The purpose of this paper is to explain how changes in the social structure of the countries of the Arabic-speaking Middle East are being reflected in new patterns of dialect use. The last 30 years have seen an enormously increased interest in Arabic as a living mode of everyday communication, reflected in many dialectological, typological and sociolinguistic studies. As a result, we now have a much clearer overall picture of the dialect geography of the eastern Arab world, and the beginnings of an understanding of the dynamics of language change. Inevitably, the focus of many studies has been geographically specific, so that the area-wide nexus between social change and linguistic change has not always been seen in a sufficiently broad context. By examining three case studies documented in the literature, I aim to point up similarities in the dynamics of change which are often obscured by distracting local particularities.