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Whenever you walk at the campus of the American University of Sharjah, you will definitely find the young Arab girls wear trendy Western dresses as well as the Arab boys wear stylish Western clothes. And even students with more conservative dresses seem more Western than Eastern. No matter how young Arab people wear or look like nowadays, they even tend to be different in the language they use in typing and communicating. There is a widespread linguistic phenomenon that tremendously encroaches their lives and ultimately leads them to write in an unusual language.
This language is well-known nowadays among Arabs especially the youth as “Arabizi”. Arabizi, a slang term derived from the words arabi or Arabic and englizi or English, is used to describe the melding between Arabic and English (Yaghan, 2008). It is a common contemporary trend for typing that has largely spread among young Arabs who use Arabic numerals and Latin characters to communicate, i.e. “5alas”. Given the linguistic, cultural and social significance that Arabizi has in contemporary society, indeed it is extremely interesting and also important to deeply investigate this phenomenon in order to determine its dimensions, causes and possible consequences.
Questions, controversies and concerns have been heavily raised over this issue. Questions like “Why do young people use Arabizi?”, “To what extent will it affect our language which is a critical component of our Arabic identity?” and so on have been asked by many specialists and scholars and even ordinary people. Some users may think it is helpful and easy to communicate, but also others are concerned about how Arabizi can dramatically affect our Arabic language.
Linguistic scholars specifically are concerned about the severe results of the continuous use of Arabizi in our daily activities that may lead at the end to the extinction of our language. Therefore, this paper will investigate the effects of Arabizi on the Arabic language as a major component of identity focusing on students from the American University of Sharjah.
II. Literature Review:
Technology and Language
Arabizi may be considered as a new phenomenon in contemporary society; however, its origin goes back to the mid-1990s with the introduction of technology (Warschauer, 2002). Technology that was supposed to convert the world into a global village removing all borders among people, in reality worked reversely in categorizing people as well as countries into haves and have nots (Warschauer, 2002). That is if a product is made in the United Kingdom or the United States, it is up to the consumer whether to adapt to English or decide not to use the product at all. Dr. David Wilmsen, a professor of Arabic at the American University of Beirut that has written comprehensively on linguistics, considers cell phone as the critical Western product that created Arabizi in the Arab world (Salhani, 2013). According to Dr. Wilmsen, when mobile phones were firstly introduced to the Arab world, they were very expensive and keyboards came with Latin characters. Elites who could afford it, communicated through messages easily in English.
However due to the increasing demand, mobile phones became inexpensive and owned by almost everyone. Those people might not know English but they wanted to use the simplicity of the English keyboard on their mobile phones and the result was Arabizi (Salhani, 2013). Although cell phones and other technological means are provided nowadays with Arabic keyboards, Arabs still do not use it and prefer to write in Latin characters. Bruna Kesserwani, the Middle East Regional Director of the World Youth Alliance, on a personal side finds it easier to write in Arabizi in spite of using both Arabic and English in workplace and daily life. However, Kesserwani strongly believes that Arabizi might have severe cultural and linguistic consequences (Salhani, 2013). Education System and Language The impact of Arab’s over-reliance on English-based technology has affected many other critical aspects of Arab society. As Warschauer explained throughout his book, university-level courses that are taught in English are expanding nowadays to further include other linguistic courses such as Arabic.
Consequently, parents are forced to register their children in English-based schools so they can afford a good job in the future and maintain a high status in society (2002). However, this desire for upward social mobility has led to “cultural-linguistic dualism” (Findlow, 2006). Therefore, Arab youth can speak, interact and even live with a linguistic mixture of Arabic and English. However, this phenomenon can lead us to recognize these dramatic concepts “language death”, “language loss”, “language decay” and even “linguistic genocide”, which convey the increasing concerns about the future of the Arabic language (Findlow, 2006). Education has a critical role to play in the discourse of how the Arabic language is rapidly disappearing from new generations’ lives and heavily displaced by English.
Schools nowadays in the Middle East adopt English as the major language of teaching and as a consequence they are teaching Arabic to Arab students as a foreign language: usually one hour a day (Dhabi, 2004). According to Dr. Saiyad Ahmad, assistant professor of Eastern Studies at the American University of Sharjah, “most Arab youth don’t know their language”. He highlighted the critical responsibility of the education system in maintaining the Arabic culture and heritage. According to him, “nowadays, if someone doesn’t know English, they’re seen as uneducated … people have forgotten other ways and means of thinking”. “We have effectively lost our authenticity … our ideas are not our own, but are imported like other products,” he added (El Darawy, 2005).
Personal Justifications for Using Arabizi
To assess the role of Arabizi in contemporary society, there is an inherent need to deeply answer the question “why young people nowadays use Arabizi?” In a study conducted by Dr. Mohammad Yaghan, a group of high school students were asked about their reasons and justifications for using Arabizi in their daily lives. One of the reasons was that teenagers nowadays find Arabizi a trend in which they would like to belong to and by that way they will blend easily with similar group members. Other students believed that classical Arabic letters should be used for educational purposes but not for slang. Also, students explained how Arabizi is useful in expressing issues that cannot be expressed otherwise in classical Arabic letters. Economics is another major reason of using Arabizi, since the number of characters allowed in a message written in English is much larger than that in Arabic. Last but not least, participants expressed their preference of Arabizi over pure Arabic or English as it is a flexible system, not taught and free of errors (Yaghan, 2008).
In addition, many Arabs feel that Arabic is very complicated and therefore they wanted to combine their mother tongue with English to create Arabizi which is somehow easier in communication (Salhani, 2013). In an interview conducted with college students at the American University in Cairo asking about their logic for using Arabizi as a means of communication with their friends, students emphasized two main points. Firstly, they explained how Arabic restricts them from discussing everyday topics and on the other hand how melding Arabic and English allow them to talk freely about their daily issues. Secondly, they illustrated how comfortable they feel when they use Arabizi to talk about taboos and other issues that cannot be expressed in Arabic such as sex (Yaghan, 2008).
Not only young Arab people have justifications and causes for using Arabizi, but also elder people do have their own defense for using it. Those young people who use Arabizi will soon graduate and get jobs, but they will also transfer with them their own way of typing and communicating. Ali Nasser, a 24 year old employee, sees no problems in using Arabizi. He considers Arabizi as a valid means of communication in emailing other co-workers and communicating inside the organization. Furthermore, he believes that Arabic is difficult for typing and expressing the self and other everyday topics. Personally, he does not see any indication that Arabizi weakens his Arabic, but rather people are over romanticized about this matter (Ghanem, 2011).
The Internet and Arabizi
The internet and online usage of language reveal how complicated the issue is. A study on young internet users in Egypt was done by Mark Warschauer, a professor at the University of California, Ph.D. in Education program and founding director of UCI’s Digital Learning Lab, to determine which language they use on the internet. The study found that Arabic was rarely used on the internet, but rather a mixture of Arabic and English was commonly used by the participants. This “Romanized Arabic” as Warschauer called it, was heavily used in informal emails and online chatting. According to Warschauer, this phenomenon gave its users a new universe in which they can freely discuss different religious and political topics, due to the absence of an explicit authoritarian censorship in a context where informality was the basis (Attwa, 2012).
In another study conducted in Egypt, Singapore and Hawai’i, online language use was analyzed to examine webs of interrelationships. The study concluded that in a world where English is the dominant language, there is a major contradiction between global networks and local identities (Warschauer, 2002). This major online presence in young Arab people’s lives can have major consequences on their belief system and language which is a critical component of their identity. A study on technology and youth at the University of Melbourne showed that communication technologies strongly empower young people to create and maintain a sense of identity, power and unity (Carroll, Howard, Vetere, Peck & Murphy, 2001). Since this created identity is the outcome of complex electronic interactions, then the required language for communication is what forms the user’s identity (Markham, 2008). Therefore, when Arab youth choose to construct their Arabic language with Latin letters, they create their own linguistic identity in the way they want to represent themselves to the entire world (Markham, 2008).
In a study intended to investigate the impact of the internet in the Arab world, Arabs’ perceptions and opinions about the influence of the internet on their belief system, language and identity were deeply investigated. It showed that the majority of well-educated Arabs are concerned that their inherited social norms are harmed by the internet and other new technologies. They also indicated their annoyance about Arabizi as a threat to their language as well as their identity (Loch, Straub, & Kamel, 2003). However, all individuals as well as countries kowtow to modern technology in all its forms which shapes their beliefs, behaviors and actions (Brette, 2003).
Not only technology users have opinions and thoughts about this matter, but also people who are in position to affect how the Arabic language can be used on the internet have their own points of view. According to Fayeq Oweis, manager of the Arabic localisation team at Google, “Arabic is a thriving language and can be adapted to modern technology” (Al Tamimi, 2012, para.1). Oweis believes that there are basically three dangers that threaten the Arabic language in the Arab world. The first is using foreign terminologies in spite of the existence of Arabic synonyms. The second is writing Arabic but using foreign characters, which is heavily and commonly used on the internet. The third is including different dialects in the sentence.
In Oweis’s opinion, the best way to avoid these three threats is to use correct and proper Arabic not only in everyday use or formal communication, but also in the technology field (Al Tamimi, 2012). In order to put this solution into practice, Google has introduced “Google Ta3reeb” in 2009 (Al Tamimi, 2012). This program came out due to the increasing use of Arabizi on the internet, so it automatically translates Arabizi into classical Arabic. Therefore, Google is seriously contributing to the survival of the Arabic language by preserving its existence on the internet.
Arabizi and Identity
An extremely significant question imposes itself on the scene, whether Arabizi negatively affects our language and identity or it simply finds a common ground to unite Arabs everywhere. According to a study conducted in order to investigate what Arabs think about the effect of Arabizi on their Arab identity, users affirmed that Arabizi does not negatively affect their identity as Arabs, but rather it helps them finding a common ground in which they can easily belong to (Abdel-Ghaffar, N., et al, 2011). However, Abdel-Ghaffar found that Arabizi does not facilitate the communication process among Arabs but rather it makes it vaguer, inconsistent and misunderstood in many cases (Abdel-Ghaffar, N., et al, 2011).This is because Arabizi users use Arabic numerals mixed with the closest English counterpart to express what they want to communicate. For example, the ط can be represented with “6” or “t”, which creates inconsistency in communication (Attwa, 2012). Therefore, Abdel-Ghaffar suggested that using Arabic letters is the most effective, consistent and overall the clearest means for communication in Arabic (Abdel-Ghaffar, N., et al, 2011).
Many Arabs consider Arabizi as a major threat or even a war against the Arabic language and they are concerned that it will further weaken the language or even replace it in the near future. Some Arabs even believe that if young Arab people continued to use Arabizi transferring it to the next generations, the Arab world can be imagined without Arabic language in few decades. According to Miral Dibawy, a university graduate and addicted user of Arabizi, Arabizi has weakened her Arabic language and she even needs to write firstly in Arabizi and then translate it whether in Arabic or English (Ghanem, 2011). On the other hand, Dina Jamal, a university student, does not use Arabizi although all friends do because she strongly considers it as a major threat to the Arabic language (Ghanem, 2011). Also, Taiba Al-Amoudi, an Arabic teacher, argued that Arabizi was severely affecting her students’ linguistic abilities (Ghanem, 2011).
In order to determine the extent to which Arabizi can really affect our language and identity, we should definitely consider Edward Said case which is to some extent similar to what the Arab youth experiences nowadays. Said represented the issue of having unsettled identity since he was raised in a bicultural family, uncertain about which language or which identity he should more belong to (Said, 1999). This description of Said’s conflicting childhood in reality reflects today’s young Arab people, since they are enrolled in English-based schools but they communicate at home mostly in Arabic. Thus, they want to combine these two different languages together to represent themselves in a way that satisfies their needs (Kramsch, 2000).
III. Research Question:
Based on secondary data and another primary research, survey, the focus of this paper is to deeply investigate the consequences of using Arabizi on the Arabic language. The primary research was conducted at the American university of Sharjah, in order to reveal and determine the dimensions of this matter. Thus, the following research questions needed to be investigated:
RQ1: What are the students’ motives to use Arabizi?
RQ2: How do students perceive Arabizi and its effects on the Arabic language? RQ3: How does students’ proficiency in Arabic relate to the use of Arabizi? RQ4: How does students’ high school system relate to the use of Arabizi? Therefore, the independent variables are high school background, proficiency in Arabic, age, gender and nationality. And the dependent variable is the use of Arabizi.
This study was limited to investigate participants from different ages, genders, colleges and nationalities at the American University of Sharjah. The sampling technique that was used to select participants in this research project was a simple random sample. The number of participants was 150 AUS students (N= 150). The ages of participants in this study range from 17 to 26 years old and the average ranged from 20-22 years (Appendix 1). The gender ratio is 1:1, so 75 males and 75 females participated in this study. Participants were chosen from the following available colleges at the American University of Sharjah: College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), College of Architecture, Arts and Design (CAAD), College of Engineering (CEN) and SBM (School of Business and Management). The final psychographic quality that was studied in this project is nationality. Nationalities were divided into the following four categories: 1) GCC Countries, 2) Al Sham Countries, 3) North Africa and 4) Other. The purpose of this categorization is to achieve simplicity. Participants from Al Sham countries made up 50% of the participants (Appendix 2).
This primary research project was conducted through distributing printed surveys among AUS students during one week (from June 30th to July 7th 2013). Our main objective for this project was to randomly collect unbiased, rational and representative data. The data was collected from the Chemistry Building, Nab, Library, Student Center, Guys’ dorms and women’s dorms. It took around 10 minutes for participants to complete the survey. After the data was collected, we used the recommended ‘IBM SSPS Statistics Software’ to analyze the collected data. This software was very useful for the analytical and the reporting process that is basically due to the multiple integrated modules that we could easily use to get precise and exact reports. We were able to get accurate representation as well as attain reliable outcomes for our survey findings. In addition, due to the variety of the provided options in this software, we were able to get a full representative image of the results through descriptive statistics and many other statistical representations.
For the measurement process, we used the Likert scale as an effective, representative and accurate method. This scale provides respondents with the following five degrees of agreement: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree and Strongly Disagree. It quantifies the responses and allows for mathematical analysis. Also, it allows participants to respond with a flexible degree of agreement instead of forcing them to take a determined position. The collected data from this scale was easily and accurately used to create charts that represent how opinions are distributed across the population. Moreover, it allows for comparisons between and among the founded results. The Likert scale was used with the following questions: “Do you feel that Arabizi helps you express yourself more clearly?”, “In my interactions with others, I often do you mix English and Arabic?”, “Some people think that communicating in Arabizi, makes its users seem smarter?” and “I believe the use of Arabizi will negatively affect my proficiency in Arabic?”.
HighSchool of participant
Arabic proficiency of participant
Arabizi makes participant smarter
Arabizi negatively affects Arabic
Age of participant
Paticipants College Year
Participants uses Arabizi with people who don’t speak English or Arabic 150
Collage of participant
Gender of participants
Participant mixes English and Arabic
Use of Arabizi makes clearer
Participants use Arabizi
MotherTongue of participant
Nationality of participant
Valid N (listwise)
Figure 1.1: Descriptive Statistics of 150 surveys
Figure 1.2: Participants feel Arabizi express them clearer
Figure 1.3: Participants Mix of English and Arabic
Figure 1.4: Arabic proficiency of participants
Figure 1.5: Relation between High school and use of Arabizi of participants
Figure 1.6: Arabizi negatively affects Arabic
The outcomes of the survey of 150 participants were not unexpected as they relate to the discoveries of past researches and findings referred in the literature review. To begin with, the table above contains the descriptive statistics of the 150 participants (Figure 1.1). For instance, the mean respond regarding the question of “Does Arabizi makes you feel smarter?, is 3.4133. Since the variable 3 is neutral and 4 is disagree, then the greater part was sort of inside that run. The same procedure is valid to each question. Regarding the research question expressed in part III, the question states; “Do you feel Arabizi helps you express yourself more clearly?” is replied through the pie outline in Figure 1.2. More than 36.7% of the members demonstrated that they use Arabizi in their daily communication since it helps in communicating their statements. The minimum picked reply, which just included 4.7% of the participants, was on the grounds that the individual they are conversing with can’t comprehend Basic English. This percentage indicates that teenagers and youth are adapting more to the use of Arabizi in their daily interactions more than ever before.
The discoveries of this pie graph are parallel to what Ghanem (2011) discovered in her interviews with college scholars. Indeed, Bruna Kesserwani said the same thing (Salhani, 2013). Figure 1.3 and figure 1.5 illustrates the participant’s response to mixing English and Arabic in their daily interactions according to their education. The outcomes that are delineated in the figure indicated that the majority of participants come from English-based educational system. Then again, to evade misconceptions, the degree of every high school foundation was figured. For the individuals who went to an Arabic-based high school, the proportion of participants finding Arabizi express their ideas more clearly it is below 20% which approximately (=0.15). For the individuals who went to an English-based high school the degree is above 80% which (=0.85). The dispersion of both degrees is exceptionally far from each other with nearly 0.7 contrasts, which is high.
The third question, “How do participants characterize their proficiency in Arabic?” is diagramed in Figure 1.4. It indicates that the capability of a participant in Arabic dialect is identify with the practice of using Arabizi. The individuals who appraised themselves as phenomenal in Arabic had the most astounding degree of individuals who likewise said that they don’t use Arabizi; so they manage every dialect as its own particular. Moreover, participates who evaluated themselves with Average or above average in the language proficiency had an extremely thin rate of individuals who don’t use Arabizi; the larger part whose Arabic proficiency is below average uses it. This comes to accept that one’s capability in Arabic does influence his/her use of Arabizi. This comes as an inseparable unit with data addressed in figure in 1.5 with respect to the high school educational system of participants.
One may go to an English-based high school, however be extremely exceptional at Arabic from his/her friends or any outside elements, which makes him/her barely Arabizi and consider it as a lifestyle habit. The fourth question addressed in figure 1.6 whether participants believed Arabizi will negatively affect their proficiency in Arabic. It showed that 50 participants and above are neutral about it, they don’t believe that the usage of Arabizi will negatively affect their proficiency level of the Arabic language. In contrast, 35 participants believe that Arabizi can form a threat to the Arabic language usage among youth and teenagers. Furthermore, around 9 participants do not believe that Arabizi is causing any threat to the language. These findings are constant with the Warschauer’s thoughts, as he believes that this phenomenon will lead to the death and loss of the Arabic language.
The ultimate two questions were addressed when participants were asked about their opinions “If Arabizi threatens the existence of Arabic language?”. Therefore, most of the participant’s responses were balanced between supporting the statement and rejecting the statement. For instance a female participant clarifies her opinion saying, “No, it doesn’t because Arabic still exists as a spoken language, it’s just the form that is changing”. Another Female contradicts with that opinion saying, “I strongly disagree, because it’s a common language among all Arabs”. Females’ responses differed from males’ ones, for instance; a male participant who wrote unordinary response “ no, it will help us learn new words from both languages” while other male expressed a suggestion “ simply, enrich and enlarge the areas of Arabic language usage, also encourage people to use it”. The differentiations of male and female opinions ranged between 17 to 22 years demonstrates to what extreme the language is important to the participant and to what extent it relates to his/her identity as an Arab.
On the contrary, the survey shows large enough rations of unexpected responses that reflect the awareness of participants to the existence of Arabic language. The second question was “why do you use Arabizi?” Generally, most respondents said that they use it because it is trendy and much easier to use. A male participant said “it helps me use both the expressions from Arabic and English to express myself more vividly” another male explains why he uses Arabizi saying “due to the lack of practice of using Arabic letters”. On the other hand, females had other reasons why they use Arabizi “it makes texting faster, certain regional accents cannot be typed in formal Arabic language”. Our interpretation of Arabic language from the analysis of these two questions revealed the opinions of participants including males and females and where they see the Arabic language position in their lives. The responses of respondents and our interpretation matches Dr. Mohammad Yaghan group study when he asked students about their reasons of using Arabizi. One of the reasons that teenagers use it is that they find it a trend to which they would like to belong.
This research has multiple useful and worthy implications. It added to the reasons of using Arabizi. Also, it revealed participants’ own beliefs and thoughts about the consequences of using this way of typing. Furthermore, it showed the correlation between the school system and the use of Arabizi. This research project was carefully done to attain its goals. However, there were some inevitable shortcomings and limitations. One of these limitations was the time. Since we had limited time during the short summer course, we conducted our primary research throughout only two weeks. If we had more time, we could ask and survey more number of participants to enhance the generalizability of the results.
Secondly, the designed survey for this project was somehow long which led some participants to skip or ignore open questions. Thirdly, that data we entered in IBM SPSS Statistics Software were done manually. Thus, it is subject to human error. Another limitation is the place. We distributed surveys to only AUS students, so the answers cannot be generalized to any other places. The recommended future research of this project is to deeply investigate the influence of parents or the old generation on the use of Arabizi by the youth. Recently, this topic is one of the top controversial issues that need to be seriously investigated to determine its dimensions.
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YOUR ID_______________ Your Name ( optional) ________________
“Arabizi” is a slang term (slang: vernacular, popular informal speech) describing a system of writing Arabic using English characters. (Example: ya3ni)
1. What kind of high school did you go to?
2. What is your mother tongue?
3. Do you use Arabizi dialy ?
Most of the times
4. Do you feel that Arabizi helps you express yourself more clearly?
5. How do you characterize your proficiency in Arabic?:
6. In my interactions with others, I often do you mix English and Arabic?
7. Are you used to Arabizi to an extent that you use it even with people who do not necessarily speak Arabic or English?
8. Some people think that communicating in Arabizi, makes its users seem smarter?
9.I believe the use of Arabizi will negatively affect my proficiency in Arabic?
10. Some people think that Arabizi threatens the existence of the Arabic language, what’s your opinion? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
11. Can you tell why do you use Arabizi?
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