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Arabic Sociolinguistics

Reem Bassiouney

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The first introduction to the field of Arabic sociolinguistics, this book discusses major trends in research on diglossia, code-switching, gendered discourse, language variation and change, and language policies in relation to Arabic. In doing so, it introduces and evaluates the various theoretical approaches, and illustrates the usefulness and the limitations of these approaches with empirical data. The book shows how sociolinguistic theories can be applied to Arabic and, conversely, what the study of Arabic can contribute to our understanding of the function of language in society.

Key Features

  • Introduces current theories and methods of sociolinguistics, with a special focus on Arabic.
  • Topics include: language variation and change, gender, religion and politics.
  • Aimed at students and scholars of Arabic with an interest in linguistics and students and scholars of linguistics with an interest in Arabic.


1. Diglossia and the Arab world
1.1 An overview of the study of diglossia
1.2 Theories that discuss diglossia in terms of levels
1.3 The idea of Educated Spoken Arabic
1.4 The concept of prestige as different from that of standard
1.5 Groups of dialects in the Arab world
2. Code-switching
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Problem of terminology: code-switching and code-mixing
2.3 The study of constraints on code-switching
2.4 Motivations for code-switching
2.5 Studies on diglossic switching as part of code-switching
2.6 The relationship between code choice and speaker's role in Egyptian political discourse, a case study
2.7 Conclusion
3. Language variation and change
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Social class and social networks
3.3 Methodology
3.4 Sociolinguistic variables
3.5 Levelling
3.6 Conclusion
4. Arabic and gender
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Politeness in relation to gender
4.3 "Mister master", names, status and identities
4.4 When a chicken crows like a cock, women narrators
4.5 Language variation and change in relation to gender
4.6 The symbolic use of language
4.7 Gender universals re-examined
4.8 Conclusion
5. Language policy and politics
5.1 The power of language
5.2 The domains of language policy
5.3 Factors governing language policies
5.4 Case studies (North Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine and Israel, The Sudan
5.5 The role of language academies in the Arab World
5.6 MSA, politics and the aching nation, a case study
5.7 Conclusion
6. General conclusion.

About the Author

Reem Bassiouney (DPhil, Oxon.) is Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Applied Linguistics at the American University in Cairo. Her academic books include, Functions of code-switching in Egypt (2006), Arabic Sociolinguistics (2008), Arabic and the Media (2010), Arabic Language and Linguistics 2012 (co-ed). Her research and publications focus on topics in Arabic sociolingusitics, including code-switching, language and gender, leveling, register, language policy, and discourse analysis. She is also an award winning novelist.


[This] book is the first of its kind in Arabic sociolinguistics. It will set the standard for the field with its rich insights, brilliant range, and copious examples that make the subject come alive. I have no doubt whatsoever that this book will quickly emerge as the primary text on any course on Arabic in the social world.
- Yasir Suleiman, Director, Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge
A useful new text book on Arabic sopciolinguistics... It presents a good overview of the literature... and will teach students to look at Arabic language habits as phenomena, and not only as objects of normative discussion.
- Maartten Kossmann, Leiden, Journal of Arabic Linguistics
A welcome addition to the literature in this important and growing field. Arabic Sociolinguistics is to my knowledge the only up-to-date, comprehensive manual on the whole subject. The book is written in a pleasingly informal style, and is full of acute (and often personal) observations on the subtle ways in which language and society interact in the Arabic-speaking world. It should be of great benefit both to the student of Arabic and the general linguist with no knowledge of Arabic.
- Clive Holes, Professor for the study of the contemporary Arab world, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford
Arabic Sociolinguistics offers a new perspective on language variation and change, and makes it clear that language variation in the Arab world is undoubtedly different from that in the West. With a readable style, the book addresses the very complex diglossic situation in the Arab world with concrete examples resulting from interesting case studies that challenge the findings of recent studies on different sociolinguistic issues... We highly recommend this book to all readers who wish to gain a better understanding of Arabic and the Arab world.
- Radia Benzehra and Don R. McCreary, University of Georgia, Journal of Sociolinguistics
For those interested in the Arab situation from a sociolinguistic point of view, it seems indispensable. The enthusiasm of the author and the abundant and insightful examples make this a good book to be discovered by readers of traditional introductions into sociolinguistics, which, so this book demonstrates, have as their point of departure a western way of looking at things. For many readers, a renewed acquaintance with sociolinguistics will arise after reading it. The book thus calls for more descriptions of language variation situations that are not western.
- Dick Smakman, University of Leiden
This is an excellent effort in linguistic data collection and analysis and is a remarkable addition to sociolinguistics and indeed to the phenomenology of Arabic language and its reform; no library should be without it.
- Amidu Olalekan Sanni, Lagos State University, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
This is an excellent effort in linguistic data collection and analysis and is a remarkable addition to sociolinguistics and indeed to the phenomenology of Arabic language and its reform: no library shoudl be without it.
- Amidu Olalekan Sanni, Lagos State University, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies

This volume represents a welcome addition to the body of work on sociolinguistics, and specifically on Arabic sociolinguistics. While this book is a significant contribution to the field of sociolinguistic analysis, its true strength is its value to students interested in pursuing research associated with the Arab world. It will draw their attention to certain sociohistorical, cultural, and political aspects and their intertwining with the different linguistic features in the Arab world.

- Aleya Rouchdy, Wayne State University, Language in Society
"Bassiouney's book not only introduces various theoretical approaches, but also presents empirical data in order to illustrate the usefulness and limitations of these approaches."
- Muhammad Amara (Beit Berl Academic College), Language Policy (2010)