Writing Change: Diglossia and Popular Writing Practices in Egypt

In: Arabica

Arabic is considered a paradigmatic case of diglossia, where written language is regarded as largely the domain of fuṣḥā. Presenting the results of a large-scale survey of language attitudes and practices in Cairo, we argue that this view should be reconsidered. A representative majority of Cairo’s literate population in fact report writing predominantly in the vernacular (ʿāmmiyya), and also regard it as a legitimate written variety, contradicting common assumptions about popular language attitudes. At the same time, fuṣḥā retains its position as an idealized prestigious variety. These surprising results are explained by rising levels of literacy and the growth of computer-mediated communication. The results encourage a rethinking of the language situation in the Arab world, supporting the view that diglossia is a social and cultural resource rather than a problem.

L’arabe est considéré comme un cas paradigmatique de diglossie, dans lequel la langue écrite est largement perçue comme le domaine de la fuṣḥā, ou arabe standard moderne. En présentant les résultats d’une enquête à grande échelle sur les attitudes et pratiques langagières au Caire, nous estimons que ce point de vue devrait être reconsidéré. Une majorité représentative de la population éduquée du Caire écrit principalement en langue vernaculaire (ʿāmmiyya) pour rapporter des informations, et perçoit cette langue comme une variante légitime d’écrit, contredisant les affirmations sur les attitudes populaires vis-à-vis de la langue. Dans le même temps, le fuṣḥā garde sa position de variante prestigieuse et idéalisée. Ces résultats s’expliquent par différents niveaux d’alphabétisation et par le développement de la communication informatique. Les résultats invitent à repenser la situation linguistique du monde arabe, en soutenant l’idée que la diglossie est une richesse sociale et culturelle plutôt qu’un problème.

This article is in French.

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