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Patterns, Functions and Social Perception of Arabic-English Code-switching in Egypt

The project is financed by the National Science Centre (Sonata 6)

Project Coordinator: Dr Małgorzata Kniaź

Executive: Magdalena Zawrotna MA

Project duration: September 2014 – September 2017

Code-switching is the use of two (or more) languages or language varieties in the same speech situation. The vast majority of research dealing with code-switching in Egypt has focused exclusively on diglossic code-switching between the two basic varieties of Arabic – Standard and Colloquial Arabic. Meanwhile, since the 1990s the role of English in Egypt has increased considerably, particularly in education and the labour market. Members of the upper and upper-middle class usually have a better command of English than Standard Arabic both in writing and speaking. As a result, Arabic-English code-switching has become a common phenomenon among a large group of well-to-do bilingual Egyptians using the linguistic resources of Egyptian Arabic and English in private and professional communication. For this reason, bilingual code-switching should be included when describing the linguistic situation in Egypt, particularly as ongoing linguistic change may be the determinant of a cultural evolution in which awareness is the key to understanding the current socio-political transformations in this country.

Despite the prevalence of Arabic-English code-switching in Egypt, it has not been subject to thorough sociolinguistic analysis as yet. To the best of our knowledge, this will be the first empirical study conducted on the basis of real-life material from television, the Internet and data collected during fieldwork in Egypt. The objective of the project is a multidimensional and comprehensive analysis of Arabic-English code-switching. We aim to describe the patterns, grammatical constrains, functions, and social perception of code-switching as well as social and conversational motivations for its use in public discourse, face-to-face and computer-mediated communication. As far as methodology is concerned, we combine research methods used in linguistics, sociology and anthropology.

The project will help to answer the question about the universality of the MLF (Matrix Language Frame) model and define the phenomenon of code-switching in a diglossic situation, which will be an important contribution to the development of the theory of code-switching, particularly as our study deals with unrelated languages that have conceptual systems belonging to completely different cultural traditions. We focus not only on a comprehensive description, but also the understanding of the mechanisms underlying code-switching, which is significant to enrich the knowledge on linguistic interaction. Research solutions applied in our study will allow the creation of tools for the analysis of code-switching in diglossic communities