Crossing boundaries : Arabic diglossia in three of Salwa Bakr's short stories

Access full-text files




Dattilo, Noelle Dionne

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The Arabic language is characterized by a diglossic system where two language varieties are perceived to be used within the confines of the respective spoken or written context. The colloquial, or ‘amiyya, is generally considered the spoken everyday language of communication while Modern Standard Arabic, or fusha, is mainly a medium of written communication. These language boundaries often cross written and spoken communication, which results in a blending of the two language varieties allowing language users greater communicative flexibility than use of one variety alone would permit. While there have been many studies of diglossia, most of them examine the prevalence of diglossia in the Arabic language and how the two language varieties are used together. This study addresses the effects that diglossia in literary texts has on readers and, in particular, how Egyptian writer, Salwa Bakr, strategically exploits the diglossic system in three of her short stories. The research questions that I address include how Bakr uses the two language varieties these stories, what patterns exist, if any, in her use of language, how readers respond to her use of language and how it affects the reader.s perception of the three stories. In order to answer these questions, I asked eight Egyptian women who were able to read Arabic to read each story and identify passages they thought were written in the dialect. Then, I interviewed each participant to discuss the effect that Bakr’s use of language had on them while they read the stories. The passages, which the participants identified as dialect, were analyzed based on Myers-Scotton’s Markedness Model. There was no consistent pattern with respect to passages identified as dialect and MSA. There a pattern regarding the effect that Bakr’s use of language had on the readers in that it made the stories more real for readers. Readers also noted that Bakr blends together various varieties of Arabic through out her stories, including a very high level Arabic, forms that can be read as either dialect or MSA, as well as the Egyptian dialect and MSA. Therefore, identifying the full array of language varieties that are employed by Bakr, and other Egyptian writers, opens the door to more possibilities of further understanding the Arabic language.


LCSH Subject Headings