Printer Friendly

The Sociolinguistic Market in Cairo: Gender, Class and Education.

Niloofar Haeri. The Sociolinguistic Market in Cairo. Gender, Class and Education. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 273 pages. Hardcover $110.

Haeri offers an empirical sociolinguistic investigation of the roles of gender, social class, and education in the use of classical and non-classical Arabic in Cairo, Egypt. Her work brings together many important issues of Arabic sociolinguistics with the aim of understanding stylistic variation in Cairo.

The book consists of seven chapters. Chapter one briefly sketches the theoretical frameworks from which the book draws; namely Labov's variationist paradigm, Ferguson's diglossia, a model which stresses the functional differences of classical (high) and non-classical (low) varieties in Arabic speech communities, and Bourdieu's concept of linguistic market.

Haeri introduces the concept of the "standard variety", which is crucial in understanding the instantiation problem of language change in the variationist paradigm. Sociolinguistic theory has it that social groups who use non-standard or new variants are those who initiate and promote linguistic change, while those who resist it and persist in using "standard" or old variants are said to be conservative.

Interpreting the role of men and women in language change along these lines has revealed a paradox in the linguistic behavior of women: women are "innovative" and "conservative" at the same time. That is, women lead men in targeting and achieving the standard variant in situations of stable variation, i.e., when the variant is above the level of consciousness in the community; and they lead men in targeting and achieving an innovation when the variant is a change in progress, i.e., when the variant is below the level of social awareness. Haeri argues that" a 'paradox' can exist only if we assume that the social meanings of all variable forms are directly comparable to each other theoretically, and from the point of view of the speakers who use them" (p.4}

Surprisingly, Haeri does not entertain the idea that a paradox may not exist at all if women are not a priori taken to behave in a monolithic way. Treating women as a single group based exclusively on their shared biological traits is both an empirical and a theoretical oversimplification.

Haeri moves on to discuss the co-existence of Classical and Egyptian Arabic on stylistic variation: diglossia. She observes that variation in diglossic communities has been conceptualized as a competition between H and L levels. She strongly rejects the notion of the "intermediate" variety known as Educated Spoken Arabic, to which some scholars have resorted to account for the mixture between Classical and non-classical Arabic in the speech of educated speakers. She contends that the source of the problem lies in insisting on considering non-classical varieties as "colloquial" varieties instead of full-fledged languages. She disagrees with the idea that the intermediate variety is a separate entity and argues that intermediate varieties are stylistic resources that Egyptian speakers exploit along the Arabic stylistic continuum. It is not clear from Haeri's discussions, however, what counts as an entity and what does not. Furthermore, she states that the speech of educated Egyptians is "one of the styles in wh ich Egyptian Arabic under certain conditions is spoken"(p.14). Haeri does not elaborate on what these conditions are, or what the social meanings of this style shifting might be. I believe that whether intermediate varieties are separate entities in their own right, or mere stylistic resources is not nearly as important as what speakers accomplish by exploiting the stylistic continuum and the switching between varieties itself.

Chapter two gives a detailed description of the methodology used in sampling the Cairene speech community. Haeri relied on sociolinguistic interviews for data elicitation and adopted analytical techniques of the standard quantitative approach of urban sociolinguistics. In this approach, the linguistic behavior of a speech community is based on frequency-counts of standard and non-standard variables across stylistic and social stratification. The linguistic variants Haeri examined are phonological, namely palatalization and qaf. Linguistically, palatalization is a phonological process in which a sound takes on a palatal place of articulation usually in assimilation to a neighboring palatal sound such as /i/ and /y/. The social factors she considered evolve around age, gender, socio-economic class, and education of subjects. The stylistic types used also reflect the standard

Labovian division of styles into casual speech and careful speech, which consists of reading from a word list.

Haeri's reevaluation of the diglossic High and Low distinction requires her to assume that speaking and reading from a list constitute a stylistic continuum in diglossic setting, as might be the case in non-diglossic setting. However, there is a great distance between spoken and written Arabic. For example, Keith Walters has demonstrated that "speaking" and "reading aloud" in Arabic are two unrelated activities, both cognitively and socially. Thus, deciding a priori that the notion of style is homogeneous and directly comparable in Arabic-speaking speech communities and English-speaking speech communities is ignoring the different social meanings that seemingly similar stylistic activities encode in the two speech communities.

Chapter three illustrates the linguistic and sociolinguistic characterization of palatalization. Based on articulatory and spectrographic analyses, Haeri distinguished frication (weak palatalization) and affrication (strong palatalization) of dental stops /t, d, T, D, tt, dd/ next to palatal sounds.

Investigation of the social distribution of palatalization shows that women's speeches reflect frequent and advanced palatalization, while men's do not. Weak palatalization was shown to be higher among young women speakers, and it is argued that palatalization is a sound change in progress with women from the upper classes in the lead. On the other hand, women in the lower classes use strong palatalization the most. Haeri argues that this is a result of hypercorrection. That is, motivated by prestige and upward mobility, lower class women try to imitate the speech of the upper class but miss the target and end up with affrication rather than frication.

Chapter four examines the linguistic and sociolinguistic dimensions of the reappearance of the Classical qaf in the Cairene speech community. Historically, qaf merged with the hamza (the glottal stop), except in some restricted domains mainly religious ones. However, with the spread of mass education, which brought forth exposure to Classical Arabic, classical qaf has reentered Cairene Arabic speech. Because the qaf variable shows an interaction between Classical Arabic and Egyptian Arabic, Haeri coins the term "diglossic variable" to distinguish it from sociolinguistic variables in both diglossic and non-diglossic settings.

From the outset of this chapter, Haeri states that the use of the qaf is the most common borrowing from Classical Arabic. She provides a comprehensive review of diachronic and synchronic analyses for the qaf and presents competing approaches for its presence in modern dialects of Arabic. She concluded, following the analysis of older studies, that the qaf reappearance can be accounted for by lexical borrowing model rather than the application of a rule as some recent studies have postulated.

In the second part of this chapter, Haeri explores the social groups in which qaf has re-appeared. Findings show that men in all educational levels and social classes have a significantly higher usage of the Classical/ Standard qaf than women. This implies that the linguistic behavior of Cairene women is less "conservative" than men, a finding that corroborates findings of previous studies across the Arab world. Furthermore, upper class speakers with the highest levels of education were not the ones who most frequently use this Classical/ Standard variable. These results are a very useful aspect in Haeri's study because they stand in sharp contrast to those in non-diglossic speech communities where women, more than men, and upper classes, more than lower classes, use standard variants the most.

Chapter five offers explanations that aim at resolving the unusual finding of gender, class and education patterns in the Cairene speech community. Haeri rightly rejects previous accounts that regard the less conservative linguistic behavior of women in Arab societies as an outcome of their reduced access to public domains and education, where exposure and learning of Classical Arabic are possible. Like other sociolinguists working in Arabic, she also calls for exercising great care in associating the concept of the "standard language" with the "dominant group", which many theories and empirical studies take as a given. Instead, Haeri argues that before such generalizations can be made, an astute look at "the role and place of Arabic within the hierarchy of linguistic repertoire of Egypt"(pp.159-160) is in order if a sensible understanding of emerging problems is to be reached.

To this end, Haeri reaches out to Bourdieu's notion of the linguistic market, which stresses the importance of symbolic capital for access to the labor market and upward social mobility. Because knowledge of the standard is often a valuable piece of capital, this has led to linking greater use of the standard of official variety to dominant groups who belong to upper classes. Haeri argues this notion proves to be helpful in explaining the dynamics of the sociolinguistic settings of Western speech communities but is inadequate to provide an accurate picture for the sociolinguistic situation in Cairo.

Haeri argues that in Cairo it is speakers' bi- or multi-lingualism rather than their use of Classical/Standard Arabic that secures better access to the labor market and casts one as belonging to the upper class. She observes that the linguistic market of Cairo requires multiple "currencies" and that the "currency" of Standard Arabic is by no means the only nor the most eminent currency. Rather, it is knowledge and use of other languages, like English, German or French that is of utmost importance in the Cairene linguistic market. This sheds some light on why members of the upper classes in Cairene speech community are not the ones who know nor use the standard language the most, as is the case in non-diglossic speech communities.

Furthermore, Haeri argues that the repertoire of the Cairene speech community consists of more than one standard variety. Thus, there are two kinds of standard varieties, a Classical standard; and non-classical standard. The Classical standard is based on Classical/Standard Arabic and derives its dominance and prestige from its direct link to Islamic culture and civilization. The non-classical standard, or urban Cairene, on the other hand, draws its dominance and prestige from its association with the social dialect of urban, upper class social groups.

Haeri re-examines gender patterns along these lines and concluded that the linguistic behavior of women in Cairo is not any less "conservative" than women around the world with respect to the use of the standard variety. In other words, by directly comparing Cairene women's use of non-classical standard variants with women's use of standard variants in non-diglossic communities she showed that Cairene women can be interpreted as using standard urban dialectal forms. However, Haeri acknowledges that non-classical standard Arabic is not a conservative variety because it co-exists with a more conservative variety: Classical Arabic.

Haeri rejects the idea that women's less conservative behavior with regard to qaf usage (that is, their use of the hamza rather than the classical qaf) is a matter of differential access to education, which does not hold in this case because subjects included men and women with equivalent education. To explain women's less frequent use of Classical Arabic features, Haeri draws out attention to the different practices of men and women in domains where classical Arabic functions as a religious language, such as praying aloud in the case of men versus praying in silence in the case of women. Thus, reciting prayers out loud, Haeri argues, provides men with an opportunity and a stage to perform these prayers with an accurate pronunciation, an activity that is required and highly valued.

Chapter six explores speakers' attitudes and ideologies towards Classical/Standard Arabic versus Cairene Arabic and men's versus women's. Haeri found ambivalent attitudes toward Classical Arabic. On the one hand, speakers regard Classical Arabic as correct, beautiful and powerful but at the same time they believe that it is rigid and lacks humor. Speakers expressed their fear of using the Classical variety because of its prescriptive grammatical rules. Haeri proposes that speakers' attitudes toward Classical Arabic should be explored in different contexts and genres. Furthermore, Haeri found that the speakers have overwhelmingly positive attitudes toward their mother tongue, Cairene Arabic. Speakers were not able to pinpoint the phonological differences in the speech of men and women, but they did report differences in lexical items.

Chapter seven sums up the main theoretical issues and empirical findings and offers suggestion for future research.

The book is decidedly a valuable contribution to Arabic sociolinguistics and to the theory of sociolinguistics in general. It should be praised for: (1) deconstructing the notion of the "standard" language and bringing to bear the notion of competing standards in explaining linguistic changes in the Cairene speech community; and (2) for reaching out to frameworks outside the sociolinguistic arena, which allows for the inclusion of ethnographic details in explaining the linguistic behavior of certain social groups. In addition, the book is to be congratulated for directing our attention to variation that does not involve diglossia and Classical Arabic in Arabic speech communities.

Haeri's lengthy discussion of styles, standards and variation presents some valuable new perspectives on outstanding questions in the field. However, it highlights some important sociolinguistic issues for further attention. An integration of the social meanings of historical and socio-cultural changes that have taken place in Arabic-speaking speech communities and how these changes are reflected in language use and identity construction remains a profitable avenue for future research.

Atiqa Hachimi is a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Association of Arab-American University Graduates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Review
Author:Hachimi, Atiqa
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Jun 22, 2000
Words:2265
Previous Article:Sudan in Crisis: The Failure of Democracy.
Next Article:The Muslim World.
Topics:


Related Articles
Full House: Reassessing the Earth's Population Carrying Capacity.
The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy.
The Gender Agenda: Redefining equality.
Gender communication. (Reviews).
UNFPA. 2004. Investing in People: National Progress in Implementing the ICPD Programme of Action 1994-2004.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |