LINGUIST List 29.3384

Tue Sep 04 2018

Review: Afroasiatic; Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis; Language Acquisition; Pragmatics; Sociolinguistics: Gebril (2017)

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Date: 16-Jan-2018
From: Camille Jacob <>
Subject: Applied Linguistics in the Middle East and North Africa
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Atta Gebril
TITLE: Applied Linguistics in the Middle East and North Africa
SUBTITLE: Current practices and future directions
SERIES TITLE: AILA Applied Linguistics Series 15
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Camille Jacob, University of Portsmouth


This collection is part of John Benjamins's AILA (Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquée) Applied Linguistics Series and purposes to address the lack of published research regarding the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) (p. 2). It is aimed at scholars and students of Applied Linguistics as a showcase, a resource and a roadmap of both existing and future research (p. 8). Following an introduction by Atta Gebril, who edited the volume and also contributed its final chapter, the book is divided into three sections entitled Language in Society, Language in Education and Future Directions.

The first section focuses on language use, including 'language and politics, issues of identities, linguistic landscape, and language policy' (p. 2), offering case studies from Tunisia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Lebanon. In the first chapter within this section, Naima Boussofara takes Bourdieu's concepts of bodily hexis and authorised acts to demonstrate how former Tunisian president Ben Ali's last three televised speeches in December 2010 and January 2011 exemplify the links between the body, speech acts and linguistic, symbolic and political power. She describes his attempt at using Tunisian Arabic instead of Modern Standard Arabic as a 'thwarted linguistic coup' (p. 27) and contrasts Ben Ali's choices with the multilingual polyphony of the streets (p. 23) and his predecessor Bourguiba's performative use of Tunisian Arabic (pp. 20-33). Reem Bassiouney (Chapter 3), Alexander M. Lewko (Chapter 4) and Marilyn Plumlee (Chapter 6) use different methodologies to investigate the complexity of the contemporary Egyptian linguistic context. Based on Egyptian films that tackle the question of religion directly as well as patriotic songs, Bassiouney shows that 'language variation in Egypt, especially phonological and syntactic variation, is based on locality, class, gender, and factors other than religion' (p. 43) and that religiosity, rather than the religion itself, is often mentioned as a shared characteristic of an Egyptian national identity (pp. 51-58). Looking at the Cairene linguistic landscape, Plumlee highlights the fact that the multilingual signage is less a symbol 'of a new-found super-diversity' than confirmation of a rich heritage (p. 115), from the Rosetta Stone to signs in French and Greek, now complemented with Korean, Chinese, Somali, Malay and English (pp. 125-142). The inclusion of nearly thirty colour photographs allows the author to discuss the dynamics of the linguistic landscape and how these intersect with changes in the social context, including migration, socio-economic make-ups of neighbourhoods, the use of arabizi (Arabic written using the Latin script, commonly found online) and the connections between English and elite closure, as well as mentioning areas requiring further research (pp. 155-156). In contrast, Lewko used questionnaires and interviews to investigate the attitudes of undergraduate students at an English-medium private university with regard to English, and its links to solidarity and power. He notes how ownership of English and perceptions of the language as elitist varied depending on context of use (pp. 72-77) and suggests some implications for the classroom (pp. 78-81). Similarly, Laila S. Dahan (Chapter 5) draws on questionnaires and interviews with her students in the UAE to question how Arabic and English feature in their construction of identity, arguing that 'this group of Arab youth has found a comfort zone between their Arab identity and the global English and globalisation which surrounds them' (p. 106). The final chapter in this section (Chapter 7) takes a historical approach to the 'ongoing rivalry' between English and French in Lebanon, from missionary language policies before 1920 (pp. 163-164) to today's choices of language in schools and the media (pp. 168-171) and attitudes towards language mixing (p. 174). Kassim Shaaban concludes his contribution by contending that the real question for Lebanon is the impact of these dynamics on the use of Arabic in the country, rather than the competition between two foreign languages (pp. 175-178).

The second section comprises six chapters about language in education in the MENA, covering surveys of the entire region (Chapters 10 and 12) as well as case studies of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (Chapters 8, 9 and 11 respectively) and an overview of the use of corpora in teaching and learning Arabic vocabulary (Chapter 13). Two of these chapters are directly concerned with language requirements and pre-entry testing in higher education settings. Bjorn Norrbom and Abdulrahman Al-Shamrani (Chapter 9) assess the Standardised Test of Arabic Proficiency in Speakers of Other Languages (STAPSOL) developed in Saudi Arabia as a prerequisite for 'non-native speakers' who wanted to pursue Arabic-medium undergraduate study (p. 207). This chapter both reviews available information about other existing tests (pp. 204-206) and evaluates the reliability, sensitivity and validity of STAPSOL for 'test takers and test score users' (p. 210-219). Deena Boraie, Elizabeth Arrigoni and Jonah Moos (Chapter 10) focus on English-medium universities instead, investigating both the language criteria used for selection and the availability of language support. By bringing together data from across the MENA region, this chapter aims to provide 'a baseline for future investigations into specific practices related to test score use and interpretation' (p. 228). In Chapter 8, Dudley W. Reynolds discusses a theoretical model of multilingual reading (pp. 186-189) and uses action research to draw up and evaluate a pilot assessment instrument of the multilingual reading strategies used by Qatari pupils in science (pp. 191-197), also offering further suggestions and alternatives (pp. 197-198). Chapters 11 and 12 explore teacher training in contrasting ways, with Hanada Taha outlining an overview of Arabic language teacher education across the region, whereas Lori Fredricks analyses computer-mediated narratives-in-interaction regarding culture, teaching and language acquisition in student teachers from Egypt and the United States enrolled at an Egyptian university. The latter (Chapter 12) exemplifies both the role narratives serve in teacher reflection (pp. 264-265) and the pedagogical potential of online forums (p. 259). Drawing from existing literature, international standardised tests and online information about pre-service training in Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt, Hanada Taha (Chapter 11) argues that the poor results obtained by Arabic-speaking countries in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) are due to the lack of attention paid to literacy in education reforms (p. 273), the low status of Arabic language teachers (p. 270-272) and the uneven quality of pre-service training and continuous professional development (pp. 274-282). The final chapter in this section (Chapter 13) concerns itself with giving 'an overview of some key aspects of Arabic lexis that can be examined straightforwardly with corpora' (p. 289). Ashraf Abdou uses five existing Arabic corpora to present specific teaching examples, before offering broader suggestions of how corpus-based investigations can be integrated into decisions about language progression in textbooks or used to increase learners' autonomy and trainee teachers' reflexivity (pp. 301-303).

The third section of the book contains three theoretical and conceptual chapters investigating the future of language use in the region in view of 'the dynamic interaction among different variables including globalisation, technology, and sociopolitical realities' (p. 7). In Chapter 14, John Eisele reviews existing research on Arabic 'futurology' (pp. 310-314) and the tropes of unity, purity, competition and continuity (p. 319). He then explains the contradictory and complementary trends between the macro level, where Classical Arabic exerts a centripetal force towards greater unity, and the micro level, 'towards increased genomic diversity' (p. 328-339). Aiming to take the concept of language proficiency beyond a focus on assessments, Mahdi Alosh (Chapter 15) proposes to apply the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Language Proficiency Guidelines to Arabic curriculum design and teaching methods. Finally, mirroring the structure of this volume Atta Gebril (Chapter 16) suggests trajectories for future research on 'language in the society' (pp. 364-368) and 'language in education' (pp. 369-373). The recommended themes include identity building in refugee communities (p. 365), online speech communities and language change (p. 366), linguistic landscapes in rural areas (p. 367), linguistic diversity in the classroom (p. 371), why and how to teach English (p. 372), and teaching training (p. 373).


As the editor points out, the MENA receives relatively less international academic attention than other regions regarding Applied Linguistics, and as such the present volume is a welcome addition to the literature. It combines a broad range of topics and of methodologies, thereby providing a helpful showcase of the breadth of research currently being undertaken about languages in and about the MENA. The extensive bibliographies provided by each contributor mean that the volume is an excellent springboard from which to explore further, and the focus on Arabic teaching and learning is particularly welcome. As Boraie, Arrigoni and Moos (Chapter 10) mention, the challenges of access to information, whether because of institutional practices or individual reluctance, are a particular problem for comparative research (p. 234). Nonetheless, it is disappointing that the opportunity was not seized to build more bridges with Arabic-language academic research: many chapters' bibliography only contain sources written in English, and in other chapters the Arabic sources seem to have been translated without providing the original title.

While the volume will be of interest to all researchers working on the MENA region, it is particularly strong on its Egyptian chapters, with Bassiouney, Lewko and Plumlee providing in-depth and complementary case studies of the links between linguistic practices, identity and social change. Beyond its diverse thematic foci, this collection is therefore particularly recommended to scholars working on Egypt and on the Gulf, and would be an enlightening complement to Robert Kirkpatrick’s overview of English language education policies in the region (2017). As fourteen out of the eighteen contributors are from American universities or outposts of US universities in the MENA (including six from the American University in Cairo), it would have been interesting to know more about how the chapters were selected and whether expertise at those institutions differs from that of other Higher Education Institutions in the region.

Nonetheless, this is a recommended read for researchers working on the MENA region, and scholars of Sociolinguistics and Didactics more generally will find individual chapters worthy of reflection and discussions.


Kirkpatrick, Robert (ed.). 2017. English Language Education Policy in the Middle East and North Africa. New York: Springer.


Camille Jacob is a PhD candidate at the University of Portsmouth (UK). Her research interests include linguistic practices in postcolonial settings, the production of discourses about languages and identity, and contemporary Algeria.

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