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Language Ideology: A Study of Arabic Language and Nationalism

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Free «Language Ideology: A Study of Arabic Language and Nationalism» Essay Sample

Language, in most countries, is considered a symbol of national unity. Many people often associate a language with a particular nation, for example, Arabic language is associated with the Arab nation. Nationalists, following this line of reasoning, are working as a rule to ensure that their national language remains pure and true to their cultural heritage. According to Hoigilt and Mejdell (2017), in the discourse of language, it is identified with four themes: unity, purity, continuity, and completion. Nonetheless, different languages managed to spring up; as time goes by, other dialects have emerged. For example, in Arab world, fuṣḥā is the widely recognized native language; however, ʿāmmiyya is currently being widely used in Egypt, and while it was initially considered corrupt, it is now slowly taking root in mainstream linguistic channels in Egypt. Essentially, language ideology is simply a belief and feeling about a language. The purpose of this paper is to examine effect of language ideology on language practices and development by specifically examining the Arab language. The study of language ideology is important in understanding the social structure of the society and ways language ideologies play a critical role in promoting nationalism.

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Definition of Language Ideology

Several research studies have attempted to put forth the correct definition of language ideology. For instance, Piller (2015) defined language ideology as the beliefs and feelings about a language. In defining the notion, the author used variations in perception by different English speakers in the USA: Americans, African Americans, and Indians (Piller, 2015). Since the name given to a language has intrinsic meaning, for example, African-American English ideology homogeneously refers to African-American race (Lippi-Green, 2012). Thus, English language ideology refers to the beliefs and feelings about English language. Similarly, Spotti (2011) defined language ideology as belief systems, including cultural, social, and national beliefs that surround a particular language. This explanation is inclined towards defining language ideology in the context of nationalism.

Another definition provided by Mallinson (2015) implies that language ideologies “are judgments about language and language varieties and are often expressed in moral or aesthetic terms” (Mallinson (2015). Essentially, linguistic ideology is a multidisciplinary concept that borrows heavily from linguistics and anthropology, according to Mallinson (2015). In this regard, language ideology plays a critical role in social construct. Hoigilt and Mejdell (2017), on the other hand, based their definition on the context of sociolinguistics. According to them, the proper definition of language ideology must encompass both the linguistic and social aspects. That is to say, language ideology describes the linguistic features of a language in the social context; in addition, language ideology then becomes a social construct as opposed to mental construct. Therefore, based on the above-mentioned explanations, language ideology can be defined as the beliefs, feelings, and general perception about a language that confer on it an intrinsic homogenous characteristic in relation to other languages in the society.

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Furthermore, language ideology as a field of study refers to “the body of works that emerged primarily from a linguistic anthropology” (Vassey, 2017). Consequently, the main objective of the research on language ideology is to understand and establish links between languages, grammar, and speech as well as between nation, race, and other social and cultural aspects (Vassey, 2017). Thus, the study of language ideology becomes important in understanding the sociopolitical context in which a particular language is used.

As for the correct approach when it comes to studying language ideology, researchers have advanced arguments. Primarily, the study of the concept should be focused on both explicit and implicit manifestations of language ideology (Vassey, 2017). By this line of reasoning, language ideology can be manifested explicitly in the written form according to standardization of grammar and spelling and/or can be manifested implicitly in the way a language is perceived in the society. In this case, researchers apply a methodology that makes it possible to study both implicit and explicit manifestations of language ideology (Subtirelu, 2013). For example, quantitative methods use the analysis of a newspaper to study implicit language ideology, while qualitative methods involve interview and questionnaire to study the explicit manifestation of language ideology.

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Language Ideology and Language Standardization

Language ideology influences language practices and development largely. Generally, experts have agreed that a language develops from a speech (Bassiouney & Katz, 2012). To prove it, several research studies have examined the formation of a standard language. Analysis of language ideology and its effect on language practices and development should begin with examining language standardization, including factors that come into play when selecting a standard language. Bassiouney and Katz (2012) observed that standardization of a language is mediated by language ideology. A standard language is formed through process of codification of grammar, spelling, lexicon, and pronunciation (Eades, 2012). Usually, a language is selected from different existing dialects. In case a community has several dialects, the native one is often chosen or the one that is closely connected to it.

Evidently, language standardization is a complex phenomenon. The study conducted by Bassiouney and Katz (2012) stated three main reasons: (1) while standard languages constantly change the rate of codification of grammar, spelling and lexicon modification is slow; (2) the standard language must be accepted by its users before it can be considered standard; (3) since standard language reflects the social, cultural, and political identity of a nation, the standardization is politically motivated. In this regard, language standardization is often, as argued by some researchers, a kind of ideology (Bassiouney & Katz, 2012). Thus, in order to understand the social and cultural aspects of a society, including nationalism, it is imperative to consider a standard language above all. To provide an example of language standardization, for example, based on Arabic language, firstly, the manifestation of language ideology in the Arabic language should be examined. Then, it is important to examine the level of influence language ideology has on the Arabic language practices and development. The last step is to analyze aspects in which language ideology has promoted Arab nationalism.

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Language Ideology: Arabic Language

Language ideology is manifested in the process of selection of standard language. Research study by Bassiouney and Katz (2012) found that while the studies of Arab linguistic tradition reveal many Arabic dialects, fuṣḥā was selected the standard language as this dialect was used in Qurʾān. Additionally, Hoigilt and Mejdell(2017) stated that since a standard language is a “unifying medium of communication across the large community,” it reflects the ideals of the society. Considering that Islam is the religion of Arabs and Qurʾān was the holy scripture of Muslims, evidently, fuṣḥā as a standard language was largely adopted to unite Arabs under one religion. According to Vassey (2017), language ideology is implicitly manifested in the standard language used by a nation. The link between language and national religion is clearly represented in the Arabic standard language. The sacredness of Qurʾān automatically gives fuṣḥā what is termed as “regime of authority,” which according to Hoigilt and Mejdell (2017), satisfies the four elements of language discourse: unity, purity, continuity, and completion. Thus, fuṣḥā has been given elevated moral stature to the extent that other dialects such as ʿāmmiyya are often considered morally failing. Accordingly, the language ideology in Arabic language has been clearly manifested in the standard language.

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Among other Arabic dialects, Arabic standard language fuṣḥā is the only one that is subjected to standardization for written language. The grammar, spelling, and lexicon of fuṣḥā have been standardized to ensure uniformity across Arab communities. Since it is the only coded written language with strict grammatical rules and spelling, Arabs regard fuṣḥā as the true Arabic language (Hoigilt & Mejdell, 2017). While ʿāmmiyya is gaining popularity in some parts of the Arab world, the fact that it is not coded makes it less superior to fuṣḥā. The beliefs and feelings attached to fuṣḥā have played significant role in its acceptance in the wide Arab community above other Arab dialects. Bassiouney and Katz (2012) stated that Arabic speakers had a strong belief that challenging rules of Arabic grammar itself means challenging the Arabic language, since the true description of the language, its correctness, morality, and purity is based on the established grammar rules.

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Most importantly, mainstream linguistic channels, such as national newspapers, print news media, and academies are helpful in determining language ideology at play. According to Vassey (2017), analysis of linguistic channels is important in identifying implicit language ideology. The author observed that language used in news print media and education setting was considered superior and was highly admired by those who were capable to use the language but to a limited extent (Vassey, 2017). Similarly, Piller (2015) found that people who spoke American Standard English were more likely to be successful in public affairs than those who spoke non-standard languages such as African-American English. In particular, Arabic linguistics categorizes Arab dialects into two: high and low. The high (H) language is used in formal setting, for example, academies and print news media, while the low (L) language is used in less formal setting, such as peer conversations and social media networks. Generally, L Arabic language is known as vernacular, and its use is not officially monitored for fear of abuse or corruption. Alternatively, H Arabic language is strictly monitored: the use of grammar, correct spelling, and pronunciation must be appropriate. Additionally, H Arabic language is associated with elite and educated class. More specifically, Arabic speakers classify fuṣḥā as the H Arabic language. However, simply by examining the linguistic channels for fuṣḥā, one can get a feeling of superiority of fuṣḥā over other Arab dialects. Therefore, Arabic speakers choose an Arabic dialect such as ʿāmmiyya when targeting less formal audience. In this regard, writing in ʿāmmiyya is popular in less formal linguistic channels, for instance, social media and youth magazines.

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Furthermore, Brustad (2017) found that writings in Arabic, fuṣḥā, and ʿāmmiyya are largely perceived differently. The study reveals that while it is acceptable to make grammatical errors when writing in ʿāmmiyya, Arab speakers are attentive to any mistakes that might appear when writing in fuṣḥā, which obviously are undesirable. The widespread notion among Arabic speakers states that if a person is going to write in fuṣḥā, then he or she must observe the correct orthography (Brustad, 2017). Thus, simply by observing the correctness of orthography in Arabic writing, that is, the high standard of orderliness and purity in grammar and spelling, a person is able to identify the standard language. In this regard, ideology of the standard language can be identified from other Arabic dialects, simply by analysis of Arabic writing.

Language ideology also has direct influence on language practices and development. As discussed above, writing in Arabic dialects is based on the ideology of Arabic dialects. Brustad (2017) observed that fuṣḥā and ʿāmmiyya were used differently in writing. The development of fuṣḥā was highly structured and centered on maintaining the purity and norms of correctness. Other studies also have examined the effect of language ideology on language development. Piller (2015) observed that the beliefs people ascribed to standard languages, for example, fuṣḥā, drew much attention to academicians and other linguistic professionals to monitor their development. Similarly, because of high value ascribed to the standard language, its original words are likely to be found in dictionaries. In this line of reasoning, Arabic speakers rank languages according to their closeness to the standard language fuṣḥā (Hoigilt and Mejdell, 2017). Thus, language ideology is implicitly revealed in the process of language development and practices as well as affects the development of a standard language.

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Moreover, it is imperative to point out that fuṣḥā is slowly losing ground as the standard written language in the Arab world. Hoigilt (2011) and Vassey (2017) found that with the emergence of other linguistic channels, for instance, social media, many Arab speakers started to use other dialects such as ʿāmmiyya in writing. Younger generations also prefer a less formal language in writing, which according to Vassey (2017), meets their needs. Additionally, Hoigilt (2011) found that mixed styles of writing became popular in Egypt and Morocco, especially in mainstream linguistic channels, such as print news media and magazines. Overall, the conducted research studies have predicted a change in standard language ideology, from conservative form to a more variant and liberal form.

Language Ideology: Nationalism

Several research studies have examined the role of language ideology in promotion of nationalism. For instance, researches by Hoigilt and Mejdell (2017) as well as by Vassey (2017) showed that language ideology has significantly promoted nationalism. Another research by Hoigilt (2017) specifically discovered that Arabic language is heavily ideological because of its linkage to nationalism and religion. According to Coulmas (2013), the writing style, including grammar rules and spelling, reflects that the society can extract beliefs systems such as sociopolitical. Arabic standard language, fuṣḥā, primarily represents united Arab nation. It falls under the phrase “one nation, one language,” which is often used to show the close ties that language has with nationality (Piller, 2015; Branchadell, 2012). According to Piller (2015), the general opinion that having a standard language is important for national cohesion and spirit of nationalism is entrenched in the framework of language ideology. The moral standards of Arabic speakers are reflected on their fuṣḥā language. For instance, Arabic speakers consider fuṣḥā as reflecting the Arabic cultural beliefs to the point that challenging fuṣḥā grammar is considered challenging tenets of Qurʾān. Bassiouney and Katz (2012) argued that Arabic language ideology indicates that Arabic language reflects the “wisdoms of Arabs,” that is, the intelligence, superiority, and originality of their language. In this regard, fuṣḥā language is largely considered the repository of the Arab worldview (Bassiouney & Katz, 2012). Thus, according to the findings presented above, language ideology has successfully promoted nationalism among Arab communities.

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In conclusion, the conducted research examined the effect of language ideology on language practices and development. From the findings of previous studies, it is evident that language ideology plays a significant role in selecting the standard language, for example, fuṣḥā. Additionally, standardization of language forms ideology as a standard language implicitly manifests language ideology. Lastly, the research has established the significant role played by language ideology in promotion of nationalism. However, future research studies on use of lexical variables in the identification of language ideologies are recommended.

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