The Effect of Gender and Origin on The Speech Accommodation of Irbidians


This study aims at investigating speech style adjustments among Jordanians living in Irbid as well as the reason for the adaptation along with the frequency and consequences. The two variables: /q/, /ϴ/ are the study's concern because of their sensitivity to sound variation. Most studies about language variation among Arabic speakers focus only on social parameters ignoring the interlocutors' psychology causing affecting such variation. accordingly, this study employs the Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) framework to grasp also the interlocutor’s psychological manner. This theory posits the influence of the addresser on the addressee, and vice versa in the speech style adjustment. Additionally, accommodation happens gain the interlocutor’s likeness if there is no identity threat. Meanwhile, asserting identity and distinction invokes language divergence. The respondents were 12 selected randomly and divided in terms of sex and origin. The findings reveal women of both origins are more apt to use a prestigious linguistic form of /q/ and /ϴ/. Men of both origins prefer to use more of the standard form of /ϴ/. However, those of Palestinian origin are keener to adapt their /q/ variant to the host's one. Hence, women and men have different linguistic behaviors. Women are more prestigious in their speech regardless of origin, while men of immigrants' origin find it better to drop the marked items to be more acceptable to the host's community.

Keywords: Speech style variationCAT frameworkIdentitySexIrbid city


Irbid city, a northern city, and a center for Irbid governorate that resides as the third-largest city in Jordan, where two main origin groups live: 1) Palestinians and 2) the original Horanis. Horanis are the original inhabitants of the northern area of Jordan for thousands of years; they are mostly of rural background living in the city (Irbid metropolitan area) or its outskirts, while Palestinians are multi-decades immigrants due to the Israeli-Arab conflicts (1948, 1967); nevertheless, the Palestinians' roots are as well of rural background as they migrated from villages in West Bank ("a term used to describe the Palestinian Territories west of the Jordan-river bank").

This study attempts to examine speech style adjustment among Jordanians because of language contact in Irbid city in terms of Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) by Giles and his associates (Giles & Powesland, 1975).

Linguistic background of the city

Arabic in Jordan is a diglossic language in that there are two main varieties: the standard and the colloquial (Ferguson, 1959). Standard Arabic is the official language of the state, such as writing, in religious matters, and informal transactions. The colloquial one includes three central subdialects: the urban, rural, and bedouin. The urban is a combination of main urban cities in the Levant, such as Jerusalem, Hebron, Damascus, and Beirut (Miller, 2005). The rural can be divided into two varieties: the rural Palestinian and the Horani dialect (Al-Khatib, 1988). As for the dialect attitude, the standard Arabic is realized as the most prestigious variety, but it is limited only to the domains mentioned above (ibid). For other local dialects, they have varying degrees in terms of prestige and stigma. The urban is considered the supralocal and, thus, the most prestigious (Al-Khatib, 1988; 1995; Horesh & Cotter, 2016). Meanwhile, there is disagreement in which local dialect is either stigmatized or prestigious. For example, Sughayer (1990 cited in Sakarna, 2005) thinks rural one has some prestige since it is closer to the standard Arabic than other dialects. However, Abdel-Jawad and Radwan (2013) claim that in Jordan, Urban and Bedouin are prestigious than rural. That relates to the fact that the bedouin party may use urban, but never rural, as well as the power Bedouins hold in the state (i.e., the military and Bureaucratic positions).

In Irbid, according to Al-Khatib (1988; 1995) and Al Tamimi (2001), the urban variety is the most prestigeous., but when it comes to gender, the study indicates that males prefer vernaculars (i.e., rural one) rather than urban, since the latter is stereotyped as more feminine (Al-Khatib, 1988). The second variant used in Irbid is rural dialects: Palestinian rural (Fallahi, as called by Al-Khatib (1988), and indigenous rural or Horani. When it comes to prestige, the former is more stigmatized than the latter. That is why few young Palestinians use some of the following phonological items to avoid ridicule and mock. Hence, Horani variation is considered as covert prestigious, so a lot of Jordanian people are proud of using it Suleiman (1999). Al-Khatib (1988) relates this to the insecurity immigrants live in the host country.

Linguistic variables

This study finds it better to study phonological variables rather than others due to several reasons; firstly, phonological variables are more prone to change than any other linguistic items; Trudgill (1986) justified this significance when introduced the term "routes of accommodation." This concept implies that the first to change among the linguistic levels is the phonological one followed by morphological and ends with syntax. Moreover, the origin of people can be known by the speech style they adopt (Horesh & Cotter, 2016; Ishak & Rafik-Galea, 2015).

Hence, it is interesting to show this by studying the variation of two linguistic items /q/ and /ϴ/. The first is mostly considered as a marker, and the second as an indicator Additionally, the phonological items chosen follow Labovian (1966) criteria of phonological items selection: “high in frequency, have a certain immunity from conscious suppression, are integral units of larger structures, and may be easily quantified on a linear scale" (p. 68). The items that can meet these principles are /q/ and /ϴ/. According to Al-Khatib (1995), the representations of these two variables can demonstrate which style the speaker is using and, thus, his social background more than any other variable. In the following subsections, I will show how each item is realized and how they can be explained in terms of salience.

a) /q/ variable

This variable has a representation of [q] is used in standard Arabic, which is limited to formal transactions and religious domains (Abdel-Jawad & Radwan, 2013; Al Tamimi, 2001; Sakarna, 2005). This consonant has three representations besides the standard: [g], [ϴ ʔ], and [k]. The first is used by the indigenous people of Irbid, in addition to rural people of the outskirts and nearby villages. The second is the supralocal form used mainly by urbanites who come from urban centers of Palestine, such as Nablus, Hebron, Jerusalem, and Jaffa (Cotter & Horesh, 2015; Miller, 2005).

b) /ϴ/ variable

There are two realizations for this variable [ϴ] and [t], and [s]. The former is the standard form, which is also used in rural, rural Palestinian, and Bedouin styles (Al-Khatib, 1995). The latter is usually used in urban style (ibid).

Attitude towards each variable

It is widely agreed that /q/ sound is more salient than the /ϴ/ one (Abdel-Jawad & Radwan, 2013; Al-Khatib, 1995; Al Tamimi, 2001). Hence, the evaluation, whether positive or negative, is more noticed in the first than in the second. Although the second gives a stylistic background about the speaker, it is much less scrutinized (Trudgill, 1986).

Literature review

This section attempts to shed light on the related works that examine language variation in Arab world linguistic settings in terms of the traditional sociolinguistic framework. It gives an account of the critical studies abroad and studies in some Arab countries that employ CAT framework.

Theoretical background

The CAT framework has been introduced by Giles (1973) and his followers Giles et al. (1991) to answer questions that former variation theories have not answered. For example, the Labovian theory, which sees language variation as formal or informal, considers the addressee as a passive receiver and assumes the variation as static, ignoring the development during the speech act (Schilling, 2013). In other words, not only the formality or the social factors impact the adjustment, but also the addressee plays a crucial role in the process of this act (Al-Khatib, 1995). This theory also takes into account the psychological factors besides common ones in deciding the amount and the direction of speech style modification (Dragojevic et al., 2016; Simard et al., 1976).

CAT was established on two main assumptions: convergence and divergence. Convergence means that one modifies his/her speech style so that it matches the addressee's style to be approved or avoid a negative attitude by the other party. Divergence, on the other hand, (when maintaining the original code or speak differently) aims basically at asserting own identity or showing disrespect to the addressee. However, some later studies prove that this is not always true. For instance, a study held in Singapore shows that some Singaporean people evaluate convergence negatively and posit more respect to the divergence (Ng et al., 2014). Similarly, the use of the Palestinian /k/ by a non-Palestinian Al-Khatib (1988), implies the notion of disrespect.

Background to the study

Irbid is located in the north of Jordan in Horan plains bordered with both Syria and Palestine. Besides, it was on the road juncture to Palestine, Syria, and Iraq (Al-Khatib, 1988; Tarawneh & Naamneh, 2011). Irbid was a small village with a population no more than 350 in the mid of the 18th century (Schumacher, 1890 as cited in Tarawneh & Naamneh, 2011), but now it exceeds 1,867,000 (according to the web site of the department of statistics). This increase relates to different factors such as the immigration because of war like Palestinians and Syrians, the migration of villagers from surrounding rural places, and the conjunction of nearby villages to the city (Al-Khatib, 1988; Tarawneh & Naamneh, 2011). Encompassing people of different origins (indigenous people, villagers, Palestinians, and Syrians, among others), Irbid is worth studying (Al Khatib & Al Ali, 2005; Al-Khatib, 1988; Al-Khatib & Alzoubi, 2009).

At the outset, it is worth starting with a study from the Gaza strip by Cotter and Horesh (2015). This study investigates language variation among the refugees in Gaza camps. It shows the extent to which linguistic contact and social factors (like age and sex) contribute to the disappearance of particular linguistic items that were present in their homeland and the appearance of new ones that are peculiar to the host community. They also add that the variety used by Jaffa people is profoundly affected by the Hebrew community because of occupation. Such influence, in turn, had reflected in replacing certain phonological items with new ones.

Another study that shows how external factors play a significant role in the appearance or disappearance of not only certain linguistic items but to the language of death or preservation. This issue is apparent in two studies by Al-Khatib and Al Ali (2005), on the one hand, and Al-Khatib and Alzoubi (2009), on the other. In the first study, it is shown that the original language of Kurds in Jordan almost disappeared due to living in scattered places and the exogamy. Because of this, Jordanians of Kurdish origin have lost their original tongue and dissolved into the majority community. That relates to the fact they are more exposed to Arabic, which is the language of the majority.

The other study proves how language maintenance is influenced when a group of people lives in one place and the adherence to the group's habits and traditions. Thus, Durzi people were successful in maintaining their variety, since they live in a particular area and not allowing for exogamy. Another study by Abdel-Jawad and Radwan (2013) has the same results as the previous. It shows that Jordanians of Palestinian origin preserve their variety as long as they stay in camps, as they represent as ghettos in which the possibility to contact with other dialects is very limited. However, if they leave these camps, there is a big chance to contact with others, and thus, a change to certain phonological and morphological items.

These studies show language style adjustment is due to external social parameters neglecting the role of the direct interaction between interlocutors. This problem is overcome by employing the CAT framework as the CAT pays excellent attention to the role of the interlocutors involving in variety modification. The following studies were an attempt to fill the gap left by the traditional sociolinguistic paradigm. These studies take into consideration the nature of the conversation and the social and psychological status of the interlocutors.

The pioneering study that tried to shed light on the modification of certain phonological items during verbal interaction was held by AL-Khatib (1988). He noticed that he adjusted his style to match the addressee he is interacting with him/her. He showed that this process is not a haphazard process; rather, it abides by rules and regulations. He concluded that this occurs to gain his interlocutor approval and avoids stigma.

He adds in his 1995 study the extent to which gender plays an integral part in the language style modification. He found by analyzing the phonological items /q/ and /ϴ/ in the telephone calls of a radio program that the sex of the presenter and telephone callers have a significant impact on the way they interact. It is also found that the direction of accommodation is mostly on the side of the presenters since they are more required to win their audience's likeness. The latter result matches Coupland (1984) results gained from a travel agent. He also states that the two phonological variables do not have the same sensitivity of influence. The former is more prone to variation, as some of its variants are more marked than the latter.

In addition to the above studies, it is noticed that Tunisian Arabic speakers utilize accommodation strategies in their interaction with other nationalities. The results of Shiri (2002) data show that the direction of speech convergence is unilateral (i.e., not reciprocal). According to her, this refers to the belief by Arabic speakers of Eastern Arab countries that Tunisian Arabic sounds, not Arabic. Moreover, the first party tends to accommodate more to prove that they are part of the Arabic community, while the other thinks the variety used is more standardized than the first party's accommodation.

The process of accommodation was also found among Upper Egyptians living in Cairo suburbs. Miller (2005) shows in his qualitative analysis that the amount and the direction of accommodation are decided by social factors such as age, sex, the length of residence, and education of interlocutors. Miller's findings agree with the majority of language variation studies, which implies that the salient linguistic items are more liable to change and may disappear if the process of accommodation is prolonged; the reason of such claim is due to such items may bring some trouble like stigma and joking in outgroup interaction. However, the mother dialect tends to be retained in intragroup communication since it represents solidarity and affiliation.

After showing the related studies from the Middle East, it is noticed, to the best knowledge of the researcher, that the studies there are few despite the abundance of studies all over the world employing this theory (Shiri, 2002). Therefore, it is crucial to investigate the linguistic variation phenomenon, since both social and psychological sides are within the essence of this theory. In addition, some of the previous studies depend on the observation (Al-Khatib, 1988; Shiri, 2002), while the others follow a systematic way of research, but deal with only one social variable (Al-Khatib, 1995) and the other utilize conversation analysis (Miller, 2005). This study investigates speech style adjustment in terms of different variables. It will follow a quantitative model.

Problem Statement

A lot of sociolinguistic studies concerning variation among Arabs are held using traditional linguistic paradigm (i.e., in terms of diglossia or the degree of formality), but few have adopted CAT principles. One of the prominent studies held by Shiri (2002) in the diaspora setting shows the direction of accommodation is decided by whether the interlocutor is from Eastern or Western Arab countries. Those who are from the Western ones are more liable to accommodate those coming from the Levant or Arabian Peninsula. Further, since they are believed to be more fluent in Arabic than Tunisians. Chakrani (2015) also had a similar one concerning Arab expatriates in the USA. The findings are similar to Shiri’s, but he thinks face principles play a significant role in the process of convergence or divergence. Due to this parsimony, there is a need to study language variation in Irbid in terms of CAT's psychological and social principles that govern the linguistic behavior during dyad interaction. The CAT framework is a multidisciplinary theory that not only can best analyze the speech adaptation but also can give reasons for the possibility of certain linguistic items to preserve or undergo leveling.

Research Questions

  • What are the social and psychological principles that govern the accommodation process?

  • Why are certain groups more liable to adopt some of the other's linguistic items?

  • What are the linguistic features that may undergo leveling or standardization, and why?

Purpose of the Study

This study seeks to achieve the following objectives.

  • It will show that the process of language accommodation is not haphazard, but it is rule governed.

  • It will show why some social groups prefer using the others’ phonological items rather than theirs.

  • It will also show if the most salient features of language may go leveling or standardized

Research Methods

This section will be devoted to show the design that this research will employ, the number of informants and how distributed, the linguistic variables, the sources the data come from, and the way it is analysed.

Research design

This study adopts a quantitative approach as a reliable method in quantifying the effect of the interlocutors on each other. The respondents are students studying at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang, Malaysia, by employing a random sampling technique. The number of the sample is 12; all of them have lived in Irbid. They are then distributed according to the social parameters, age, sex, origin. The analysis would be made according to the phonological variables and, in the end, a conclusion of the possibility of the appearance of new linguistic features or disappearance of the old ones.


For the number of informants, they are divided into gender, and for each gender, there are either Jordanians or Palestinians, as shown in Table 01 .

Table 1 -
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The moral behind this distribution shows the impact of these social variables on the realizations of the phonological variables /ϴ/ and /q/, which, in turn, give an indication to the process of language style adjustment (Al-Khatib, 1995).

Linguistic variables

The linguistic variables adopted here are /q/ and /ϴ/. These two variables are chosen depending on the Labovian principle, which states that the selection is built on the occurrence frequency of the item and being "easy to be quantified on a linear scale" (Labov, 1966). I think these two items meet labor's parameters since they have high occurrence and can be easily quantified. That relates to the image their phonetic representations hold (Al-Khatib, 1988).

Research instruments

A quantitative approach has been widely used among linguists, as it enables them to analyze the data whose results may predict the process of language change and adjustment (Dragojevic et al., 2016). The tool of this approach is a questionnaire. This questionnaire was developed depending on Al-Khatib (1988) and Gasiorek and Vincze (2016). The first part would find out the general information about the informants such as age, birthplace, place of residence, parents' birthplace, and the origin of the respondents.

The second part intends to explore the style of speech used during ingroup and outgroup interaction. The third part would focus on the attitude towards speech style modification (i.e., how perceived and evaluated). Finally, there are questions concerning the motivations behind convergence and divergence.

Data analysis

The data collected will be transcribed so that it is possible to count the occurrence frequency of the two linguistic variables /q/ and /ϴ/ and analyze them in terms of the sex and origin of the interlocutors. Hence, one will be able to quantify them in tables that will fulfil the objectives of the study. According to this analysis, the high occurrence of [g] among Jordanian Palestinians will indicate that they accommodate to the indigenous people and their original variant undergoes leveling. The high frequency of [t] and [ʔ] is an indication that both origin and sex groups adapt their dialect to the urban speech style. Maintaining the use of [ϴ] variant is an example of the standardization process.


The results achieved from this study can explain to what extent there is accommodation during face-to-face speech interaction among male respondents of both origins (i.e., male Palestinians (MP) and (MJ)). Such results are justified by the amount of each phonetic representation of the variables /q/ and /ϴ/ used. After that, the results concerning sex are provided to see if it is true that sex has an impact on linguistic adjustment. The outcomes of the experiments are comparing the results from the male respondents with the female ones. Look at the tables below to see the relationship between accommodation and two social variables, origin, and sex.

The results show, first of all, the percentage of /q/ representation among the male Jordanian Palestinian during outgroup interaction, i.e., with male indigenous people. Jordanians of Palestinian origin totally converge to their Jordanian interlocutors of /q/ usage. That is, they use [g] variant, which initially does not exist in their original variety, but in Horani one. Look at table 02 for the distribution of /q/ variants.

Table 2 -
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They also demonstrate to what extent the second generation of immigrants has undergone language change. Hence, the use of the host's variant is widespread (75%). However, a few still use their original variant because of the desire for them to show solidarity in family domain interaction. When it comes to [q] realization, only 5% of the informants' speech has it in their speech. It is worth mentioning this standard form is limited only to some items that reveal religious and formal connotations. Al Quraan (the Holy Quran), Al Qiamah (Dooms Day), and Qanoon (law), among others, are good cases in point. From my personal observation as a speaker of the Horani dialect, the use of [q] resembles that of Palestinians. For

[ʔ], the use of this variant is very limited to those who come from Palestinian urban centers like Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, and Jaffa. Table 03 below illustrates such a phenomenon.

As for /ϴ/, it is shown that most of the informants (88%) are standardized in using this variant. The rest who use the variant [t] come from the urban centers mentioned above. Even this group sometimes converges to the standard one in speech encounters with both indigenous and rural Palestinian people.

After showing the amount of convergence during ingroup and outgroup interaction, I will mention the results of the female respondents of both origins concerning the variables /q/ and /ϴ/. It is a universal linguistic phenomenon that women use the prestigious type of language. In western countries, the standard language is the most prestigious variety of women (Coupland, 1984; Labov, 1966). In Jordan, the situation is different. Women, particularly young and middle-age, tend to use the urban dialect, rather than the standard (Abdel-Jawad & Radwan, 2013; Al-Khatib, 1988).

The results in the following tables show the case for /q/ variable and /ϴ/ during Palestinian women interacting with their peers' females of Jordanian origin. Half of the female respondents use the variant [ʔ]. This variant is the supra-local form of language (ibid). The second one that is mostly used is [g] variable. This finding proves that females are also involved in the process of accommodation. For [q], it is the same case as men since the nature of the word determines it. The variant [k] is scarce and limited to some cases in the family setting. A similar case is applicable to Jordanian women in intergroup interaction. They mostly use the supralocal variety of language but a slight rise in using the local variant [g].

Table 3 -
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The findings also imply during interaction with ingroup peers, females of Palestinian origin tend to be more prestigious by adopting the supralocal variant [ʔ]. It is also revealed that women of Palestinian origin may sometimes be apt to also adopt the local host form even in ingroup interactions. This finding shows that the [g] variant comes after [ʔ] in prestige (Al-Khatib, 1988). Using no [k] in their speech indicates the extent to which this variant has reached an advanced stage of leveling. this outcome relates to the fact this allophone renders its speaker to stigmatization, and thus negatively evaluated by the host community. Uttering the standard form [q], like that of men's is restricted to some lexical items which carry legal and religious meaning.

For /ϴ/ variable, the findings demonstrate that using both [t] and [ϴ] variants almost occur half-in-half, with a slight difference in percentage for [t] allophone in ingroup contact (45%), among females in both outgroup and ingroup interaction manifest that women to some degree are keen for considering /ϴ/ as marker as /q/. The justification might be because a lot of women realize that they need to adopt every prestigious form even if it is not subject to stigmatization (Al-Khatib, 1995). The results also reveal that using the vernacular form of /ϴ/ happens more than that of the standard [q] because the latter is more sensitive to the variation (i.e., marker) than the latter (i.e., indicator) (ibid) (see Table 4 ).

Table 4 -
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When comparing the results in the tables above, it is apparent that the origin and sex variable play a role in the process of language accommodation. It is noticed, first, that the immigrant community adopts some of the speech behaviors of the host community. Concerning sex, the results are similar to other studies that female state interlocutors use more prestigious forms than males during interactions with both male and female interlocutors.

Before discussing the results in terms of the CAT framework, it is worth mentioning that the CAT theory is established on the hypothesis that accommodation occurs only "in face-to-face interaction," which complies with the desire of the speaker to be viewed nicely by his/her interlocutor. However, this convergence is conditioned by the balance between the rewards and costs in addition to the ability to do that (Coupland, 1984). The rewards may be represented in gaining the other approval or avoiding stigma and the costs in the identity loss (Giles & Ogay, 2007). Divergence may emerge whenever the group identity is salient (Tajfel, 1974).

In this study, we conclude that Jordanians of Palestinian origin are the initiators of this convergence since they are more in need of being accepted so that they perform their daily actions more efficiently. This initiative convergence is due to the fact they form an immigrant community that is characterized as a group with weak vitality (Hernández, 2009). That is, although they form a big community group, they have less representation in the state institutions, especially security ones. As for the ability, both groups share a mutually intelligible variety as well as the second, and the third generation of Jordanian Palestinian are aware of the linguistic characteristics of their peer group are able to accommodate because of contact with the indigenous people.

When it comes to the second independent variable (sex), the style of language is decided by the group salience, as suggested by Tajfel (1974). That is, sex is a universal phenomenon that women adopt the prestigious form of language, as they form a salient group identity. Hence, urbanization of the forms goes beyond the s a group determinant not only in Jordan but all over the world. In Jordan (as an Eastern community), it is common, on the one hand, that men are more involved in public domains like politics or chairing companies. Women, on the other, are responsible for social matters such as shopping, housekeeping, and visitors hosting. The latter works demand socialization, which is represented in using a prestigious way of speech (Al-Khatib, 1995). Finally, to illustrate also the phenomenon of using vernacular by men and urban by women, it is worth indicating to the two types of prestige. The urban one is an agreed-upon prestigious variety. Thus, it is an overt prestige. The Horani variety is a prestigious variety for a particular group, hence representing as a type of covert prestige that reveals group solidarity and masculinity.


In conclusion, the two variables that are sensitive to the process of accommodation are the linguistic variables /q/ and /ϴ/. As for the former, Palestinian Jordanians are more prone to accommodate it to match that of original inhabitants. Women, however, are enthusiastic about adopting the prestigious form. Concerning /ϴ/ men of two origins are standardized in using this variant, while women use [t] variant to signal they are using prestigious form. Additionally, the results address the basic principle of CAT, stating the direction of accommodation lies on the part of the one who seeks the likeness of the other provided that the costs will not take over the rewards (Giles, 1973). Hence, the convergence to the other party is partial since full one might lead to overaccommodation that will cause the loss of their identity, and as a result, evaluated as a kind of ingratiation. (Hernández, 2009).

One of the limitations of the study is the small sample (12 informants), which may not support precise indication of the phenomenon of the issue raised above. Another limitation, it is only limited to only two linguistic variables and two social ones. Other variables are of extraordinary value, especially the variable /k/. It would also be essential to have other social variables such as the financial status, which may be indicated by the place of residence as well as the occupation of parents.

Finally, it is essential to incorporate Trudgill (1997) trajectory of language change. This principle posits that the change starts with the most stereotypical items and ends up with the least. To achieve such insight, researchers may study different age groups. The future studies may also attempt to scrutinize the effect of the accommodation process on the morphology and the lexical items that play a significant role in showing to what extent a new community has undergone diffusion.


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