Languages such as English, Spanish and French among others are increasingly being used by people who are not native speakers of those languages in contemporary society.
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For example, it is noted that most universities around the world are adapting English as the basic language for instruction in the classroom (Upton & Lee-Thompson, 2001). Most of the individuals who use these languages in such contexts are either using them as their second language or as a foreign language.
The current study will look at specific purposes on language use in English and Arabic. The study recognises the fact that these two languages are widely used, albeit with differing frequency, by scholars, academics and other individuals around the world today.
As already indicated above, education is one of the areas where English, Arabic and other languages are used even though they may not be the first language of the learner.
This has led to an increase in the number of studies and researchers focusing their attention on the use of language for specific purposes. This has led to the development of a distinct area of study that has come to be referred to as the Language for Specific Purposes (herein referred to as LSP).
Language for Specific Purposes
According to Zhang (2001), Language for Specific Purposes is a fairly recent field in applied linguistics. When used within this context, it refers to the branch of applied linguistics focusing on two aspects of education. One is the needs within the education itself and training, and secondly, research on language variation across a given field or area of study (Zhang, 2001).
According to Groom (2005), there are several factors attributed to the rise of English for Specific Purposes (herein referred to as ESP).
Before getting into these factors, it is important to point out at this juncture that language for specific purposes as a whole is usually used within the context of second or foreign language learning. LSP focuses on the immediate and specific needs of the learner who require the language to carry out activities such as learning or working (Raphiq, 2010).
For example, a social worker who is a native English speaker may find herself working within a community of Spanish speakers. In order to effectively operate within this community, she may opt to learn Spanish for the specific purpose of communicating with the natives.
Going back to the issue of the origins of English language for specific purposes, three factors have been associated with it. One is historical evolution involving the end of the Second World War and the oil crisis that hit the world in the early 1970s (Groom, 2005).
Given the economic power of the United States of America during these two events, English was adopted as the international means of communication. As such, individuals from other parts of the world had to learn English for the specific purpose of operating in the global arena.
The second factor attributed to the rise of English for specific purposes, according to Uso-Joan (2006), was a revolution in the linguistics arena. Linguists discovered that there was a variation between spoken and written English. It was also found that the language varied greatly with the context within which it was being used. For example, the use of a certain word or phrase such as “draw blood” will vary in medicine and arts.
In medicine, it may mean the acquisition of blood from for example a patient, while in arts, it may mean hurting an opponent. As such, it becomes important to tailor the English language in order to meet the needs of learners and other individuals in different contexts.
The final factor associated with the rise of English for specific purposes had to do with the focus on the learner. Linguists found out that learners used different strategies to learn a new language, and as such there was the need to focus on the needs of these different types of learners (Hyland & Tse, 2005).
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To this end, specific courses have been designed to address the individual needs of the language learner. This has made focus on the learner or the learning centred approach to be the buzz word in English as a second language (ESL) context.
The increased use of English language in various parts of the world has been underscored by various studies that have been conducted in this field. A case in point is a study by Schaub (2000) titled English in the Arab Republic of Egypt.
According to this author, as Egyptians continue to interact more and more with the rest of the world, they become aware that they need to learn English, which has emerged as the universal means of communication.
Learning of English for specific purposes becomes discernible in this case given that the individuals learn the language to specifically interact with the rest of the world. For example, practitioners in the tourism industry have to learn the English language in order to better handle tourists from other parts of the world (Schaub, 2000).
The Relationship between Literacy Problems in Arabic and the Structure of the Language
Linguists have found that there is a clear relationship between the structure of texts in a given language and literacy of the same. For example, according to Ikeda & Takeuchi (2006), if there is a significant distance between the standard written variety of a language and the spoken variety of the same, some literacy problems are likely to manifest.
In this section of literature review, a comparison will be made between the arguments of two scholars in this field as far as Arabic and literacy are concerned. The first will be the article Literacy problems in Arabic: Sensitivity to diglossia in tasks involving working memory by Raphiq (2010). The second is Linguistic distance and literacy in Arabic by Muhammad (1983).
Both of these authors agree on the fact that there is a variance between the spoken Arabic language and the written version of the same. For example, according to Raphiq (2010), Arabic children “acquire the spoken Arabic- ammia (SA) – at home and (acquire the) literary Arabic- fusha at school” (571).
Raphiq (2010) refers to this variation as diglossia, and goes ahead to argue that it negatively affects the acquisition of reading skills among the Arabic children.
On his part, Muhammad (1983) argues that a distance is discernible between the standard written variety of Arabic and the various spoken varieties. He refers to this as “structural differences between (the) written and spoken Arabic (language)” (Muhammad, 1983: p. 507). According to him, and in agreement with Raphiq (2010), this leads to many sociolinguistic problems among the learners.
According to Raphiq (2010) and other scholars such as Yakhontora (2001) and Baddeley (2003), ammia, or the spoken version of Arabic, is synonymous with the local dialects that are used by speakers of Arabic in various locations around the Arabic speaking world.
It is used as the verbal means of communication and is the native language of almost all groups that can be classified as Arabic speakers in the world (Yakhontora, 2002: Abu-Rabia, 2000). This language is significantly different from the written form of Arabic, referred to as fusha, also referred to as written Arabic or modern standard Arabic (herein referred to as MSA).
Fusha is the form of Arabic language that is universal to Arabic speakers as far as reading and writing is concerned (Kamarulzaman, Hassan & Rahimi, 2009). On its part, spoken Arabic does not have a written form, something that is not present in languages such as English.
Raphiq (2010) and Muhammad (1983) argue that literate Arabic speakers can be conceptualised as being bilingual. This is given the fact that they use two forms of a language to write and speak, giving rise to diglossia.
However, these two scholars have been criticised for this argument, given the controversy surrounding the issue of whether two forms of a single language can be considered as de facto different languages (Anderson, 2004).
As much as there are agreements between Raphiq (2010) and Muhammad (1983) studies, some differences are discernible. For example, Raphiq’s study is fairly recent, having been conducted in the year 2010. As such, it can be argued that it reflects the recent developments in this field. On its part, Muhammad’s study was conducted in 1983, and as such, recent developments may not be reflected.
Muhammad (1983) also fails to make a distinction between children learners and adult Arabic language learners.
He makes the assumption that the challenges that are faced by both of these learners are similar, given that they face the learning process with equivalent, albeit not equal, linguistic know how (Muhammad, 1983). This is given that both children and adults have already mastered the spoken Arabic language used by their community.
On its part, Raphiq’s study used the age as one of the variables, looking at the effects that diglossia has on learners of different age groups. To this end, Raphiq (2010) used as his sample learners from 1st grade all the way to 12th grade of learning. But both studies looked at the first stages of learning Arabic language, even though they may have approached the topic differently.
Language for Specific Purposes: Specific Use of Language in Science
In an article titled Why is scientific writing so interesting? Hyland & Salager-Meyer (n.d) look at how language varies from how it is used in everyday conversation and writing and how it is used in scientific writing. According to these two scholars, scientific writing is erroneously regarded as a mere “conventional means of (disseminating) the results of laboratory experiments…..” (p. 297).
To the contrary, they are of the view that this form of writing is a representation of the status and authority of the writer, as well as a representation of the knowledge per se. To this end, language is specifically used for the purpose of conveying all of these connotations.
To underscore the aspect of language for specific purposes in scientific writing, Hyland & Salager-Meyer (n.d) argue that the way that a researcher presents their topic to the audience via the various media such as articles or textbooks tells a lot about their personality.
It signifies the allegiance of the researcher, and their level of professional competence in their particular field (Alhadlaq, Alshaya, Alabdukareem, Perkins, Adams & Wieman, 2009). The form of language that is used is significant since it underscores how knowledge in that particular field is codified. As such, language has been developed in various fields to specifically code the knowledge in that field and pass it along to the audience.
In science writing, scholars such as Hasmam & Rahimi (2010) and Diane (2009) among others have identified the important role that is played by language for specific purpose used in the particular field.
One such important role of specific language in science is to be found in its ability to academically persuade the scholars and the community at large. This is given the fact that the level of language complexity used by the scholar in their scientific writing is likely to be taken as the indication of their level of competence and professionalism in that field, among other factors.
Also, language is specifically used in the scientific field to construct knowledge within that particular academic realm (Alhadlaq et al, 2009). As indicated already indicated above, it is language that is used to codify the knowledge that is discovered in that field.
Scholars also communicate using the specific language, and in this discourse, further knowledge is created. When researchers make their findings, they put it down in words and letters of the language that they are using. This way, knowledge is codified, and can be retrieved by other interested parties by interpreting the codes.
The second aspect of language for specific purpose that makes it important in science writing is its ability to “legitimise (both the) ideological and political authority of science (in contemporary) world” (Hyland & Salager-Meyer, n.d: p. 299). It is noted that academic discourses are held with high regard in the society, and as a result, tend to influence to a greater extent the society’s ideological systems.
One of the reasons why science is revered in contemporary society is the fact that it is rational and acts as a means of detached reasoning (Jongsma & Jongsma, 2005). This however does not negate the fact that some aspects of the scientific world are viewed with scepticism by the larger society.
Academic discourses (read scientific writings) have socio-cultural authority in the modern world, authority that is manifest through the language used by the academics in these discourses. This authority is conferred on these discourses by the control that they have over the physical and intellectual events in the modern world (Jongsma & Jongsma, 2005).
Another aspect of language for specific purpose in this field is to be found in its ability to come up with an institutionalised system of hierarchy, status and reward via publication of articles, books and other media used to convey knowledge (Ikeda & Takeuchi, 2006). It is this specific language which is used to distribute social power and status among the writers in the academic field.
It is noted that there is a relationship between Arabic and English as far as language for specific purposes is concerned. This is given the fact that most Arabic speakers have acknowledged the need to learn English for the specific purpose of communicating in a global world.
For example, Jongsma & Jongsma (2005) cite the example of the intention by the United Arab Emirates to teach mathematics by English to learners in the initial years of learning. It is also noted that English is used as the instructional language by most lecturers in universities in the Arabic speaking world.
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Alhadlaq, H., Alshaya, F., Alabdukareem, S., Perkins, K. K., Adams, W. K., & Wieman, C. E. (2009). Measuring students’ beliefs about physics in Saudi Arabia. Physics Education Research Conference, 2009, 69-72.
Anderson, N. J. (2004). Metacognitive reading strategy awareness of EFL and ESL learners. CATESOL Journal, 16, 11–27.
Baddeley, A. (2003). Working memory and language: An overview. Journal of Communication Disorders, 36, 189–208.
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Groom, N. (2005). Pattern and meaning across genres and disciplines: An exploratory study. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 4(3): 257–277.
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