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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."


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Academic Paper


Title: Written Arabic of Personal Letters
Author: Jamil Daher
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: New York University
Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: Arabic, Standard
Abstract: In diglossic speech communities, it is common to speak of the divergence between the spoken and written varieties of the language. In Arabic, this divergence is especially pronounced. “Standard” and “written” are largely synonymous because Standard is virtually the only written variety. Conversations with relatives or close friends are conducted in the most relaxed form of Arabic: the colloquial dialect with which we grow up. Letters from these same individuals, however, are written primarily in Standard Arabic. I have argued elsewhere that the Standard and colloquial varieties of Arabic are neither discrete nor homogeneous but that they occupy portions of a continuum of variation. While spoken Arabic includes a great deal of variation, however, written Arabic admits very little. /L//L/This paper is an attempt to describe the written Arabic of personal letters. Is this form of written Arabic closer to the way we speak than other, more formal, written texts which are intended for public consumption? If informal spoken Arabic includes features from both Standard and colloquial, is this also true of the relatively informal written Arabic of personal letters? The primary focus here is on the use of colloquial Arabic in personal letters and the circumstances of such use. /L//L/The data are drawn from two sources. The primary source consists of 555 handwritten personal letters, totaling 1212 pages, written to the author between 1986 and 1997 by relatives and friends from different parts of Syria. The second data source consists of responses to questionnaires about the use of colloquial and/or Standard Arabic in personal letters. These questionnaires were distributed, directly and via the Internet, to individuals who write personal letters in Arabic. The personal letters were examined for various Standard and colloquial elements, including the use of punctuation, vowelling, conversational expressions common to both Standard and Colloquial or indicative of one or the other variety and syntactic features such as the colloquial bi-imperfect. The responses to the questionnaires, totaling 78, from Arabic speakers of eight different nationalities, were analyzed for patterns in the respondents’ descriptions of their use of colloquial Arabic in personal letters./L//L/In writing personal letters, we are less likely to observe the prescribed rules of written Arabic than in more formal writing. Nevertheless, variation in written Arabic is very limited compared to that in spoken Arabic. Certain linguistic and social factors appear to correlate with the use of colloquial elements in the written Arabic of personal letters. These include 1) the writer’s linguistic skill: language ability, education, occupation, interest; 2) the relationship between the writer and the addressee; and 3) the desire to convey humor or to preserve the spoken word (reported speech, jokes, proverbs, songs). These letter writers are clearly aware of what they are writing: most of the colloquial words, expressions and proverbs were underlined or were set off by parentheses or quotation marks. Of particular interest is the fact that the letter writers tend to represent their own reported speech in Standard while representing that of others in colloquial.
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Publication Info: Dahesh Voice
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