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The influence of diglossia on learning Standard Arabic

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis comprises an applied linguistic study exploring the influence of national language policy and local language practices on education in Saudi Arabia, where Arabic is the official language. However, Arabic is a diglossic language, with two main forms: Standard Arabic, which is mainly associated with literacy and typically learned in school, and Local Arabic, which is normally acquired at home from families and often used in everyday interactions (Ferguson, 1959; Albirini, 2016). The aim of the present study is to explore the extent to which the diglossic situation influences the learning and teaching of Standard Arabic in the early years of school. The current study is important because the issue of actual language use in school and in education more generally in the Arab world is under-researched (Amara, 1995; Maamouri, 1998). This thesis is one of the few studies that has addressed this gap.

Four primary schools in Riyadh (the capital of Saudi Arabia) participated in this study (involving Year One students aged 6-7 years old, their parents and their teachers). A combination of qualitative and quantitative data was gathered over a period of over three months through a questionnaire survey as well as interviews (to explore preschool language experiences), language assessment activities (to tap into the students’ speaking and listening abilities), classroom observations and interviews (to explore classroom language use and the rationale behind the participants’ choices of language). The key findings suggest that 1) Local Arabic is the predominant type of Arabic used in communication at home before entering school and the amount of exposure to Standard Arabic before attending primary school is generally low, 2) parental levels of education and monthly incomes appear to influence children’s preschool language experiences, 3) preschool exposure to Standard Arabic books and attendance at preschool appear to have a positive influence on Year One pupils’ Standard Arabic listening comprehension, and 4) both Standard and Local Arabic are used in the classroom, although spoken Local Arabic is predominant in teaching-learning activities, whereby this variety is used to facilitate the learning process. The thesis concludes by providing pedagogical recommendations to enhance the teaching and learning of Standard Arabic.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2017


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