Political and Social Impact on the Linguistic Behavior of Iraqis: A Gender-Based Study on Lexical Innovation

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this research, we believe that there is political and social impact on the linguistic choices of males and females. The main objectives of the research are to investigate the way the political and social changes affect the linguistic word choices of Iraqis, and to find out the direction of the gender pattern. The main problem in Arabic sociolinguistics is the absence of a unitary gender pattern differentiation. However, in many cases, men, not women, have attempted to approximate the Standard Arabic. The issue of prestige is also confusing, because each Arab country has a local variety that is prestigious, but not necessarily the standard. This issue has motivated us to study the linguistic differences between males and females in their choices of 12 new lexical items in Baghdad, where all the events of the 2003 war happened. Twenty hours of tape recordings of ten males and ten females were investigated and analyzed. The most important finding in the current research is that female prestige is not associated with the standard variety. Rather, the meaning of words is what should be prestigious. For females, if the meaning of a word is stigmatized, then the word is stigmatized as well even if it is a standard word.

Keywords: Innovation, Standard, Prestige, Arabic, Diaglossia

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1. Introduction

When the concepts and values of people change, a need to satisfy that change by the innovation of new lexical items is recognizable. Mercer (2000, p. 13) pointed out that "every living language continues to evolve to meet the needs of its speakers." She added, "Not only can existing words change their meaning and be combined in novel ways, new words and structures can also be created as they are required." Essentially, the innovation of new words can be seen, first, as a reaction to political, social, economic, scientific, and other factors; and second, as a reflection of language contact. In both cases, innovations occur to fulfill certain social needs and fill the gap in the actual language use of speakers in everyday conversation.

Over the last 20 years, many events, inventions, values, principles, and concepts occurred and changed the way people look at things. Accordingly, these phenomena changed and increased people's vocabulary. The wars, civilian violence, discrimination, religious conflict, terrorism, human rights, gender issues, immigration, fashion, music, language contact, technology, and many other issues in the 21st century have been reflected in people's speech. Crystal (2010) argued that English is "permanently evolving and developing new words and expressions are coined and existing words change their meaning as society, culture and technology progress."

Communities in societies, which face social and political change, are confronting seemingly challenging issues. Emerson (1966, p. 31) believed that the "balance between stability and change can best be achieved by the fullest freedom of expression." For example, Iraq is one of the societies that faced social and political change. Beginning with the war in 2003, Iraq came under military occupation by a coalition of forces, primarily American and British. After 2003, Iraq was a country divided by religion and ethnicity. Iraq was also a broken society. These divisions have been deepened and complicated by 30 years of war and deprivation (Stansfield, 2007).

2. Gender Patterns

Observable differences in the way a language used in a speech community are clearly exemplified in linguistic research. Trudgill (2000, p. 21) asserted that "language is not a simple code used in the same manner by all people in all situations." Men do not behave linguistically as women. For example, a large number of sociolinguistic surveys carried out in the English-speaking world have shown that for the [ing] variable, in words such as "running," men use a higher proportion of the alveolar /n/ variant than women in their social class and, conversely, women use a higher proportion of the velar plosive (Labov, 1966 in New York City; Wolfram, 1969 in Detroit, and Trudgill, 1974 in Norwich). …