Current Research on Linguistic Variation in the Arabic-Speaking World

Uri Horesh*, William M. Cotter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Given its abundance of dialects, varieties, styles, and registers, Arabic lends itself easily to the study of language variation and change. It is spoken by some 300 million people in an area spanning roughly from northwest Africa to the Persian Gulf. Traditional Arabic dialectology has dealt predominantly with geographical variation. However, in recent years, more nuanced studies of inter- and intra-speaker variation have seen the light of day. In some respects, Arabic sociolinguistics is still lagging behind the field compared to variationist studies in English and other Western languages. On the other hand, the insight presented in studies of Arabic can and should be considered in the course of shaping a crosslinguistic sociolinguistic theory. Variationist studies of Arabic-speaking speech communities began almost two decades after Labov's pioneering studies of American English and have flourished following the turn of the 21st century. These studies have sparked debates between more quantitatively inclined sociolinguists and those who value qualitative analysis. In reality, virtually no sociolinguistic study of Arabic that includes statistical modeling is free of qualitative insights. They are also not flawless and not always cutting edge methodologically or theoretically, but the field is moving in a positive direction, which will likely lead to the recognition of its significance to sociolinguistics at large.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-381
Number of pages12
JournalLanguage and Linguistics Compass
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


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