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In Search of Endangered Dialects: Exploring Some Arabics of Jordan

Lecture:
Across the Arab world, rapid social changes, technological development and increasing migration underpin massive language change. With large-scale migration into cities, alongside marginalisation of rural settlements and simultaneous increased exposure to the prestige of the urban lifestyle – with all it promises over the hardships of the old country ways of life – comes the erosion and potentially the disappearance of traditional rural lifestyles. With that erosion comes the erosion of rural identities, one major aspect of which is linguistic.

The linguistic impact of changing rural lifestyles is significant. The first question is: are rural dialects dying out? And if so, how? Inevitably, in all languages some words will disappear or change with outdated concepts and changing physical environments. However, it appears that in addition to these lexical and semantic changes, rural dialects of Arabic may be undergoing more systematic phonological and morpho-syntactic changes, often in the direction of typically urban patterns. In this case (rural) dialect change is not just gradual evolution of that dialect but actual loss.

This lecture will discuss this assumption alongside the search for endangered rural dialects in Jordan. In the context of increased awareness of the value of intangible cultural heritage, and its preservation, the second question focuses on documentation of these language varieties. The lecture also discusses the greater invisibility of women's culture, especially within rural communities that are already low-profile, and how this is being addressed in ongoing linguistic fieldwork.

Speaker:
Dr Alex Bellem is a linguist specialising in comparative and theoretical phonology and phonetics, Arabic dialectology, language documentation, and language varieties of the Middle East. She has a BA in Middle Eastern Studies (Manchester) and an MA and PhD in Linguistics (London) and has previously held academic posts at the University of Salford and the CBRL in Amman and Damascus. She is now Lecturer in Arabic at Durham University and is also currently a CBRL Senior Visiting Fellow at the CBRL British Institute Amman working on a pilot study investigating rural dialects (January – April 2016).

Dr Alex Bellem is a linguist specialising in comparative and theoretical phonology and phonetics, Arabic dialectology, language documentation, and language varieties of the Middle East. She has a BA in Middle Eastern Studies (Manchester) and an MA and PhD in Linguistics (London) and has previously held academic posts at the University of Salford and the CBRL in Amman and Damascus. She is now Lecturer in Arabic at Durham University and is also currently a CBRL Senior Visiting Fellow at the CBRL British Institute Amman working on a pilot study investigating rural dialects (January – April 2016).