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Exploring the function and status of ‘Arabish': A critical study of class distinction in informal Saudi instant message interactions

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

In the context of online communication, the use of Arabish (an amalgam of the Latin script and numerals employed as a tool for communication in Arabic) by a young Saudi demographic has been steadily increasing in the context of informal instant messages supported by smartphones. Within the context of Saudi Arabia itself, however, there have been few studies of note. Therefore, this thesis aims to address that gap in the literature through examining Saudi Arabish as a social practice, particularly in Riyadh city, informed and invested by the concepts of class distinction and habitus. In keeping with Bourdieu’s concept of social distinction and power relation, the Arabish user is viewed as a social agent who employs the practice as a source of social distinction or social mobility that also represents the status of its users. This study considers Arabish within a broader vision, considering the macro conditions (society, discourses, institutions, family, social groups and ideologies) and linking them to the micro level of interactions (selfperception, position and habitus). The aim of this study is to narrow the gap between the macro and micro consideration that has been evident in the literature, particularly in the Saudi context. This study, therefore, employs a qualitative research methodology based on critical discourse analysis and content analysis, through utilising observations, semi-structured interviews and written Arabish examples as its main tools for the gathering of data. The examined subjects comprise nine Saudi members from Riyadh city, who come from three different social classes. Drawing on Bourdieu’s theoretical framework, the data show that social inequalities and class distinctions are factors influencing the perception and practice of Arabish, and the CS between Arabish and English. The data also suggest that the value vested in English as a language owes much to the confinement of Arabish usage in general to a constituency of younger Saudi users. However, class conflicts are evident, and therefore the study concludes that while Arabish is the signifier of the collective young group in Saudi Arabia, CS was found to be the new signifier of subgroups among Arabish users, while it is through social ties and the networking of high-capital users that sub-groups are established in order to preserve and sustain their social superiority.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2018

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