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The Role of Contact between English and Arabic in Egypt Essay

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The main focus of the study discussed in this paper is the analysis of the contact between English and Arabic languages in Egypt. Proliferation of foreign languages especially English and French can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century when several missionaries arrived in Egypt.

The position of English in Egypt gained recognition when British people occupied the country. Nowadays, Egypt is characterized by a variety of Arabic languages including Al-fusHa and other colloquial Arabic. However, there is a considerable increase of English language in the use among the Egyptians, and this fact is worries the representatives of the conservative party a lot.

This influence is attributed to the social status attached to English language and the new generation of Egyptians who feel comfortable using English rather than their colloquial languages.

Other factors include information technology, numerous opportunities associated with English language, globalization, and becoming English as the only well-known international language in the whole world.


The role of language is considered to be crucial in civilization as it may define various sides of development of the disciplines including science, art and music. A number of languages that exist in the modern world is not very clear, but many linguistic experts estimate this number to be about 6800 (Agha 2007).

Since there are numerous cultures with diverse languages globally, individuals are forced to learn other languages to be able to interact and socialize with different people locally and internationally. In addition, the world is increasingly becoming a global village as result of advanced communication technologies and globalization, thus people are searching for a universal language for communication and sharing of ideas (Cochran 1986).

Literacy concept has considerably transformed within a short period of time. People who speak only one language are nowadays regarded as uninformed. English is the most spoken language in the world besides other dominant languages such as French, Latin, and Arabic.

People who wanted to learn foreign languages preferred English since it was the principal global language of communication, this is why “it is not enough to know English” on a good level, still, it is more important to know when it should be used (Agha 2007, p. 31).

Most people speak vernacular languages but still prefer to use English language in business and in education. The propensity of using English language by those who have their own vernacular language depends on diverse situations (Haeri 1997).

For instance, many students who use English as a foreign language limit its usage to matter of education or profession; English is regarded as a mere language for them to comprehend the instructions clearly and be able to follow them.

This is the main reason of why most non-English speaking nations limit the usage of English and try to use it only in the sphere of education. However, those students who come to English speaking countries in order to study and improve their knowledge in the chosen field have to use English in and outside the school even if English is not their native language (McKay 2002, p. 71).

Much information is offered to people in English, and many countries have found themselves obliged to study and use English in order to access this foundation of knowledge (Agha 2007). In Arabic nations, the cultural aspect has been limited and influenced by the use of English language; this is attributed to the spread of Islamic culture and religion.

Conversely, in Egypt that is an Arabic speaking nation; English language is used to give instructions in school institutions. Arabic that is the most preferred language among students that is used to socialize different groups of people and promote better understanding of the matter (Schaub 2000, p. 226).

A study conducted by the representative of the University of Cairo aimed at determining the most dominant language in the school premise and analysing the fact that many students’ weak point is to pronounce English words but split the vast majority of English words into Arabic.

Egypt has experienced remarkable historical transformations, and one of the most important was the increase of the English speaking society. The study offered by Mark Schaub (2000) explores the role of contact between English and Arabic in Egypt under the current living conditions (p. 225).

Arabic Language in Egypt

An American linguist, Charles Ferguson, came up with a model that described the differences between the high language and the low language (Baker & Jones 1998, p. 118). A high language is the type that bears a high status within a society; a low language, in its turn, is characterized by a low status in the society.

Al-fusHa, a dominant Arabic language, is regarded as a high language in Egypt while the rest of the local colloquial falls under low form languages. Al-fusHa language and the colloquial Arabic was brought in African by Middle East Arab who migrated in the Northern parts of the Africa.

Al-fusHa was a language of Islamic worship and practices. However, some linguistic experts argue that several intermediary Arabic languages also exist. These include elite spoken Arab which is a mixture of the standard Arabic language and variety of the vernacular Arabic (Haeri 1997; Baker & Jones 1998).

The term Modern Standard Arabic is usually used to denote the written language of the present scholarly, administrative or mass media literatures (Cochran 1986). However, elite spoken Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic differ in a number of sex related vocabularies.

For example, elite spoken Arabic makes no gender distinction in the second and third person’s plural that is in the Modern Standard Arabic. As a result of such inconsistency, linguistic experts have recommended context specific kind of Arabic (Schaub 2000).

A sociolinguistic, Niloofar Haeri, strongly opposed the idea of intermediate Arabic languages such as elite spoken Arabic. Haeri (1997) asserted that most of colloquial Arabic languages present in Egypt were the representatives of mere styles exploited by the Arabic speakers.

He stressed that the dialect of an educated Egyptian citizen is a technique in which Egyptian Arabic under specific condition is articulated. At the end of his research, he came up with a concept referred to the standard variety and argued that Arab languages in Cairo consisted of two standard categories and these are Al-fusHa and some vernacular varieties.

Al-fusHa owes it dominance and status from the Islam and its subsequent civilization. Arabic speakers in Cairo Egypt regard Al-fusHa as a proper, stunning and influential language. Still, several shortages are inherent to the chosen type of language: it is not always flexible, there is no humour to entertain the speakers from time to time, and a number of too complicated grammar rules.

It is also argued that Egyptian system of education is also influenced by the use of Al-fusHa (Cochran 2008). The researches show that speakers from well off families prefer private educational institutions where English and other foreign languages are used as medium to issue the instructions.

Even though these speakers may use Arabic languages outside the classroom, they have to become focused on acquiring foreign language at the expense of the local language. Children also pursue Al-fusHa as a course in public institutions, while some of their instructions are in Arabic.

While private schools’ students dominate by foreign languages so that they can be prepared to take positions in private firms and multinational corporations, the students from public schools are nurtured for public sector jobs (Schaub 2000).

In his research, Haeri (1997) pointed out the significance of Al-fusHa in Egypt among other varieties of Arabic languages in order to understand how different and urgent the styles and languages of Egypt could be. Haeri even employed the idea of linguistic market that focused on the significance of languages in accessing labour market.

Knowledge of some languages increased chances of an individual to get job, get financial help from banks and other financial institutions among others. Haeri noted that knowledge of foreign languages from the west enhanced individual’s chance of getting employment, being promoted and even uplifted their social status.

In the past, foreign languages were attributed to a number of significant foreign policies that had enormous impact on the Egyptian economy and society. English was the most affected by the above-mentioned factors (Agha 2007).

English History in Egypt

Proliferation of western foreign languages like English and French can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century when missionaries arrived in Egypt. The citizens were able to find good jobs in the public sector only in case they have appropriate level of knowledge of English language (Schaub 2000).

According to the studies, the Egyptian education system of that period was mainly intended to produce submissive clerical workers. During this era, Arabic language was held with low status by the colonial government and efforts were made to teach all subjects in secondary schools in English, but such subjects like mathematics and Arabic were exceptions.

Standard Arabic continued to be used to provide students with the instructions in school, while English became the most dominant foreign language in Egypt. After the war with Israel in early 70s, Egypt shifted their focus to the USA.

The American government made a decision to improve teachers’ proficiency by means of Agency for International Development, and the offered courses were based on a voluntary basis (Schaub 2000; Cochran 2008).

Printed versions of Standard English became a significant part of the Egyptian literature. There are a number of publications in English, and one of the most popular was the Egyptian Gazette. Other papers which were used by the citizens were The Middle East Times and Al Ahram, Cairo Times (Schaub 2000).

Mark Schaub, being a sufficient sociolinguist, conducted a research to examine different forms and roles of English language in Egypt. Schaub established that English had become the second most popular language in Egypt.

The role of this language remains to be important in Egyptian culture: numerous advertisements, music, clothes, and mass media production are connected to the chosen language, and no one can change this situation but still may contribute it. This is why Mark Schaub (2000) decided to investigate English as the first language for some natives in the foreign countries.

The realm of English language in Egypt ranges from multinational industries and businesses to the tourism sector and international relations.

Job opportunities are available for Arabs who can speak more than one language in Hotels of Sinai and the Red Sea. People who want to find some job opportunities in such hotels must be competent in at least one international foreign language.

Although the majority of employees who work in these hotels are Egyptians, a large percentage of these premises are owned by foreigners. Having numerous job opportunities, Sinai and Red Sea are highly populated by the migrants who are recorded in this area (Cochran 2008).

Foreign embassies or consulates in Egypt and other multinational companies regard English considerably. Following the ideas of globalization and liberalization of the Egyptian economy, English has changed from mere language of communication to language that is used in correspondence and documentation.

However, globalization did cost some money and efforts. Egyptian economists complain that globalization led to high inflation, increasing of inequality and irregular distribution of national resources. Globalization made the flooding of the Egyptian economy being full of lavish consumer goods and created a new category of wealthy intermediaries and business solicitors (Agha 2007).

English in the Egyptian Educational System

Education system in Egypt can be categorized into public government schools and private foreign schools. Public system of education is mainly focused on preparing students to occupy public slots which are currently limited in supply. In the past, public schools’ students automatically qualified for the jobs but such situation has changed dramatically since jobs of the public sector are very hard to come by.

Students who graduated from private schools had often high competency in English and other foreign languages thus had high chances of securing a lucrative job in the private sector and multinational organizations. Competency in English language was seen as a blessing and a means of achieving the elevated financial and societal status (Hary 1996).

English education is also available at the institutions of high learning especially in the private universities. It means that English is available for students who come from well off families oftener than for students of families with other financial statuses. Nevertheless, in the Egyptian public universities, English instructions may be found in scientific departments.

Some legal and commerce departments also use English language but their access is still limited. Certain scientific fields like computer science use English as their medium of communication, while the spheres like medicine use English partially while contacting foreigners or participating in special professional activities (Schaub 2000).

English in the Contemporary Egyptian Society

English has been used to classify people in Egypt as either high class, educated, or foreigners. Zamalek and Ma’adi areas are dominated by foreigners. Therefore, the use of foreign languages has become a norm in these areas.

Non-Arabic speakers who visit Egypt can execute their activities in these areas smoothly without the necessity to learn Arabic. These areas are usually avoided by foreigners who come to Egypt to study Arabic (Hary 1996).

As it has been already mentioned, the access to English education is limited to certain class of people or schools in Egypt, and media has been on the fore front to bridge this gap. English is the most popular language used by many TV channels in Egypt.

It was established the citizens of Egypt are truly devoted fans of TV: the majority of the Egyptian households have a TV-set in comparison to the countries of the Middle East or Northern Africa who do not find it necessary to use TV as the only source of information.

Therefore, any program or news directed in English reaches the majority of Egyptians. Egyptian press is the most dominant and influential source of information in the Arab region by means of which the citizens are able to learn the current living conditions and other factors which may predetermine their lives (Schaub 2000).

Recent studies on Egyptian Arabic orthography established that young people become unfamiliar with Arabic spellings oftener. A study carried out by Mark Warschauer, Ghada R.Elsaid and Ayman Zohry (2004) on language choice among young professional Internet users in Egypt established that Arabic orthography were used the least.

Egyptian online domains are currently dominated by a new Arabic diglossia. Diglossia is the situation when there are two different languages which aim at using in oral communication and writing separately (Warschauer et al. 2004).

The investigations of Warschauer’s team (2004) show that there are two main varieties of languages in Egypt which are Classical Arabic that is also regarded as a literary dialect and Egyptian Arabic that performs the role of the main current Arabic dialects.

Musicians often use Arablizi that is a coded Arabic orthography to Latin scripts (Palfreyman & Khalil 2003). Musicians use this notation since it is popular among the representatives of the Arab speaking youths.

Though these two dialects play an important role in the life of each Egyptian citizen, English still serves as the second main language by means of which guests and native citizens may communication on the Egypt land.

This is why the impact of English on Arabic in Egypt has to be considered as an important issue: the way of how Egyptians accept English predetermines the way of how English may define the use of other languages.

Mark Schaub established that the most preferred dialect among the Egyptian students is the American English, despite of the fact that most the English literatures used in Egypt schools were produced and published in British English, American English contains more simplified terminology and vocabulary so that Egyptian students may use it.

Linguistic experts posit that such choice may be also based on the idea of new generation the principle of which is to avoid the memories connected to the past and the colonial era under the conditions of which Egyptian people had to follow the rules set by the British people.

However, this issue remains to be complex as not long time ago; U.S recent involvement on war against terrorism specifically targeting Arab nations changed dramatically the attitude of Arabs to American English (Schaub 2000). On the other hand, it seems to be an important step to know the language of the enemies and understand better their culture, preferences, and nature of actions.

Some people may argue that the U.S actions reduce the interest in American English with the shift towards the British English. This may also be because England is near Egypt than U.S, and there are more tourists from Great Britain than from the USA.

In spite of the fact that rates are not constant, the popularity of American English is still higher. There are many options of why the spread of this dialect is supported by the Egyptian people: global influence, diplomatic relations between the USA and Egypt, or the desire to attract the attention of more tourists using the only popular international language (Palfreyman & Khalil 2003).

Popularity of English in Egypt

Egyptian Arabic is considered to be a very powerful means of communication among the peers, while English is associated among the representatives of elites and mostly used to gain some economical or business goals. English was considered as a language for hospitality in Egypt for a long period of time.

Being attached to tourism, English was the major source of revenue for the Egyptian economy, and it is valuable to treat this language as lingo of class and representation of status in Egypt (Schaub 2000).

Another reason concerning the impact of English in Egypt is the sphere of information technology. Experts reveal that there is no standardized software in Arabic language. This is partly attributed to technicalities associated with computing world for instance computing is less complex in ASCII code that sustains unique Roman letters.

In addition, most means of information and communication technology companies in Egypt are dominated by expatriates and foreign ownership.

They also employ huge number of employees from the neighbourhoods and other foreign nationals which may become an obstacle to a standardized Arabic language in computing being independent bodies and become a serious argument to support the spread of English being a part of the same team (Schaub 2000).

Talking about the role of English on Arabic languages, it is necessary to admit the place of the Internet in the life of Egyptians. The investigations show that the Internet was available for the citizens since 1993 (Warschauer et al. 2004), and the commercial Internet was offered three years later.

The vast majority of services are offered in English as it is the only international language known, and Egyptian government admitted the importance of participation in informational technology sphere by means of using people’s knowledge of English.

It was crucial to postpone the education of Arabic languages but pay more attention to the basics of English and promote each citizen with an opportunity to use the Internet as the main source of information.

Information available in the Internet and literary sources are in English. Most students in Egypt learn the basics of computing and the Internet using English before shifting to their native Arabic. This is the reason of why most of them are neither experienced nor proficient in typing Arabic and Roman scripts.

Confusion arising from different Arabic styles has made some students to shift to English; as a result of such decision, many Egyptian students of the high learning institutions can write in English better than they can do it in Arabic (Warschauer et al. 2004).

The necessity to translate Internet information promotes the development of another sphere of education: oral and written translation: students have to adapt their knowledge the way they can use the already given information in English and translate it properly into native languages of Egypt.

Some Egyptian Internet users use Romanized Egyptian Arabic to chat and send e-mails. Online use of language in Egypt was influenced by the technicalities in the information technology and by the social structures attached to the ICT (information communication technology).

The main social dynamic shaping global media and communication in the present era of information communication technology is the conflict between global and local networks. Therefore, it is possible to believe that the use of English and Egyptian Arabic depicts the wider and more stable social and linguistic transformations in Egypt (Schaub 2000; Warschauer et al. 2004).


The dominance of English language in the Egyptian society is attributed to the history of this country, globalization and the advancements in information communication technology.

The main focus of this study was to learn thoroughly a variety of Arabic languages and Standard English language. Use of English language in Egypt has been used to categorize an individual within the society.

From the economic point of view, eloquence in English means greater financial opportunities in the multinational businesses, tourism sector and other large commercial sectors. Therefore, English is spoken against the supremacy and dominance of the English speaking world.

The study has explored the socio-linguistic state of affairs in Egypt by examining a number of Arabic variations and utilization of English language. There are different attitudes towards the use of English and different variations of Arabic in Egypt.

Al-fusHa is the most prestigious Arabic language. Al-fusHa is not essentially related to the elite members of the society, but is a product of Islamic religion and cultural practices. It was mainly used in Islamic religion in Litany and other religious literatures.

The rest of the colloquial Arabic are considered as low languages by the Arabic society. Being so rigid and strict, Al-fusHa is chosen by a number of educated and elite Egyptians who may now shift their attention towards English that is highly valued in Egypt.

English is kept as the language to be used as an elite cryptogram, while the Egyptian Arabic is used to show solidarity among the Egyptian people. Al-fusHa continues to be used as a result of its linguistic heritage that cannot be separated from the Arab world.

Egyptian Arabic is the most favoured colloquial Arabic that shows some forms of self-pride among the Egyptian populace. Language ideology is a very complex subject in relation to the use of English in Egypt.

Some experts argue that the rich socio-linguistic heritage of the Egyptian language may be the reason of why high preference for English language than Egyptian Arabic is present in spite of the fact that it is not related to the ideology of English operating as an elite cryptogram.

Unluckily, language ideology does not consider specific features but does speculate on the general feeling about the language. Egyptian youth are the most culprit when it comes to use foreign languages especially English. This is partly attributed to their frustration due to the lack of competency in Arabic.

They are classified as intermediaries between the Egyptian culture and foreign cultural influence. Even if English becomes a dominant language in Egypt, majority still view it as a foreign language. In this case, English is rarely used in conveying profound emotions.

However, it is very apparent that English is taking over Egypt gradually as the new generation of Egyptians who feel very comfortable while using English oftener than their colloquial languages.

Reference List

Agha, A 2007, Language and Social Relation. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Baker, C & Jones, SP 1998, Encyclopaedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matter, Philadelphia.

Cochran, J 1986, Education in Egypt. Cross Helm, London.

Cochran, J 2008, Educational Roots of Political Crisis in Egypt. Lexington Books, Lanham.

Elgibali, A. (ed). Understanding Arabic: Essays in Contemporary Arabic Linguistics in Honor of El-Said Badawi, The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.

Haeri, N 1997, The Sociolinguistic Market in Cairo: Gender, Class and Education. Columbia University Press, New York.

Hary, B 1996, ‘The Importance of the Language Continuum in Arabic Multiglossia’, in

McKay, SL 2002, Teaching English as an International Language. Oxford University Press, New York.

Palfreyman, D & Mohamed, K 2003, ‘A Funky Language for Teens to Use: Representing Gulf Arabic in Instant Messaging’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 9, no.1, pp. 1-29.

Schaub, M 2000, ‘English in the Arab Republic of Egypt’, World Englishes, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 225-238

Warschauer, M, Said GR, & Zohry, A 2004, ‘Language Choice Online: Globalization and Identity in Egypt’, Jandt (ed.) in Intercultural Communication: A Global Reader, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.

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