The University of Arizona


Robert A. Cote


Collectively, Arabic is spoken by more than 400 million persons in nearly two dozen countries and holds the dual distinction of being the fifth most widely spoken as well as one of the fastest growing languages in the world. However, it also faces the challenge of being a diglossic language, one with two distinct forms, where Modern Standard Arabic [High] coexists with numerous national vernaculars [Low]. Haeri (2000) described the high variety as “the language of writing, education and administration,” whereas the vernaculars are “the media of oral exchanges, non-print media, poetry and plays” (p. 63). Numerous studies (Abdulaziz, 1986; Abu-Absi, 1986; Alrabaa, 1986; Gully, 1993; Suleiman, 1994) have addressed this diglossic situation, identifying the wide linguistic distance, particularly on syntactical and morphological levels, between the two varieties, as well as the debate on whether or not the vernaculars should be considered Arabic at all or are simply manifestations of local national culture (Haeri, 2000. p.63). The most significant issue arises in the realm of education. According to Haeri (2000), there are two pressing questions: which form of the language should serve as the medium of instruction, and should the MSA form be modernized and in what manner (p. 70)? This paper will explore some of the factors affecting the feasibility of selecting a particular dialect of Arabic to serve the educational needs of the entire Arabic-speaking world, including the widespread use of colloquial Arabic and present-day national education policies. In addition, to learn how native-Arabic speakers perceive this diglossic state of affairs, the researcher interviewed 84 participants ranging in age from 17 to 48 living in Tucson, Arizona, or Madrid, Spain, to determine their views on the various vernacular dialects of Arabic and to obtain their opinion on the prospects of replacing MSA with one of these dialects.

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