Standard language ideology and prescriptivism in the Arabic-speaking world.
In J. Beal, M. Lukač & R. Straaijer (Eds.), Routledge handbook of linguistic prescriptivism (pp. 287–303). Routledge.
This chapter describes Arabic prescriptivism by drawing on examples from a variety of sources. Arabic prescriptivism differs from that of many other modern languages in being conditioned by diglossia and a significant historical distance to the codification. The standard variety is often seen as essential to nationalist and religious identities and is portrayed as being under existential threat by non-standard varieties. Alternative forms within the standard variety are in prescriptive works evaluated for correctness exclusively on the basis of works from the classical heritage. The dominant Arabic language ideology and its associated prescriptivism have considerable effects, most importantly in education.
This article describes a novel approach for combining the teaching of Standard Arabic (SA) and Vernacular Arabic (VA) developed at the University of Gothenburg. This approach (Parallel Text- based Approach, or PTA) is characterized by two features: a) VA and SA are taught in separate parallel courses, and b) instruction in VA is based on transcribed dialogues. These features go against common recommendations in the literature, in particular those of the influential so-called integrated approach. Drawing on the concept of communicative competence, it is argued that both of these practices have significant pedagogical benefits that have been neglected in the literature. For example, the teaching SA and VA in separate courses provides for a structured way of exploiting the linguistic overlap between the two varieties and makes possible the allocation of specialized teacher resources. Basing the instruction of VA on transcribed dialogues facilitates classroom discussion of sociolinguistic and pragmatic features and makes linguistic features in VA more discoverable to students than is the case when they are only presented aurally. This approach may be an attractive alternative to the integrated approach for program developers seeking to add instruction in VA to an existing Arabic program.
The Arabic script has a set of optional diacritics (taškīl) that primarily indicate short vowels. These diacritics are used to varying extents, giving a form of orthographic variation potentially affecting every word in a text and various aspects of the reading process. This study is the first empirical investigation into the variation in how Arabic diacritics are used. It employs quantitative corpus linguistic methods to explore diacritization in a 72-million-word corpus consisting of book-length texts of various genres. Children’s literature and poetry were found to vary considerably in the number of diacritics used, while books of normal prose fall within a narrow range of limited use of diacritics. Furthermore, the different diacritics, subdivided by function, were found to follow a hierarchical order of priority that is largely consistent across genres. These findings call into question common descriptions of the Arabic writing system as binarily diacritized or undiacritized. Further lines of research based on these findings are suggested.
Variation in the use of diacritics in modern typeset Standard Arabic: a theoretical and descriptive framework.
Arabica, 69, 279–317. PDF
The extent to which the diacritic layer (taškīl) of the Arabic writing system is employed in modern typeset text differs considerably between genres and individual texts, with many in-between forms not aptly captured by the traditional binary categories of “vowelled” and “unvowelled” text. This article is the first to present a theoretical account of this variation applicable to modern typeset Standard Arabic. It is suggested that diacritics serve three basic functions: facilitation of reading comprehension; facilitation of prescriptively correct diction; and to evoke associations with other texts. Six modes of diacritization in modern typeset text are identified and related to data on rates of diacritization from a corpus of electronically published books. Further lines of research based on this framework are suggested.
Case and mood inflection in Formal Spoken Arabic: a quantitative investigation.
Zeitschrift für arabische Linguistik, 74, 61–86. PDF
This article presents results from a quantitative investigation of the use of case and mood inflection (CMI) in seventeen televised news-interviews (38,000 words) with Arab politicians and public figures with a variety of backgrounds. The speech of the interviewees was transcribed and annotated for realization of CMI and for relevant morphosyntactic parameters. Speakers were found to vary in the amount of CMI in their speech, but all perform far below the prescriptive ideal, with realizations of case inflection ranging from 0.2% to 42.3% (mean 7.5%, median 3.6%) and mood inflection from 0% to 68.5% (mean 9.9%, median 2.5%). Furthermore, speakers show striking similarities in how the CMI that they do use is distributed in morphosyntactic contexts. First, CMI is for all speakers used at markedly higher rates on words with enclitic pronouns and on words where CMI is orthographically represented. Second, for words with definite article, CMI is almost completely absent. Implications of these results for Arabic language instruction are discussed.
Hallberg, A. & Niehorster, D.
Parsing written language with non-standard grammar: an eye-tracking study of case marking in Arabic.
Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 43(1), 27–48. PDF
Morphologically marked case is in Arabic a feature exclusive to the variety of Standard Arabic, with no parallel in the spoken varieties, and it is orthographically marked only on some word classes in specific grammatical situations. In this study we test the hypothesis that readers of Arabic do not parse sentences for case and that orthographically marked case can therefore be removed with no effect on reading. Twenty-nine participants read sentences in which one of the two most frequent types of orthographically marked case was either retained or omitted, while their eye-movements were monitored. The removal of case marking from subjects in the sound masculine plural declension (changing the suffix ‑ūn ـون to ‑īn ـين) had no negative effect on gaze duration, regressions out, or go-past time. The removal of case marking form direct objects in the triptote declension (omitting the suffix -an ـاً) did however resulted in an increase in these measures. These results indicate that only some forms of case marking are required in the grammar used by readers for parsing written text.
Hallberg, A. (2017). Några egenheter i arabisk standardspråksideologi. In H. Rahm (Ed.) Vetenskapssocieteten i Lund. Årsbok 2017 (pp. 39–48). Vetenskapssocieteten i Lund. PDF
I den arabiska språksfären är det vanliga talspråket - dialekterna - mycket annorlunda än standardarabiska, den form av arabiska som används i skrift och som endast talas i mycket formella sammanhang. Ingen arabisktalande person har standardarabiska som sitt modersmål; det är ett utpräglat skrift- och bildningsspråk. Det finns en mycket stark uppfattning i den arabiska språksfären att dialekterna inte är ”riktig” arabiska, att de inte har någon grammatik, att de representerar ett moraliskt och intellektuellt förfall och att det inte går att tänka eller tala om avancerade ting på dialekterna. Detta att bara betrakta en form av ett språk som korrekt och riktig och att nedvärdera alla andra former finns i olika utsträckning i i stort sett alla moderna språkgemenskaper. Bland lingvister som intresserar sig för föreställningar och idéer om språk kallas detta ofta för standardspråksideologi. Jag kommer här att beskriva hur denna dominerande ideologi tar sig mycket explicita uttryck i den arabiska språksfären och hur detta är en effekt just av det stora avståndet mellan talspråket och skriftspråket.
Hallberg, A. (2016). Case endings in Spoken Standard Arabic [Doctoral dissertation]. Lund University. PDF
Morphologically marked case is a salient Standard Arabic feature without parallel in Arabic dialects. As such it is a grammatical system learned by native speakers of Arabic through formal education. Case endings are traditionally regarded as an essential feature of Standard Arabic, but morphological case endings are used only sporadically in extemporaneous speech in formal situations where Standard Arabic is the expected variety. This study investigates how case endings that are used in speech are distributed in relation to morphosyntactic parameters with the aim of finding covert linguistic norms governing where case is and is not marked in speech. This is done by a quantitative analysis of a corpus consisting of 17 televised interviews of highly educated native speakers of Arabic. Only speech by the interviewees was analyzed, totaling 35 000 words or 5 h and 22 min. Nouns and adjectives in the corpus are annotated for morphosyntactic features, including if and how the case ending is produced. The data show that the rate of case marking differs widely between speakers, but also that there are patterns, consistent between speakers, of how case endings are proportionally distributed in various morphosyntactic contexts. It was found that case endings are very rarely used in words with the definite article al-, in adjectival attributes, and on words at the end of utterances. Case marking is strongly favored on words where it would be orthographically represented in writing and on words with an enclitic pronoun. It was also found that these patterns are not the result of speakers relying on a set of fixed phrases to include case endings in their speech. The findings presented in this study have important implications for Arabic curriculum development, both in first and second language teaching, and also shed light on the role of the use of case endings in Arabic diglossia.
Hallberg, A. (2017). Zeittafel [graphical timeline]. In Frank Weigelt. Einführung in die arabische Grammatiktradition (pp. 247–8). Harrassowitz. PDF
Hammoud, M. (2017). Skammen (A. Hallberg, Trans.). Glänta, 17(2-3), 42–8.
Kurrayim, M. (2017). Tawfiq Basha och den nya musiken (A. Hallberg, Trans.). Glänta, 17(2-3), 153–9.
These documents are subject to continuous tinkering. The latest version can always be found here. For recorded lectures, see
lecture under tags.
Syrian Arabic grammatical summary
Syrian Arabic transcripts from Al-Kitaab
Hollow/Defective Verb Form I-X
Eye Movements and Perceptual Span in Reading
Verb forms I-X
Minimal pairs in Standard Arabic
The Arabic writing system
Word counts and aya counts of suras in the Quran
Det standardarabiska konsonantinventariet
Timeline of Arab grammarians and their major works