An introduction to Arabic language (Part 2)

In the last post I said that I would discuss the idea of diglossia in more detail, and hopefully we can look at this aspect and how it used on the ground. 


A term taken from the Greek to mean ‘two tongues’ and is used by linguists to mean: ‘’is a situation in which a given language community uses two languages or dialects: the first being the community’s present day vernacular and the second being either an ancestral version of the same vernacular from centuries earlier (e.g.: Arabic), a distinct yet closely related present day dialect (e.g. Norwegian with Bokmål and Nynorsk, or Chinese with Standard Mandarin as the official, literary standard and colloquial dialects used in everyday communication) or another distinct language (such as in English and Maltese in Malta)’’ – [/source]

. As mentioned in the previous post it was Ferguson (1959) who addressed this idea in linguistics and suggested Arabic was one of those languages that were diglossic in nature. 

With respect to Arabic there is the Classic Arabic (CA) and the various hundred dialects of Arabic spoken all over the Arab world. However, there seems to be another situation emerging today with the way Arabic language is used, there are three levels of Arabic. The CA being the highest, then what is termed ‘Educated Arabic’ or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and then the vernacular. The MSA is a type of Arabic used in the media, it still is very close to CA, but the syntax is simplified and some of the vocabulary is taken from the vernaculars. The aim is to allow the less educated people understand the news and current affairs in a language they can relate to and a structure that they can learn quickly. CA would be too high a variety for them to use in everyday discourse and the vocabulary would be unfamiliar to some speakers.
Only CA is written (and MSA) but the dialects were not written down for a long time; one main reason is because CA is the higher version and is seen as the proper pure language. Perhaps Arabic has kept its form, vocabulary and has maintained itself as a major language because of this strict protocol of only writing one agreed upon higher version. This has changed dramatically over the last few decades and now song writers write their songs in dialect and make these freely available to the public. It is also possible to text and email in the various dialects still using the Arabic script also used to write CA, and this does upset some quarters in the Arab world. They see this as a distortion and pollution of the pure original Arabic. The dialects are seen by the people as the people’s language and CA and MSA are seen as official and religious language. Many Arabs find it easier to communicate in dialect even though some structures and forms completely go against the pure form of Arabic, there are deletions and insertions but people feel more authentic when using dialect. It is very awkward to find two Arabs conversing in CA and the user of CA can be seen as having an air of ostentation upon the hearer; and is only used if one of their two dialects is unintelligible to the other. An example of this would be a speaker of Gulf Arabic does not understand the dialect of Moroccan Arabic, and so the two speakers will resort to CA or MSA. Though it seems confusing, the linguistic situation is quite stable with each version spoken and used in its place and time without contradiction or struggle. Everybody goes to school and learns the higher version and at home they use dialect and they learn second languages such as French, Italian, English and German in their schools. A rich linguistic situation that actually needs a lot more study, and would be of great interest to those interested in language learning and language planning.