provides additional information about the village and villagers of Al-Tira. The dialect of Tiraws in Al-Tira before 1948 is described before the dialect and life of Tirawis in modern Irbid (Jordan) are analyzed in Sections 3. The methodology of this study is described in Section 4, which is followed by a presentation and discussion of the findings in Section 5. The authors then draw some conclusions about lexical variation in general in Section 6.

2. Al-Tira and the Tirawi dialect before 1948.

Before 1948 the majority of the Tirawi worked the land, farming crops or herding livestock (El Salman, 1991). These two areas of work were central to the life styles of the Tirawi and their dialect pre-1948 reflects their world at that time.
The following examples of dialect terms provide some insight into the world of the Tora before forced migration. A sheep, for example could be called a /3abuur/ if it was less than one year old, /anyyih/ if it was roughly two years old and /hirmih/ if it was four years of age or older. There were lexical items used to denote the animal’s role in its flock, for example /daluul/ is a term used to name the sheep which guides the rest of the beasts and typically wore a bell around its neck. These objects of material culture also were given specific names, the bell itself was called /jaras/ when it was made of /copper or brass/, /qirqa3/ when it was bigger and made of iron, and /tabal/ when it was even larger than the //qirqa3/. These names are not the same ass terms used for bells in jewelry. Sheep were also classified not only based on age and role but according to their appearance. A sheep was referred to as a /sabћa/ when the hair of only its forehead was white but a /maġrah/ when it has a white face and a /malћa/ when its ears were whitish or with white spots. It was, at that time, necessary to communicate the age and appearance of the sheep during the process of selling, buying, and slaughtering the beasts.
Life toiling in the fields led Tirawi to develop knowledge of their stock and they subsequently developed terms to express this knowledge. Certain lexical items afforded an economic specificity to their discourse, thus making communication more effective and enabling speakers to replace explanations which would otherwise run into phrases with single lexical items. For instance, /annyah/ can replace: “this sheep is two years old”; or the word /daluul/ can be employed where elsewhere a speaker would have to say: “this is the male sheep with the bell around its neck and it is given special hay” (as the Tirawi used to give /daluul/ the best /tibin/ 'hay' they had). A concept such as “sheep which are owned to be sold and bought” are called /Tarsh/ and the man who owns them is called a /Tariish/, which roughly translates to English as 'shepherd' or ‘stock trader’, but if they are “sheep which are owned just to feed the members of the family”, they are called /manuuћah/.
Stay with stock-related dialect terms we find /isamrah/ a word used to describe goats and the rope which is made from goats' hair is called /roma/, a word which is currently known only by 2% of the middle aged group and was recorded in this study as known by 0% of the young generation. This will be discussed in Section 5.
There are numerous sayings and parables in Tirawi which also reflect their pastoral lives. A hen is called /dojajah/ but once it has eggs it is /qroqah/ . One common saying was: /faqasat liqroqah wila ba3dha/ 'has the hen laid eggs yet or not?” – roughly translating as “Has X come about yet or not?”
Prior to 1948 Tirawis also worked in agriculture. Unique names were given to the places where they planted their crops depending on the kind of these crops. For example, the place where /shummaam/, /baTiix/ 'water melon', and /qiiah/ 'cucumbers' were planted was called a /miqah/ 'cucumber bed', while it was referred to as a /mazra3ah/ ‘farm’ or a /bustaan/ ‘orchard’ or a / ћaqil/ ‘field’ if it had other crops. As /qamћ/ ‘wheat’ was also a major croup planted by Tirawis, old Tirawis know different names for the corn's planting depending on the period of planting it. For example, if it is planted early in September or October, the verb used for this process is called /3alliif/ and if it is planted late in April it is called /laxshih/. /safiir/ is a term used to describe the state when it is time to harvest /qami/. The process of piling it is called /taġmiir/, and the women who once carried out this job were called /ġamarat/. The process of carrying it is called /rajd/ if it takes place on animals but /taћmiil/ if it takes place with vehicles. /zituun/ 'olive trees' were also a major cash crop in Al-Tira. The top of this tree was called /qanqozih/, and the hole found in its stem was calld /joћmaq/. One common saying is: "fulaan baTnoh miil joћmaq iz-ziituuneh/ 'that person's tummy is becoming like the hole found in the olive tree's stem’. This is said when wanting to describe a person who is very thin. Classical land division techniques were also used in the Al-Tiraw region. Property was traditionally separated by a marker called a /qa3qoor/. A /qa3qoor/ is made by some stones stacked on top of one another. Tirawis also used this image to create one of their proverbs: /fulaan jaalis miil il-q3qoor/ 'that person is sitting like a pile of stones'. It is used to describe a person sitting at the road’s edge.
The above lexical items and expressions are unique to Tirawi and provide insight into the world of the Tirawi pre-migration in 1948.

3. The Tirawi in Irbid.

Tirawis were forced to emigrate to Jordan from Palestine as a result of the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. As this emigration involved more than 100,000s of refugees. The UNRWA (United Nation Relief and Work Agency) intervened, setting up camps for those immigrants who went to Jordan. The majority of Tirawis settled in those camps. In the camp in Irbid each family was given a very small housing unit, but without access to agricultural land Tirawis found their stock management and agricultural skills and knowledge of no benefit. Ultimately many Tirawis found menial employment in the UNRWA, while a small number began training or studies which allowed them to gain employment as teachers, doctors and engineers. Anecdotal evidence suggests despite spending over fifty years in Jordan these refugees still identify themselves as Tirawis.

4. Methodology

This study was conducted according to the Labovian Paradigm. Interviews were conducted in shops, offices, houses, and workshops in Irbid (Jordan). The site was determined by the availability of the informants. One of the authors who made the interviews was a male Tirawi, his large social network enabled him to draw his sample from different strata of society and from both sexes. The fact that he belongs to this group helped him to avoid the inherent difficulties of male-to-female interview and as such we were not obliged to engage a female research assistant to conduct interviews . The social network framework was followed so that informants were approached in the capacity of “a friend of a friend” or in some cases “a friend of a friend of a friend” (Milroy and Milroy, 1978). Some group conversations between Tirawis (without the interviewer being present) where recorded in shops and houses where this was possible, such recorded conversations are considered vital in such research as a “supplementary check on these face-to face tape-recorded interviews” (Labov, 1972: 13).
The size of our sample, 48, is proportionately similar to the number of informants used in many comparable 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 Damascus, was 46. Labov (1966: 638) notes that “the structure 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”. The 48 Tirawi speakers then generated in their speech the data on which our conclusions about Tirawi dialect as it was spoken in 2008 are based.
We should stress here that our study is fully dependent on naturalistic speech or speech used in conversation between group members. All the interviews were made using the face-to-face technique for obtaining data on linguistic variation. The participants were Jordanian citizens, who are either originally from Al-Tira in Palestine and who migrated to Irbid or are their direct descendants and identify themselves as Tirawis. Typical interviews began following greetings and exchanging of family information with questions regarding changes in season (landscape, fauna, flora and seasonal foods) which lead to discussions about issues related to farming and/or agricultural life.
A pilot study was first undertaken to show how dialect usage varied amongst Tirawi speakers and to identify lexical categories which would be suitable for detailed investigation. Ten elderly informants were interviewed during which time we asked them to inform us about their life in Al-Tira. The aim of this preliminary investigation was to elicit Tirawi dialect lexical items relating to their former lives in Palestine and the environs of Al-Tira. These items were classified according to the discourse they were related to, such as the physical environment (for example lexical items relating to the sea or the mountains), professions (both agricultural and stock working strategies and tools) and the family sphere (kinship terms). We also encouraged discussions which elicited those words where we were aware that the local Irbid lexical item differs from that used in Tirawi dialect. Our aim here was to see whether local (Irbid) words have been adopted instead of the native ones (Tirawi) and explore the social implications this preference might suggest.
In order to make sure that this lexical change is not the result of language change in lexical items concurrent in the Arabic speaking world due to the adoption of new technology, we have chosen lexical items where the Irbid variant has existed for at least a generation. In order to do this, we surveyed Jordanian Irbid speakers across three generations. This enabled us to find out if the non-Tirawi lexical items used by Tirawi speakers were: a) established lexical items belonging to Irbidian speech; or b) borrowings from other dialects with which Tirawi speakers were in contact in the refugee camp. It is still conceivable that some of the non-Tirawi variants used were neologisms, where lexical items were identified as neither being a) nor b) this was recorded and will be discussed below.
Table 1 shows the lexical items that were chosen following the pilot study in order to investigate variation:

Table 1: Lexical Items used in interviews.

English Equivalent LD(Local Irbid dialect) TD (Tirawi dialect)
Boundary mark Rujom Qa3qoor
Spoon M3lagah/mixchagah Zalafah
Pot s ћlah Qishanyyah
A man who owns sheep ġnna:am Tariich
A chicken when it has eggs G3adah Qroqah
A small hole in a mountain Mjћarah Toqas
Gleanings, grains left in the field after wheat has been harvested 3ajiir 3aqiir
Planting corn late in the season Luksi laxshyah
Trough Jabyah Raan
Farm Saћrah MiqƟah
Carrying the corn on camels or donkeys Rknah Torjod
A piece of cloth used to stop kids from suckling at the mother’s teets shamlah Mixlah
A piece of wood used in the plough Bala3ah Zalafah
A sick sheep Mj3omah wirwar
Colostrum Laba Chmandorah
Dress Fostan Fostyan
Small piece of wood used in the plough Asfiin Fijlah
Ram Mirya3 daluul
Sheerling sha3iryah Sa3orah
Kid TiliӠ 3aboor

5. Findings and discussion

Before moving to the discussion, the following abbreviations are to be clarified. TLIs (Tirawi Lexical Items). LLIs (Local Lexical Items) refer to those terms which can be identified as used by the speakers of the Irbid Jordanian dialect. When neither the local nor the Tirawi lexical items are known by the interviewee we use the abbreviation NK (Not Known).

Table 2: Distribution of informants by sex and age
Age M F Total
Young 8 8 16
Middle 8 8 16
Elderly 8 8 16
Total 24 24 48

With regard to the speech of Tirawis, Table 3 shows that TLIs (Tirawi Lexical Items) are used at a rate of 94% among elderly male Tirawi and 93% among elderly female Tirawi. Thus, the highest rate of occurrence of TLIs is found in the speech of the elderly. SPSS statistical analysis also indicates that age is very significant in the use of TLIs (P<.05 while P<000 for age with regard to the use of TLIs).

Table (3): The distribution of the variable (Q) by age and sex.

Sex M F
Age [TLIs]% [LLIs]% [NN]% N [TLIs]% [LLIs]% [NN]% N
Young 2 1 97 145 2 0 98 180
Middle 3 3 94 100 4 6 90 160
Elderly 94 2 4 190 93 3 4 180

The data suggest that elderly Tirawis categorically use the native lexical items and both sexes in this age group behaved linguistically similarly. Elderly Tirawi once used and heard these words while they were living in Al-Tira as members of an agricultural or pastoral society. In Irbid, Tirawis did not maintain their previous lifestyle and thus the opportunity to be frequently exposed to LLIs used in these two fields does not exist for the younger generation. As a result, Tirawi words remain the dominant words in the speech of the aged. There is another objective factor that makes the elderly preserve their native dialect. Le Page (1997) notes that an individual’s tendency toward language shift could be constrained by four factors, among which is age itself; as people age they are less likely to change their speech habits.
Table 3 shows that there is a drastic decrease in the use of TLIs by members of the middle-aged group. The rate is 3% among men and 4% among women. The rate is also very low in the speech of the Tirawi youth, which was recorded as 2% for both men and women. Participants in the middle-aged group either: a) arrived in Jordan when they were five years old or younger; or b) they were born in Jordan. In other words, the members of the two youngest cohorts did not experience firsthand the lifestyle lived by the elderly in Al-Tira. In addition the high rate of NN shows that neither the young nor the members of the middle-aged group have abandoned the TLIs in favour of LLIs as TLIs have not been replaced by LLIs. In other words, table 3 shows that young Tirawis and the members of the middle-aged group are not aware of TLIs and that they most likely are not aware of LLIs either. As such, abandoning the environs of Al-Tirat where the use of these lexical items was integral to the survival of the community directly led to the disappearance of these words. Thus, table 3 shows that there is an abrupt generational variation in the speech practices of Tirawi in that while TLIs are used at a higher rate in the speech of the elderly, they are used at a very low rate in the speech of the middle-aged group and the speech of the young, respectively. Prestige has not played a crucial role in this process of variation as the abandoning of TLIs did not occur in favour of LLIs.
To prove that forced migration and the subsequent loss of livestock and agricultural land is the primary cause of lexical change as opposed to other factors such as modernization, we expanded our research to include Jordanians. Table 4 shows that while among Jordanians modern technical terms for agricultural tools and farming methods have replaced the traditional terms, the Tirawis of all generations show that they are not familiar with the modern technical terms. It shows that while 35% of elderly Jordanians use MLIs, only 1% of old Tirawis use MLIs. 55% of middle-aged Jordanians are familiar with MLIs while 2% of middle-aged Tirawis are familiar with MLIs. 20% of young Jordanians use MLIs while 0% of young Tirawis use MLIs. This shows that Jordanians who still work in the pastoral and agricultural sector have learned new terms related to technological advancement and machines such as: tractors along with their parts and inoculations for animals. The Tirawis, on the other hand, have been forced out of these sectors of the economy and for this reason their traditional technical terms have not been replaced by modern technical terms. Instead, all of their technical terms for farming work are simply disappearing.
The table also gives us some idea about lexical variation in Jordanian society, showing that elderly Jordanians used MLIs at a low rate in comparison to middle-aged Jordanians and that young Jordanians used MLIs at a low rate. The low rate of MLIs use by the elderly comes as a result of their being familiar only with traditional farming methods and tools, we suggest that the low rate of the use of modern terms by the young comes as a result of their abandonment of farming lifestyle. That is to say that the nature of lexical change is the same for both Jordanians and Tirawi: changes in the defining economic base of these societies. However it should be noted that the causes of this change are different, the latter is the example of a dialect change directly resulting from migration.

Table (4): The distribution of the variable (Q) by age and sex in Tirawi and Jordanian speakers.
Sex Jordanians Tirawi
Age [MLIs]% [NN]% N [MLIs]% [NN]% N
Young 20 80 188 1 99 167
Middle 55 45 140 2 98 155
Elderly 35 65 135 1 99 145

What the tables represent very clearly is the disappearance of lexical items related to a certain way of life and specific geography. The dislocation from land ultimately led to the disappearance of a number of lexical items. Sea related words have disappeared from the speech of a once costal dwelling people, such as: /naw/ 'the state when the sea is not calm' and /maʢkuur/ 'turbid' and /il-floka/ 'the boats'. Though the speakers of Tirawi from the older generation still recall these words and may use them to describe their homeland there is no regular need for agricultural terms and as such the younger generations will hear them rarely if at all and as a result never use them.
The camp included people from various regions of Palestine. Dialect contact became part of daily life (both in- and outside) of the camp; outside of it the local Irbid Jordanian dialect of their host was dominant. There would have been great pressure on the dialect to change. New lexical items would have started to be heard by Tirawis immediately following their arrival and they must have stopped using some of their own lexical items as a result of their new material circumstances. Those who were born in Al-Tira might never have needed to use certain lexical items in Irbid as they would have done on a daily basis in Al-Tira. For example, in the camp, there is no /Taabuun/ 'small, jar-shaped oven' used for baking bread’ along with its /qunzaʢa/ 'lid' and its /rodof/ 'the stones found inside the classical oven and on which the dough is put'. In other words, once the /Taabuun/ 'classical oven' stopped being part of their life, the detailed names for its parts would not have been used as frequently as they once were. We see here that technical terms describing various parts of traditional tools are forgotten more quickly than the name of the tool itself. This is largely because only the expert who uses that object would know the names of those technical parts but the name of the tool itself might keep being mentioned in stories and descriptions of a bygone time without the need to mention its constituent parts. Eventually the name of the tool itself would disappear as generations of speakers who are unfamiliar with the tool grow in proportion to those dialect speakers who once used the tool. It was noticed by the authors that lexical items related to the family sphere, particularly kinship terms are still preserved by both elderly and the younger generations. For example, /xayt-a/ 'my sister (xayt- ‘sister’ and –a my)', /xayy-a/ 'my brother' (/xay-/‘brother’, /-ya/ ‘my’) /siid-i/ 'grandfather', and /sit-ti/ 'grandmother'.

6. Conclusion.

This study indicates that the forced displacement of the Tirawis from the environs of Tirat Haifa, the costal plains and surrounding mountains and the abandonment of their way of life there, directly led to the abandonment a great number of lexical items linked to that environment. Common lexical items, unique to that dialect, dropped completely from use over the span of three generations. The elderly appear to preserve many of their native lexical items because: 1) they practiced using them for a long period of time in their native land; and 2) they were not exposed to the local competing variants as they no longer practiced farming life in Irbid as they had done in their native land. Our study suggests that the young and the middle-aged Tirawi speakers abandoned the native lexical items because: 1) they did not live in Al-Tira where these lexical items were used daily and frequently; and 2) they were rarely exposed to these items as their parents ceased to practice a lifestyle where such lexical items are required. Furthermore this study shows that prestige, so typically involved in language change, has not operated as a factor causing the abandonment of the native Tirawi lexical items related to agricultural discourse; Tirawi lexical items were not replaced by new ones.
The study also shows that the names of the parts of outdated tools fall into disuse more quickly than the name of the tool itself. The elderly group as well as the middle and young groups categorically knew the names of two major tools used in the past (/Taabuun/ 'classical oven', /miћra 'plough') while 80% of the old, and 10% of the middle aged group, and only 2% of the young remember the names of some parts associated with these tools such as /faћil/ '
The material context in which the Tirawi speakers found themselves necessitated that new discourses were appropriated. Where farming was once the mainstay of the community their dialect was rich in terms describing the land and tools and strategies for working it. As the farming knowledge and talk about farming suddenly became irrelevant to the lives of Tirawi speakers lexical items belonging to that discourse disappeared from use. These items were not replaced by local Irbid dialect items related to farming. This contrasts strongly with studies on parallel phonological variation for the same dialect where the abandoned native variants have been readopted by middle-aged Tirawi group members at a rate that is closer to the one used by the elderly speakers as shown in El Salman (2003). What this reflects on a socio-cultural level is the loss of specialist knowledge and a connection to place.
Forced migration leads to lexical variation because the contexts where lexical items are required disappear. The Tirawi community relocated in a new environment where their knowledge, skills and related lexical items could be employed. In other words, social prestige is not the only factors that might lead to variation and eventual language change in language. This paper indicates that migration can bring about language change, due to changes in the type of work of large sections of a community are involved in, numerous lexical items and the whole discourse to which they belong fade from use. As history is replete with examples of migration we must consider that the concomitant changes in those communities’ identities which have resulted from migration are also likely to have brought about change in those communities’ languages.

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