From Tahdhiib al-Amma to Tahmiish al-Ammiyya : in search of social and literary roles for standard and colloquial Arabic in late 19th century Egypt
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Arabic language ideology that views the colloquial as a threat to the standard language and fears a public role for the colloquial register remained prevalent throughout much of the twentieth century. Yet, in late nineteenth-century Egypt, the Nahda project of disseminating knowledge to ‘the masses’ gave rise to several journals that found a public role for Ammiyya, introducing it into the realm of written knowledge. This study analyzes the processes of introducing Ammiyya into the written realm and the subsequent attempt at reeling the register back in from the public sphere. Through a framework of the sociolinguistic analysis of style and the process of iconization, Part I analyzes Abdallah al-Nadim’s use of language variation in his journal, al-Ustaadh, and how it aided in sorting out contradiction between ideology that hailed the standard as the suitable public register and practice that conceded a role to the colloquial. This study argues that even as his journal published didactic dialogues in Ammiyya, Nadim’s language practice chipped away at the prospect of a sustained literary role for the colloquial through the use of ‘styles’ that aligned the standard with authority and a keen understanding of the modernity project and through indexing the colloquial with the backward realm of uneducated women. Through the framework of the process of ‘erasure', Part II analyzes linguistic practices aimed at reeling the colloquial back in from the realm of written knowledge. It demonstrates Nadim’s efforts - near the end of the publication of his journal - to erase the notion that an educated Egyptian would have any use for the register. Nadim removed the salient features of Ammiyya from his dialogues and scolded his interlocutors who displayed their backwardness through the continued use of the features. Late nineteenth- century works, such as Hasan Tawfiq’s Usuul al-Kalimaat al-Ammiyya, represent a continuation of the ideology-practice dialectic from Nadim’s attempted erasure of the colloquial. However, whereas Nadim erased salient features of the colloquial from his writings, these works attempted to trace Ammiyya terms back to their assumed Fusha origins, with the aim of unifying the language by erasing the register.