Syrian Arabic Negators’ Structural and Social Variation: Evidence from a Supralocal-Negation Variety

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This study empirically investigates the structural and social variation of five negators, maa ‘not’, muu ‘not’, laʔ ‘no’, laa ‘no/imperative not’, and wa-laa ‘(and) no/not/imperative not’, in the naturally occurring Syrian Arabic speech of 72 speakers. It quantitatively analyzes the frequency of all possible grammatical/pragmatic functions and/or following structural contexts for each negator; whether certain negators favor certain functions/contexts; and whether generational, sex and/or age differences exist. The findings show correlation between certain negators and certain functions/contexts. The most frequent negator, maa, occurs most frequently in four contexts, yet shows encroachment on muu’s contexts. The differences in laʔ’s, laa’s, and wa-laa’s functions/contexts, despite some similarities, and ability to operate independently support treating them separately. Sex, age and/or generational differences emerged as statistically significant regarding the use of some negators. The generational differences of children using more laʔ and adults more laa reflect societal norms that disfavor children giving commands or sounding authoritative yet allow emphatic/assertive negation with the more forcefully sounding laaʔ. The findings have implications for teachers and learners of Arabic regarding implementing these negators in real-life interactions. They also show that negators may have unexpected meanings and functions and may occur favorably in contexts where they are unexpected.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Arabic Sociolinguistics
StatePublished - Mar 28 2023


  • negation; structural variation; social variation; generational differences; age and sex differences; Syrian Arabic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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