Colin Harlow and Dr. R. Kirk Belnap, Near Eastern Languages
Egypt has produced some of the greatest literature in the world and is quite known for its magnificent language, Arabic. Arabic is a symbol itself of the Arab’s society and has always been considered more than a form of communication, that is the writing itself is a form of art and Arabs learn from the beginning to write this language in a celebrated prose form that can be seen in the Qur’an and most serious works of literature. This form of writing, called Classical Arabic, or fuSHa, is, in itself, different than the colloquial spoken Arabic that differs according to region. This means that it is a diglossic language. My research looked into rather or not this higher form of Arabic was being used in communicative fashion as it traditionally has been. It seemed, though, in a country high in illiteracy, such as Egypt, where Arabic is the national language, that using Classical Arabic in written sources would affect what persons could utilize that source. From this came my research question. Is there any relationship in newspaper readership and education level in Egypt based on an admixture of colloquial with fuSHa? If this relationship is not dependent upon this variable, then what other factors might it depend on?
For my research, I chose a field study in Cairo, Egypt, where I could use a survey as my instrument to attempt to answer these questions. The survey itself was given in a simple written form in Arabic and was translated back from answers given in Arabic on the questionnaire. There were few problems in giving the survey, most of these being cultural barriers. For instance, it was difficult to approach women on the street or in shops to give them the survey and more than once I found males not permitting my survey to be given to females. Other problems included a language barrier. As I gave the survey, the respondents often asked me about myself and I could not respond as well in spoken Arabic to answer their questions. Other problems that may have affected the answers include: (1) the ability to provide a balanced spectrum of education levels from a stratified-random sampling; and, (2) not knowing how truthful the respondents were in answering the survey.
I noticed from the start that the subjects were going to end up mainly from an age range of eighteen years old to sixty years old, and mostly male. Subjects younger than eighteen either were not in school anymore and not very literate, or they weren’t very receptive to the survey. Most of the subjects that claimed higher education levels were current-university level students given the survey at a university. The older subjects, or those approximately over forty years of age usually had no more than primary-level education and did not represent the classification I thought they would have in this study. Nevertheless, I was able to obtain enough information to qualify the study, but I don’t feel as though it was nearly a wide enough sampling to be considered accurate by most scientific methods.
After I compiled the answers in a grid, the following results to the survey were found: Every respondent to the survey, except one, said they read the newspaper. Every respondent read the most-widely circulated government-published papers.
In the first level of education (up to six years of schooling), one-half of respondents found words they didn’t know as they read the newspaper. In the second level of education (from six to twelve years of schooling), one-half of respondents also found words they did not know as they read the newspaper. In the third level of education (twelve or more years of schooling), no respondents found words they did not know as they read the newspaper.
Within all three levels of education, respondents said they found colloquial words or phrases mixed in with the standard-classical Arabic used for the newspapers. In the first level of education, respondents said this mixture was found only in mainline government papers.
In the second level of education, respondents found it in both party papers, private or interest-papers, and the main-line government papers. In the third level of education, respondents found colloquial in all of these types of papers, as well.
Two respondents said that colloquial was not used in the newspapers. One respondent said that it was found in most newspapers he read. Another respondent said that colloquial was mainly found in cartoons and advertisements in the papers.
From these results came an overwhelming answer to my research question. First, education level among Egyptians does affect readership of newspapers. However, it is not due to the style of Arabic used in the papers. As all respondents read the newspapers, and almost every one reportedly found colloquial words or phrases used within the papers, their ability to distinguish Classical Arabic and colloquial Arabic merely proves the existence of the latter in Egyptian papers today. The respondents who claimed they came across words they did not understand were found in each group, but this apparently is not related to their ability to find colloquial in the papers. This could be a factor in why people with less education read mainly government published papers, and people with more education tend to expand their reading to other kinds of papers. The fact that almost all respondents within the first two levels of education read mainly government papers and that the group surveyed from the third level of education (university level or beyond) read a mixture of interest-papers and party and pro-government papers can be attributed to something else. Another question, which asked the respondents’ reason for reading the newspaper revealed that respondents of the first-level of education read to know more about Egypt or they did not respond to the question. From the second-level, most read to be informed or to know about politics. University-level readers tended to read for broader reasons such as world-events information, party-oriented news, or interest-specific news. This shows a tendency for the more educated to read different newspapers.
The study was not as broad and revealing as I had hoped. It did, however show trends in the Egyptian society as to the roles that the newspapers played. This is a research question that is due more time and possibly wider resources to explore properly.