LRM60: INTRODUCTION TO ARABIC LANGUAGE AND CULTURE
The sociolinguistic situation in the Arabic speaking world
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al-fu??? and al-ammiya 3
Classical Arabic 4
Modern Standard Arabic 4
Colloquial Arabic 4
The differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial Arabic 5
Formal spoken Arabic 6
Arabic regional dialects 6
Language attitudes towards SA and QA 8
Language is a human phenomenon that characterizes every social group. Sociolinguistic is the study of languages as a social and cultural phenomena. Moreover, it investigates the role that language plays in any society, as well as how society influences language. All linguistic systems are sufficient means of communication among members of each society.
The Arabic language originated from the Arabian Peninsula, as linguists argue. Arabic is one of the Semitic languages, and more specifically a central Semitic language (Versteegh, 2001; Holes, 2004), spoken by more than 200 million people (Versteegh, 2010). It exists far more than 1500 years (Holes, 2004) and is the language of religion of more than 800 million Muslims (Versteegh, 2010). Thus, many people around the world learn Arabic, even if it is not their native language, because it is the language in which the Quran is written.
A particular element of the Arabic language is the phenomenon of diglossia. The notion of diglossia was initially used in 1930 by the French Marçais and in 1959 Ferguson introduced this term to English. Regarding the situation in Arabic speaking context, diglossia is the coexistence of two different language varieties, or rather one low variety used in everyday communication and a high variety used for the acquisition of knowledge and in formal cases.
In the western world, there is often confusion about the Arabic language due to the existence of various forms in the same language. It goes without saying that is difficult for scholars to clarify what Arabic is, due to the diglossic linguistic situation that exists in that language.
Al-fu??? and Al-ammiya
As previously mentioned, Arabic language is characterized by diglossia, which is reflected through the coexistence of two distinctive varieties, al-fu??? and al-ammiya. Al-fu??? and al-ammiya are two terms that Arabs scholars use to describe the high written variety of the Arabic language on the first case and the low spoken variety on the second.
represents the High variety and it is normally used for formal, semiformal and literary occasions. On the other hand, al-ammiya represents the Low variety that is used in daily life conversations and other informal communicative circumstances (Ferguson, 1959).
the language that is used in every formal occasion, that is in schools, religious ceremonies, meetings, lectures, poetry, etc.
Classical Arabic (CA) is the language in which the Qur’an, the most essential religious text of Islam, was written, and the language of classical literature as well. As a consequence, Arabic speakers believe that Classical Arabic is an element of great importance and an inseparable part of Arabic culture. Moreover, it has been a symbol of erudition and commitment to their religion. In addition to that, CA has been the medium by which Arabic culture and Islamic culture was spread, recorded and preserved throughout the centuries.
CA is a universal language that every educated Arab understands (Eisele, 2002; Holes, 2004). However, nowadays, CA is not an utilitarian dialect, as it is not used in verbal communication among Arabs. Instead, it is mainly utilized for religious reasons. Furthermore, CA was the basis of Modern Standard Arabic.
Modern Standard Arabic
Modern Standard Arabic is the official language of the Arabic-speaking world, that every Arab is able to speak and understand. It has written and oral form and it is utilized by the massive majority in formal occasions, namely in schooling, religious ceremonies, political speeches, TV broadcasts, etc (Ferguson, 1959).
Modern Standard Arabic derives from Classical Arabic. However, MSA and CA differ in lexicon. Though, Arabic-speakers do not make a precise, related to terminology, differentiation between MSA and CA.
Moreover, MSA and al-fu??? are not exactly Al-fu??? is a wider notion that includes MSA, as they have some differences in vocabulary.
Colloquial Arabic (al-lahja) is the verbal form of Arabic that Arabs, educated or not, use in their everyday communication and in informal conversational occasions. It is the language that Arabs learn at home by their families. It hasn’t a writing system and is not taught in schools.
Differently from MSA, Colloquial Arabic is liable to regional and geographical variants among countries and among areas within a specific country as well. Nearly every Arab country has one or more distinct dialects which vary within that region and throughout the Arab World. These varieties differ in lexicons and phonology. However, they share a great number of lexical, syntactic, phonological and morphological characteristics (Albirini, 2016).
The differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial Arabic
Formal spoken Arabic
In recent years, extensive research has been done around the phenomenon of the Arabic language. The center of attention of several researchers is Formal Spoken Arabic (FSA). FSA is a prestigious form of spoken Arabic, as well as a practical one, that it is used as a medium of communication by Arabic speakers. It consists a linguistic option, flexible and informal on the one hand, and formal enough not to be characterized as boorish on the other. It is often referred as Educated Spoken Arabic (ESA).
For many years now, Foreign Service Institute uses the tag Formal Spoken Arabic (FSA), in order to define the spoken variety of Arabic which is utilized as a means of instruction and communication by foreign service officers and other employees of the US government that are appointed to posts in Arab contexts (Ryding, 1991).
Mitchell (as cited in Ryding, 1991) argues that this variety of Arabic language is not one of a group of distinct varieties equivalent to Modern Standard Arabic and the colloquial language. It is not the dialect of a specific geographical area. On the contrary, it is created and maintained by the continuous interaction of written and vernacular Arabic. Moreover, despite the fact that it significantly borrows elements from Modern Standard Arabic and the vernacular as well, nevertheless it is a distinct variety of Arabic (Mitchell, 1985).
Arabic regional dialects
In the cities of the Arab world people do not speak a specific dialect. Arabic is a language with a great number of different forms that are utilized in different areas. These dialects can differ to such an extent that each dialect’s speakers are not able to understand one another. In addition to that, Arabic is the native language of over 200 million people, in more than 20 different countries, has various dialects, each of which has its own accent and vocabulary.
According to Versteegh (2001) there are five groups of local dialects in the Arab world:
1. Dialects of the Arabian peninsula, spoken in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf area
2. Mesopotamian dialects, spoken in Iraq
3. Levantine dialects, spoken in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine
4. Egyptian dialects, spoken in Egypt
5. Maghreb dialects, spoken in North Africa
Language attitudes towards SA and QA
According to Richards and Schmidt (2002) language attitudes are the stances that people speaking different languages or language varieties have towards the languages that other people speak or to their own language. Language attitudes are speakers’ expressions of positive or negative feelings and views about a language that a specific speech community uses, as well as about the speakers of that language. Moreover, they might reflect people beliefs about how important or elegant a language is or about its speakers’ social status.
Many researches on language attitudes verify the existence of positive attitudes towards SA and negative attitudes towards QA. The positive attitudes towards SA emerge from the fact that SA is the language of the Qur’an and because of this it is closely connected to religion. Moreover, it is associated with Arabic heritage, culture and literature and symbolizes Arab unity and history. Furthermore, many Arabs relate SA to education, linguistic sophistication and knowledge. On the contrary, QA is considered as a perverted, underrated, and poor form of SA, even though it is used in everyday conversation. In addition to that, using QA indicates the lack of education and ignorance. Additionally, it is regarded as a plain but garbled version of SA with many loan words, no underlying system, logic, or grammatical and phonological rules (Albirini, 2016).
It is needless to say that there is a value inequality between SA and QA, and for this reason SA and QA have divergent statuses and play diverse roles in the Arab speaking communities.
This paper represents only a summary of some of the salient features of the Arabic language. The Arabic language hides a cultural richness and a history extremely interesting that it is worthy to be intensively examined by researchers. Understanding the writing system and the rules that govern the Arabic language, as well as the way the spoken language was developed, is a project that requires study and a lot of effort.
Albirini, A. (2016). Modern Arabic Sociolinguistics. Diglossia, variation, codeswitching, attitudes and identity. London, UK: Routledge
Anis, I. (2003). Arabic dialects, Cairo: The Anglo- Egyptian Bookshop.
Eisele, J. C. (2002). Approaching diglossia: Authorities, values, and representations. In A. Rouchdy (Ed.), Language contact and language conflict in Arabic: Variations on a sociolinguistic theme (pp. 3-23). London: RoutledgeCurzon
Holes, C. (2004). Modern Arabic: structures, functions, and varieties. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.
Mitchell, T. F. (1980). Dimensions of Style in a Grammar of Educated Spoken Arabic. Archivum Linguisticum, 11, 89-106.
Richards, J. & Schmidt, R. (2002). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, (3rd ed.), Pearson: London.
Ryding, K. C. (1991). Proficiency despite diglossia: A new approach for Arabic. The Modern Language Journal, 75(2), 212-218.
Versteegh, K. (2001). The Arabic Language. Edinburgh University Press.
Versteegh, K. (2010). Contact and the Development of Arabic. In R. Hickey (Ed.), The Handbook of Language Contact (pp. 634-651). UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.