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9 - What Is Formal Spoken Arabic?

from Part II - Arabic Variation and Sociolinguistics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 September 2021

Karin Ryding
Georgetown University, Washington DC
David Wilmsen
American University of Beirut
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Gunvor Mejdell writes about the phenomenon variously referred to as formal spoken Arabic (FSA) or educated spoken Arabic (ESA), a more formal Arabic variant that is used on occasions that require a less intimate or less relaxed variant of spoken Arabic. FSA/ESA plays a flexible intermediate role between everyday vernacular and Modern Standard Arabic that allows for calibration to spontaneous but more formalized speech on public or official occasions. That such a form of spoken Arabic has arisen is not unusual but it complicates the traditional diglossia idea of high and low variants of Arabic which have specific, bounded domains of performance. The term lugha wusṭā ‘middle language’ is often used to refer to this variant of Arabic, as is the term lughat al-muthaqqafīn, ‘language of the cultured’. The middle language also relates to the idea of an Arabic koiné, a spoken variant originally identified and discussed by Charles Ferguson. It remains controversial because of its malleability and its own regional differences, and also because it functions as a bridge between regional written and spoken forms of Arabic. Mejdell discusses aspects of codeswitching, but notes that no stability exists in FSA/ESA even at the personal level.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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