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Review of  Arabic and the Media

Reviewer: Islam Youssef
Book Title: Arabic and the Media
Book Author: Reem Bassiouney
Publisher: Brill
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Issue Number: 22.2678

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EDITOR: Reem Bassiouney
TITLLE: Arabic and the Media
SUBTITLEL: Linguistic Analyses and Applications
SERIES TITLLE: Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics 57
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

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


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.

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.

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