CHAPTER 1
Diglossia and dialect groups in the
Arab world

Mustafa is still Mustafa. He did not change. He still has two tongues in
his mouth, two hearts in his chest. A tongue that speaks for him and a
tongue that speaks against him. A heart that speaks for him and a heart
that speaks against him. When he speaks sincerely his words are in
colloquial. A colloquial that was the only variety he knew and used in
narration before. But once he starts speaking what they dictate to him,
then he speaks in the language of books, and his words become comic!

Muhra, Mustafa’s ex-wife, in Qismat al-ghuramā’ (‘The debtor’s share’)
by Yūsuf al-Qaʿīd (2004)

This extract from the novel Qismat al-ghuramā’ (‘The debtor’s share’) reflects the tension and ambivalent feelings Egyptians have towards both Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA). Perhaps it also reflects the tension that exists in all Arab countries, where people speak one language variety at home and learn a different one in school, write in one language and express their feelings in another, memorise poetry in one language and sing songs in another. Whether doing this is practical or not is a moot point. However, as a linguist, one knows that most linguists would agree that whenever one has more than one language or variety at one’s disposal, it is indeed a good thing. Muhra, Mustafa’s ex-wife, summarises the dilemma of the Arab world neatly when she says that Mustafa still has ‘two tongues in his mouth, two hearts in his chest’. What this means exactly is that Mustafa, like all Egyptians and all Arabs, lives in a diglossic community. Diglossia is what I would like to discuss in the first part of this chapter.

This chapter is divided into two parts: the first part deals with issues relating to the vertical (diglossia) and the second deals with issues related to the horizontal (national varieties/groups of dialects). However, note that the focus in this chapter is the linguistic facts. I do not examine, in this chapter,

-9-

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Arabic Sociolinguistics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Charts, Maps and Tables x
  • Abbreviations xii
  • Conventions Used in This Book xiv
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Diglossia and Dialect Groups in the Arab World 9
  • Chapter 2 - Code-Switching 28
  • Chapter 3 - Language Variation and Change 88
  • Chapter 4 - Arabic and Gender 128
  • Chapter 5 - Language Policy and Politics 198
  • General Conclusion 273
  • Bibliography 276
  • Index 299
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