National Identity and A Social Approach to Language: Evidence from Egypt

Author: Reem Bassiouney (American University in Cairo, Egypt)
Speaker: Reem Bassiouney
Topic: Language, Dialect, Sociolect, Genre
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2020 General Session


Critical sociolinguistics challenges all given ‘bounded notions of language’ that are the product of a specific environment and background. For example, concepts of locality are now challenged by new media where there is clear re-contextualisation and no clear special category (García et al. 2017: 10-11). Such concepts also include the concept of the native speaker and its relation to national identity.

In this study, the relation between national identity and the native speaker is re-evaluated in light of the social construction approach to language, and a critical sociolinguistics approach to studies of identity and language. The paper utilises ‘talk about language’ in Egyptian media (oral and written) and literature in the last two decades in order to examine the conceptualisation of the native speaker as the ‘legitimate citizen’. The study depends on stance taking, and discourse strategies for analysis, bearing in mind the different indexes of linguistic codes used in Egypt.

I argue that the ideological associations of the meaning of a native speaker are not necessarily accurate nor representative of linguistic habits. However, the association between national identity and one specific code is still prevalent in the world at large and in Egypt. This ideology though prevalent in the media is sometimes questioned and challenged. The study also argues that the binary approach to language variation and to diglossia that has been prevalent in studies conducted about Egypt cannot fully explain or reflect the ideological associations of codes or their associations in Egyptian media.

Note that the notion of the native speaker is not only a technical one used by linguists, but also a term used in public discourse, where it is often politicised. Yet, among linguists, the concept is being challenged due to waves of migration, superdiversity and globalisation. The classic definition of a native speaker as someone who can make judgements about a given language needs to be reconsidered and qualified. Concepts such as translanguaging are gaining importance and provide a better framework to explain linguistic phenomena.

Keywords: Critical sociolinguistics, identity, native speaker