English as a Lingua Franca: Evolution of Arab Linguistic and Cultural Identity


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English has increasingly emerged as the lingua franca in the Arabian Gulf, relegating Arabic to a secondary role. This has challenged Gulf Arabs’ self-perceptions, causing resistance to the perceived imperialistic nature of English (Zughoul 2003). However, few studies have investigated the cultural, linguistic and societal aspects of English as a lingua franca (ELF) in the Gulf, more so in the State of Qatar.

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English as a Lingua Franca: Evolution of Arab Linguistic and Cultural Identity

  1. 1. English as a Lingua Franca: Evolution of Arab Linguistic Identity 23 January, 2012 Foundation Program Qatar University by Ozgur Pala
  2. 2. What?• Dominance of English has challenged Gulf Arabs’ self-perceptions about their language and culture.• No study has investigated how English as a lingua franca (ELF) affects and shapes cultural and linguistic identity of locals in Qatar.• This research study replicates Seppala’s study (2011) conducted in China.
  3. 3. Overview• Historical Perspective• Research Questions and Aim• Respondents• Methods of Data Collection• Conclusions and Implications• Limitations• Future Research
  4. 4. Qatar• Ottoman Rule until 1916• British Protectorate between 1916-1971• Strategic location = trade routes to India• Rich gas reserves• Incredible pace of economic growth
  5. 5. English in Qatar• Geographical location = close contact with other languages and cultures• Positive attitudes towards English = integration of English into public schools• Globalization & economic growth = foreigners• Grand scale investments in education (in English)• English dominates every sphere of Qatari life• Arabic challenged & relegated• Concerns about Arabic L & Arab cultural identity
  6. 6. Research Questions1. Has the increasing need for and use of English affected the Qataris, their linguistic and cultural identity?2. Have the Qatari university students’ attitudes towards Arab (and Western) culture and Arabic language changed with increased knowledge of English and the Western culture(s)?
  7. 7. Aim• The aim of the study is exploring: – how has ELF changed respondents’ attitudes towards Arabic and Arab culture. – how those attitudes shape their cultural identity as modern, educated Qatari Arabs.
  8. 8. Methods of Data Collection• Questionnaire – online – 29 Qs, some semi-open • follow-up Q such as “if yes, how?”, “if yes/no, why?” – given one week to complete – 95 respondents – Arabic translation of some difficult concepts – not possible to leave and resume – Answers are personal, no help from classmates or friends
  9. 9. Methods of Data Collection• Interview – 2 weeks after the Q – A’s from whole class discussion and selected respondents – Qs in advance; additional explanations provided – dictionary allowed – took 2 weeks
  10. 10. Methods of Data Collection• Interview – semi-structured – Most Qs repeated in different ways – some Qs skipped according to previous answers – free conversation style – Qs moved from simple and personal to complex and impersonal – No pre-set categories. Tried to include all representative answers. No numbers/percentages used while analyzing open-ended Qs.
  11. 11. 1. How old are you?4035302520151050 17 18 19 20 21 24 N/A
  12. 12. 2. What is your sex?100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Female The study will be done with males next semester and the results will be added to the present study.
  13. 13. 3. Where were you born? 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0Other Gulf Countries (Oman, Bahrain,(Syria, KSA, Kuwait, (Egypt, Tunusia, Algeria, etc.) Qatar Middle East UAE, North Africa Yemen) Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine) Other
  14. 14. 4. What is your mother language?100908070605040302010 0 Arabic Other
  15. 15. 5. What other languages (other than Arabic) do you speak fluently?100908070605040302010 0 English Farsi Urdu Bengali Balooshi
  16. 16. 6. & 7. What is your father’s/mother’s most recent degree?4035302520151050 Elementary High School BA MA PhD School
  17. 17. 8. Which other members of your immediate family speak English fluently?706050403020100 Father Mother Sister Brother No one
  18. 18. 9. How many years have you studied the English language?706050403020100 1-3 years 4-6 years 7-9 years 10-12 years
  19. 19. 10. & 11. Do you think that every non-Arabic speaker who lives in Qatar should/need learn and speak Arabic?70 SHOULD60 NEED TO50403020100 Yes No Skipped
  20. 20. 10. Do you think that everyone who lives in Qatar should learn and speak Arabic? Yes, because… A is the official L in Qatar 21 Easy communication with locals 17 Some ppl don’t understand E 13 A is good for finding jobs, friends 11 Q is an Arabic country 10We learn/speak E; they should learn/speak 5 A
  21. 21. 10. Do you think that everyone who lives in Qatar should learn and speak Arabic? No, because… E is common language 19 Arabic is difficult 17 A isnt needed for communication 15 E is more important than Arabic 9 Up to peoples choice 4 Everyone has own their own NL 3
  22. 22. 12. Do you think that all Arabs should speak Classical Arabic ( )?6050403020100 Yes No Skipped
  23. 23. 12. Do you think that all Arabs should speak Classical ( ) Arabic?Yes, because… Classical A is the L of Quran 25 Preserving (original) A is a 19 must Classical A will unite all Arabs 9
  24. 24. 12. Do you think that all Arabs should speak Classical ( ) Arabic?No, because… CA is difficult 55 CA is boring 35 CA isnt used in daily life/not practical 30 CA is for education only 25 Different dialects of A represent 5 different identities
  25. 25. 13. Do you think that people living in Arabic- speaking countries should learn Arabic?14. Do you think that all Arabs should learn the English language? 100 80 60 Should learn Arabic 40 Should learn English 20 0 Yes No Skipped
  26. 26. 15. Do you feel that the Arabic language is an important part of the Arab culture?100908070605040302010 0 Yes No Skipped
  27. 27. 15. Do you feel that the Arabic language is an important part of the Arab culture?Yes, because… A is the L of Quran; Arabs are Muslims 42 Customs, traditions conveyed with A 35 Arabic words carry A culture 15
  28. 28. 16. The increasing use of the English language in Qatar has changed the cultural identity ( ) of Qataris. Do you agree?706050403020100 Yes No Skipped
  29. 29. 17. In what areas do you feel the influence of English most in Qatar?35302520151050 Education Business All areas Banking Sports Skipped
  30. 30. 18. Do you think that learning Englishlanguage has affected your cultural identity?6050403020100 Yes No Skipped
  31. 31. 19 & 20 Studying the English language and culture has changed your opinion about theWestern/Arab culture, people and the way of life. 60 WESTERN 50 ARAB 40 30 20 10 0 Yes, positively Yes, negatively No Skipped
  32. 32. 21. Do you think that learning English in Qatar today is very important?9080706050403020100 Yes Not sure No Skipped
  33. 33. 22. In what ways do you think being fluent in English will affect your future?4035302520151050 Career Education Communication Travelling Skipped
  34. 34. 23. When you travel outside Qatar, which L’s do you use to communicate there?9080706050403020100 English Arabic Other Skipped
  35. 35. 24. What would you say your way of life ( ) is?6050403020100 Arabic A mixture of Hard to say Western Skipped Western and Arabic
  36. 36. 25. Which culture/way of life do you findmore attractive, the Arab or the Western?706050403020100 Arab Western Equally appealing Skipped
  37. 37. 26. Would you say you are the same as, ordifferent from, most Qatari Arab people in terms of your way of life, likes, dislikes, dreams, etc.?6050403020100 Same Different
  38. 38. 27. How do you feel about the introduction of Western customs (celebrating B-days,decorating a X-mas tree) into the Arab way of life?35302520151050 Very Good Good Doesn’t Bad Very Bad Skipped Matter
  39. 39. 28. Why?• Bad: Blind imitation is wrong 29 Western traditons are part of 19 Christianity Most Western traditions are 14 against Islamic principles
  40. 40. 28. Why?• Good: Some of these traditions increase our 4 knowledge about the West Some Western traditons are 3 interesting Every culture/religion has their 2 celebrations
  41. 41. 28. And 29 Compare yourself to your grandparentsand parents. Would you say your life/identity is very different from their life/identity? 80 Your Life 70 Your Identity 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Yes No Skipped
  42. 42. 28. If yes, how?Differences: Availability of technology 37 Availability of jobs 30 Availability of education 25 Availability of different kinds of food 17 Clothing 14 Way of thinking 11
  43. 43. INTERVIEW Qs & As
  44. 44. 1. What does being Arab mean to you? Islamic culture and being Muslim 50 speaking Arabic 30 different way of clothing 25 different way of thinking 23 strict rules/attitudes 21 less opportunities for women 18 being proud 15 respect for elders 10 closed society 7
  45. 45. 2. In your opinion, what does ‘Arab identity’ comprise of? Islam 87 Arabic language 59 Islamic traditions and customs 45 hospitality 35 having a great history 29 strong family relationships 24importance of having a good reputation 18 being conservative 12 dependence of family/relatives 9
  46. 46. 3. In your opinion, what does ‘Western identity’ comprise of? Christianity 32freedom to do whatever one wants 24 independence/individuality 20 immoral acts/behaviors 19 women enjoy more freedom 16 weak/lack of family relationships 14 colonialism 12 straighforwardness in words 6
  47. 47. 4. What do you consider to be the biggest differences between the Arab and the Western peoples and cultures? religion 87customs and traditions 79 mentality 75 clothing 63 language 61generosity & hospitality 35 level of education 32
  48. 48. Arab culture and identity1. Before you knew any English, how did you feel about being Arab? – Proud of being an Arab and speaking Arabic language.2. Did the meaning of being Arab change in any way for you while you were growing up? – The older they get the more proud they become. Recent political tensions between the West and the Arab world made them more proud.
  49. 49. 3. Do you think your ideas about the Arab culture and Arabness differ from those of your parents? What do you think causes the difference? – Yes, it differs a lot. – Parents know more about the past – Life is different: more opportunities for education, more money, – The way Arabs raise children has changed dramatically because of the financial power and opportunities money brought to the Gulf.
  50. 50. Western culture(s) and the English language1. Before you were taught any English, did you have some idea about the English speaking, or the Western world? If so, what was it based on, i.e. where had you learned about it? – TV, movies, schools, travelling Positive Negative sociable, some morals/behaviors, individualistic, ideas about Arabs and Islam, hardworking, no good relations with parents more straightforward, punctual, cultured and educated, care about environment,
  51. 51. 2. Do you feel that learning English at school gave you a better idea about the Western world? – Yes. Easier to understand them with English.3. Do you think your ideas about the Western culture(s) differ from those of your parents? Why do you think that is? – Yes, different. New generation knows more about how Western people think. Therefore, they are more flexible with them.
  52. 52. 4. Do you think that the pressure to learn English has somehow affected the Arab culture and/or the cultural identity of the Arabs? – Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, birthday celebrations, Valentine’s Day, etc. are becoming part of everyday culture. – These customs are portrayed as very attractive. – Most Arab children and teenagers find Western ideas, customs and ways of life very cool and they imitate it more and more. – Many Arab children can’t read/speak proper Arabic.
  53. 53. The relationship and the influences between the Arab and the Western cultures and identities1. How would you describe the relationship between Qatar and the Western world? – Stronger than any other culture or country in the region – Distance needed – Commercial relations OK
  54. 54. 2. Do you find globalization & internationalization to be positive or negative things for the Qatari/Arab culture and people?• Negative: many non-Islamic and non-Arab ideas, customs are candy-coated. One high- school teacher defined globalization as Amrekat al aa’lem: To make the whole world American.• Positive: Al Jazeera Arabic all over the world. More people are exposed to Arabic and Islam.
  55. 55. Conclusions• Great pressure to learn English.• Although mostly positive, contradictory attitudes towards English.• Anti-colonialism discourse not very prominent.• English is seen as an instrument towards better jobs and more money. “Necessity may overpower attitude” (Edwards, 1985: 146).• Positive views about freedom and independence = may implicate that young Qataris are already viewing their identity & culture partly through Western values.
  56. 56. Conclusions• Struggle with defining cultural identity through the benefits of globalization, while trying to preserve Arabic and traditional Arab/Muslim values. – attracted to the ideas (freedom & independence) and products (luxury items) of the West feel – alarmed about/criticize the gradual diminishing of Arabic & Arab culture and loose family bonds or ‘perceived’ free sexual relations• Reservations about the processes of globalization & internationalization.
  57. 57. Conclusions and Implications• Generational gap is obvious.• While there is great pressure to learn new ways to function in a global world, there is also pressure to represent/preserve the profound Arab/Muslim culture.• Central cultural structures are being dismantled. Fragmentation of linguistic cultural identity = Identity- crisis
  58. 58. Limitations• Respondents: conducted with only females. (The study will be done with males at the same place next semester and the results will be added to the present study.)• Sampling: how representative are the respondents of the locals?• Researcher’s presence: effect on the authenticity of the situation and the genuineness of the answers• Language problems: numerous grammar and spelling errors• Terms used: offering a sufficient explanation of the term cultural identity.• Analysis: Was difficult to tally semi-open Qs
  59. 59. • Thank you for your attendance.• Please feel free to ask questions.• Please e-mail me if you have any questions: ozgur.pala@qu.edu.qa
  60. 60. References• Abuhamdia, Z. (1988). “Speech Diversity and Language Unity: Arabic as an Integrating Factor.” The Politics of Arab Integration. Eds. Giacomo Luciani and Ghassan Salame. New York, NY: Croom Helm. 33-53.• Ahmed, M. (2010). We Arabs Are Killing Arabic. Emirates 7/24. Retrieved from: http://www.emirates247.com/columns/analysis/we-arabs-are- killing-arabic-2010-08-01-1.273429• Al Buainain, Hassan & Madani, (2011). Use of English by Graduates of Qatar University in the Workplace: A Quantitative Analysis. Arab World English Journal. 2 (1): 140-185.• Al Sharekh A. & Springborg, R. (eds) (2008), Popular Culture and Political Identity in the Arab Gulf States. London, Saqi.• Charise, A. (2007). More English, Less Islam? An Overview of English Language Functions in the Arabian/Persian Gulf. Retrieved from:• Edwards, J. (1985). Language, Society and Identity. Worcester: Billing & Sons Ltd.
  61. 61. References• Glasser, Susan B. “Qatar Reshapes its Schools, Putting English Over Islam.” Washington Post Sunday February 2, 2003: A20.• Hundley, T. (2010) Is Arabic A Dying Language. Global Post. Retrieved from http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/middle- east/100216/arabic-endangered-language• Peel, Richard. (2004). “The Internet and Language Use: A Case Study in the United Arab Emirates. International Journal on Multicultural Societies 6 (1): 146-58.• Seppälä, M. (2011). The Effects of the English Language on the Cultural Identity of Chinese University Students. Retrieved from: https://jyx.jyu.fi/dspace/bitstream/handle/123456789/26616/URN %3ANBN%3Afi%3Ajyu-201103011836.pdf?sequence=1