Neighborhood and Ancestry: Variation in the Spoken Arabic of Maiduguri, Nigeriaby Jonathan Owens
Over the past 35 years urban sociolinguistics has developed upon the base of detailed case studies carried out mainly in western countries. A fundamental dichotomy informing the interpretation of variation has been carried out within what is termed the “standard-vernacular model”. Higher vs. lower social class, power vs. solidarity, open networks vs. closed networks are a few of the conceptual dyads which have been invoked to order linguistic variation operating with an input from a standard/vernacular source. The present study, based on the spoken Arabic of Maiduguri, Nigeria, focuses on a linguistic landscape where the notions of “standard” and “vernacular” are of little relevance in ordering urban linguistic variants. It is argued that linguistic variation is best conceptualized and ordered in terms of the twin variables of neighborhood and ancestral norms. A detailed analysis of 13 linguistic variables based on a corpus of about 500,000 words invokes an urban linguistic world different from that in the West. To integrate this landscape into current sociolinguistic thinking a typology of urban variation is outlined using familar, yet relatively unutilized sociolinguistic parameters: neighborhood, ancestry, minority status and institutionalization.
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