A critical examination of the significance of Arabic in realizing an Arab identity: The perspectives of Arab youth at an English medium university in the United Arab Emirates
Dahan, Laila Suleiman
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
In the past few years in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) there has been an overwhelming focus on the use of English at all levels of education, in both public and private schools. In addition, the UAE has given English a fairly central role in both the educational sphere and within society. This rapid spread of English has caused concern among members of the general public, some political figures, and the media. Much of the concern with the spread of English is that the language is taking away from young people’s attachment to and fluency in Arabic. In addition, there is a major concern that any loss of Arabic is tantamount to a loss of Arab identity. The discourse of Arabic as an identity marker needs to be assessed in order to determine the validity of these concerns. In order to evaluate this discourse, this study examines how students, who are native speakers of Arabic, perceive their Arab identity. This is done in two ways: first, by asking them to articulate their perceptions about their own Arab identities, and secondly by asking them to discuss their use of both languages. The study asks the students directly what they believe marks their Arab identity. The research for this thesis took place at an American curriculum, English medium university in the UAE. The data for the study was collected in two ways, through a questionnaire that 304 Arabic speaking students completed, followed by semi-structured interviews with 12 of those students. The findings of this study reveal that Arab youth living in the UAE have a complex Arab identity which is made up of a variety of markers or affiliations. Most participants were unable to state definitively that Arabic was the main marker of their Arab identity, or even a major marker. In a world of globalization and global English, these Arab youth have found another language in which to communicate. They see both Arabic and English as resources for facilitating communication, and do not see a strict bond between Arabic and an Arab identity. The participants view their identity as fluid and display agency in their understanding of their Arab identity and in how they use both languages. The results reveal that there is some concern with a loss of Arabic literacy, but there seems to be very little concern about any loss of Arab identity. Overall the findings show that researching Arab identity is a complicated process, and the responses that are garnered show how complex this process is in the UAE. Based on these findings, it is argued that in this particular setting within the UAE, Arabic is not looked upon as an identity marker. However, due to the paucity of research directly interrogating Arabic and Arab identity construction in the Arab world, this study recommends that further studies be carried out in other institutions of higher education in the UAE, where students may not be as proficient in English, and in other Arab nations where English is perhaps not as firmly entrenched.
PhD in Education