Two languages, one variable? Pharyngeal realizations among Arabic–Hebrew bilinguals

Roey J. Gafter*, Uri Horesh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Linguistic features that index ethnic identities often originate in another language spoken by the same community, often involving the introduction of exogenous features absent from the mainstream variety. We examine the more unusual situation of Hebrew spoken by Arabic–Hebrew bilingual Palestinians, where the pharyngeal consonants, which occur in both Arabic and Hebrew monolingual varieties, serve as ethnically linked sociolinguistic variables. Drawing on sociolinguistic interviews with such bilinguals in Jaffa, we demonstrate that while Palestinians’ use of pharyngeals in Hebrew is commonly perceived as transfer from Arabic, their linguistic and social conditioning does not support a transfer account. Rather, for these speakers, pharyngeals are a socially meaningful resource simultaneously linked to Arab identity and to a rich indexical field in Hebrew. While the pharyngeals pattern linguistically as Hebrew features, our findings illustrate that, from a social meaning perspective, sociolinguistic features need not be unambiguously associated with a single language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-387
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Sociolinguistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • bilingualism
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Palestinian Arabic
  • pharyngeals
  • social meaning
  • variation


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