The Emergence of Lebanese English in the American South: The Configuration of Substrate and Dialect Accommodation

Amanda Eads

North Carolina State University


 While the descriptive accounts of the varieties of world Englishes proliferate (cf. Kortmann et al. 2008), the English of particular states/nations and expatriate groups is still selectively representative. One of the nations for which there remains no current descriptive account of English is Lebanon, including both native-state and expatriate varieties. This account offers a preliminary description of “Lebanese English”, focusing on Lebanese speakers who have migrated to the American South, particularly North Carolina. English was introduced in Lebanon through colonialism and by the early 1800s the English and Americans had established missionary schools. During the same time, the French supported the Maronite Christians in the north of Lebanon thus funding missionary schools promoting the French language as well. Over time the three languages, Arabic, English, and French have synthesized into what we today call Lebanese Arabic. Due to economic issues and increasing sociopolitical conflicts within Lebanon, migration has increased dramatically over the past century. The United States is one of the primary destinations for Lebanese immigrants, and the Detroit Metropolitan area has witnessed the largest concentration of Arab American immigrants (Rouchdy 2002). A less targeted but increasingly significant regional area of settlement has been the American South. In this context, speakers may experience transfer from Lebanese Arabic, substrate influence, and accommodation to the dialect structures of North Carolinian Southern English. This study explores the Lebanese American English dialect in North Carolina based on a North Carolina Lebanese oral history project currently being conducted at North Carolina State University, as well as supplemental interviews in order to determine specific grammatical, phonological, and lexical features; prosodic features such as syllable timing and intonation are also considered. Features considered in this description include stopping interdental fricatives, deaspiration of voiceless stops, the phonetic production of retroflexed r, inflectional –s absence, copula absence, null pronoun subjects, vowel monophthongization, and Southern ungilding of the glide in time and side. The description demonstrates how substrate, accommodation, and interdialectalisms configure into the construction of Lebanese English in the American South.