By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
EDITOR: Reem Bassiouney TITLLE: Arabic and the Media SUBTITLEL: Linguistic Analyses and Applications SERIES TITLLE: Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics 57 PUBLISHER: Brill YEAR: 2010
Islam Youssef, CASTL, University of Tromso
The media has recently permeated all aspects of Arab society. An increasing competition among newspapers and satellite channels has created a remarkable linguistic diversity that has caught the attention of language scholars. This edited volume covers the use of Arabic in the written and broadcast media, and attempts to offer a theoretical and methodological framework to the study and teaching of media Arabic from a sociolinguistic perspective. The book raises questions about the mutual influence of the media and the Arabic linguistic situation on each other. This includes the various discourse functions for the use of colloquial Arabic in the media, the mechanisms of diglossic switching between standard and colloquial varieties in the written and spoken forms, as well as the challenges and significance of teaching media Arabic to foreign students. The book is recommended mainly for Arabic linguists, especially sociolinguists, dialectologists and those interested in the media (both written or televised). The articles also address general topics within discourse analysis and sociolinguistics that may be of interest to non-Arabists. However, some of the articles may be difficult to decipher for those not familiar with the lexicon and structure of the Arabic language.
Part One of this book comprises three articles on newspaper language. Although it does not explore Arabic specifically, Aitchison's article on ''the evolution and role of newspapers'' sets the general tone for this section. She stresses that journalists should try to establish the readers' feeling of coherence and warm involvement with the events since the main role of newspapers is to convince readers that ''their world behaves in a predictable and normal way'' (p. 21).
Ibrahim examines the diglossic situation between High and Low varieties of Arabic in three Egyptian newspapers. In a small-scale corpus study (35 consecutive issues of each newspaper), she highlights the increasing stylistic role of Colloquial Egyptian Arabic (ECA) in the opposition papers ad-Dustuur and al-Masri al-Youm as opposed to the state-run al-Ahram. The different styles of code-switching are illustrated, i.e. inter- and intra-sentential, with reference to the high rate of ECA use in headlines and direct quotations. Contextual factors are also indicated, with a detailed appendix of the Arabic data classified according to newspaper section (sports, news, arts, opinion, reports, etc.). An important point the author tries to communicate is how code-switching in written text can express social meanings and establish solidarity with the readers.
Parkinson investigates lexical variation of written Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) in the newspapers of four Arabic-speaking countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Kuwait. By reviewing the results of previous corpus studies with new emphasis, he provides evidence against the traditional claim that MSA is identical throughout the Arab World and stresses that studying written variation is crucial to describe the language of the press accurately. He argues that variation stems from the broad grammatical and lexical resources of Fuṣħa (Classical Arabic), which leave plenty of room for differences to emerge in written newspaper language despite attempts to suppress local usage by editors (p. 59). The article touches upon several variables, which the author dubs 'country effects'. He points out clear and statistically significant regional patterns of use in grammatical structures, writing conventions and lexical choice. The article, however, fails to reference much relevant literature such as Ibrahim (2009) and Haeri (2003).
Part Two examines linguistic variation in the Arabic media in eight articles. Van-Mol attempts to provide a definition of 'media Arabic'. Furthermore, he explores the methodological challenges of classifying the overwhelming amount of data from satellite television according to the program type, the speaker's identity (nationality, age, gender) and the language used (origin, spontaneity, written versus oral sources). He argues that there is an overlapping problem of classification that requires the development of a well-defined system.
Myers-Scotton argues that the Matrix Language Frame (MLF) model and its new development, the 4-M model, can explain the patterns that occur in Arabic diglossic code-switching (CS) as similar to patterns of classical bilingual switching. These common patterns of CS are characterized by two types of asymmetry: one involves a dominance relation in the participating languages/varieties (Matrix vs. Embedded) and another involves morpheme types in their distribution within CS (content vs. system morphemes). The author examines five problematic patterns in Arabic CS and how they can be explained in terms of the MLF model. Media Arabic is only mentioned in the last section of the article, as an increasingly common source of diglossic switching.
Bassiouney provides another study of diglossia within the framework of code-switching (see also Bassiouney 2009). More specifically, she examines the use of MSA and ECA in talk shows, shedding light on code-choice and code-switching by women in relation to identity (p. 97). Her data consist of 15 TV hours from five talk shows. A major challenge for her study was to consistently differentiate between MSA and ECA, which she resolved by establishing seven progressive categories based on counting variables (lexical, morphosyntactic or phonological). She concludes that the use of standard features is not related to the gender of the speaker but rather to which part of their identity they appeal to. Thus, educated women can and do use MSA in the media as a discourse function to establish status and authority (p. 119).
In an interesting and original study, Doss investigates the linguistic choice and the ideological position behind the colloquial news bulletin Ħaal id-Dunya of OTV. The language of Ħaal id-Dunya is reminiscent of 'amiyyat al-mutanawwiriin, the educated colloquial variety described in Badawi (1973). It is colloquial in its sounds, intonation, and morphosyntactic features, as well as its informality and the kind of light news items presented. However, it still exhibits a fair amount of MSA influences as a result of the writing process which underlies it (p. 139). The article also touches on the increasing role of colloquial Arabic in written texts and the potential process of its standardization. Finally, Doss presents the reservations and criticisms this choice provoked among editors and audience alike.
Matar explores the mediated charisma of Hizbullah's leader, Hassan Nassrallah, and his religious-political discourse that can be effective in temporal contexts such as the 2006 war with Israel. In analyzing his speeches, she shows how ''he incorporates historically-significant and meaningful discourses, signs and symbols drawn from a shared cultural repertoire and adapted to the particular historical context to summon and construct the intended audience as subjects'' (p. 155). She also refers to his diglossic use of Arabic to construct an image of a national and religious leader in the relevant context with his subjects.
Al-Azraqi surveys Gulf Asian Pidgin (GAP) used in Gulf Arabian countries by Asian workers and their Gulf Arabic-speaking employers. Her data consists of six hours from TV series in addition to face-to-face interviews with Asian workers. While GAP has mostly a Gulf Arabic (GA) lexicon, not all morphosyntactic features of GA appear in GAP. An example is the use of the particle 'fii' to perform combined syntactic functions (e.g. copula, expletive, definite article, possessive pronoun) which are expressed by various mechanisms in GA. The author notes the recent presence of this pidgin in the media, written and spoken, to impersonate Asian characters while it is stigmatized by native Saudis (p. 172).
Samin considers internet bulletin boards in the larger context of the expanding media environment in the Middle East, and its role in reducing the information monopoly of the state (p. 197). He compares and contrasts the discourses on two Saudi internet bulletin boards. On the one hand, Al-Aħsaa' Cultural Board comprises a platform for empowering the marginalized Saudi Shiite minority. On the other, the bulletin board of the Najdi Qaħtan tribe embodies some state-supported prerogatives such as religious and tribal affiliations (p. 198).
The last article in this section touches only indirectly on the media, as Abboud-Haggar examines the use of dialect in literary works. Her study of two bestselling novels, ''Girls of Riyadh'' and ''The Yacoubian Building,'' reveals that colloquial Arabic is used either to reflect the attitude of the writer or to bring readers closer to the characters (p. 213). The article poses questions about potential challenges for contemporary writers including the geographical comprehensibility barrier in the use of local dialects.
Part Three explores the role of teaching Arabic through the media. Ryding highlights the central role of the media to the study of Arabic language and culture ''in terms of its reach, its role, its structure and its content'' (p. 219). More specifically, the article stresses the use of written media Arabic (both in print and electronic format) as a reliable source for studying Modern Standard Arabic. The last section makes reference to several textbooks and proficiency techniques for teaching written media Arabic. The author argues, however, that even though textbooks can facilitate the acquisition of vocabulary, syntax and style, the actual newspapers are invaluable components for the Arabic learning experience.
El-Essawy offers ways in which teachers might use printed media as a valuable source of different text types to introduce and practice new vocabulary. She thoroughly discusses the techniques and principles of vocabulary acquisition in Arabic and how these can be translated into classroom practice.
Abdalla conducts a thorough investigation of the teaching and learning of media language in Arabic programs. He argues that the media (journalism and TV broadcasting) offers a rich authentic resource for holistic language learning, and if it is used creatively, it can engage learners in the natural use of language (p. 285). The article covers a discussion of the characteristics of media language, the debate on the use of colloquial Arabic and the lack of media literacy in the Arabic language curriculum. It concludes with some recommendations for future program planning and for training Arabic language teachers.
As the editor rightfully claims, there are no reference books in the market devoted exclusively to the study of Arabic media from a sociolinguistic perspective. The book is, therefore, a pioneering attempt in this area and is also a valuable contribution to Arabic sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. The articles reflect a concerted effort to cover complementary aspects of media Arabic and to reflect the diverse social and linguistic realities of Arabic speaking audiences. In addition, they convincingly challenge some established ideas on visual and written media Arabic. Although the volume claims to cover aspects of media language across the Arab World, most of the articles focus on Egypt and partially on Gulf and Lebanese Arabic. The editor acknowledges that the Arabic of North Africa is not represented for purely circumstantial reasons.
With regard to style and readability, the book is generally reader-friendly. I noticed, however, certain inconsistencies in presenting the Arabic data across the articles. For example, while Bassiouney makes use of transcriptions and glosses but no Arabic characters, Parkinson's article lacks any glossing or transliteration. Aside from such minor shortcomings, this work is a welcome contribution to the research on media Arabic, and anyone interested in this aspect of Arabic linguistics should consider reading it.
Badawi, Said. 1973. Registers of Contemporary Arabic in Egypt (in Arabic). Cairo: Daar Al-Ma'aarif.
Bassiouney, Reem. 2009. Arabic Sociolinguistics: Topics in Diglossia, Gender, Identity, and Politics. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.
Haeri, Nilofar. 2003. Sacred Language, Ordinary People: Dilemmas of Culture and Politics in Egypt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Ibrahim, Zeinab. 2009. Beyond Lexical Variation in Modern Standard Arabic: Egypt, Lebanon and Morocco. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Islam Youssef is a research fellow/PhD candidate at the Center for Advanced
Study in Theoretical Linguistics (CASTL), University of Tromso. His
research interests include phonology, phonetics, morphology and Arabic
dialectology. He has presented and published research on the Cairene and
Baghdadi dialects of Arabic and on Buchan Scots English.