Arab Americans comprise one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the United States. Like many of the other groups discussed in the articles in this issue, we know almost nothing about the linguistic practices of Arab Americans. This paper discusses one aspect of language use among U.S.-born and immigrant Arab American youth living in Dearborn, Michigan. I show how the participants in this study use a vowel that is part of the Northern Cities Shift (NCS), a widespread regional sound change in the United States. This study and others like it have repeatedly shown that fine-grained differences in the pronunciation of vowels are a rich resource for the expression of social identities and distinctions (Eckert, 2000; Hay and Drager, 2007; Dodsworth, 2008). Until recently, most studies investigating regional sound changes had not considered the social patterning of these variables among minority speakers. This lack of attention may stem from longstanding views that use of these variables is limited to white speakers (Labov, 2001). This study shows that Arab Americans in Dearborn are making use of NCS variables to express social differences that are not related to mainstream white majority speakers but based on local social information and categories. In the remainder of this paper I describe the community and research site, then present and discuss the results of my statistical analysis.
Sai Samant is a PhD candidate in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Michigan