Language in Society


Are Iraqi women more prestige conscious than men? Sex differentiation in Baghdadi Arabic

Farida Abu-Haidara1

a1 School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


Investigators have found in Arabic-speaking communities that men's speech, and not women's, approximated the standard variety. More recent studies have challenged the assumption that prestige and standard spoken Arabic are one and the same. These studies have found that there are, in some Arab communities, prestige varieties of spoken Arabic which are not in the direction of standard Arabic, and that, contrary to what had been previously concluded, it is mostly women who speak the prestige dialects. This article, based on an investigation of the speech of a group of Baghdadi men and women, shows that in Baghdad the prestige variety of spoken Arabic is in the direction of the standard, and that women, more than men, tend to favor this variety. Using the findings of a previous research project in Baghdad, the article also draws attention to the fact that in the past, when Baghdadi women did not have the same access to standard Arabic as men, it was men, and not women, who spoke a dialect approximating the standard variety. (Standard literary Arabic, dialectal Arabic, linguistic prestige norms, style shifting)