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Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language in Its Diglossic Situation: Is Formal Spoken Arabic an Ideal Solution?

Zainab Shahad Marzouk Al-Zaghir, Ghsoon Reda


Due to the complex diglossic situation in Arabic, the question of what variety of the language to teach has always occupied a central position in work on teaching Arabic as a foreign language (AFL). Basic Standard Arabic may have been the most supported answer to the above question, but the field is not short of proposals for teaching dialectal varieties. Moreover, in quest of a way to help learners achieve full “Functionally Native Proficiency” (Ryding 1991, 216), Formal Spoken Arabic (FSA) was proposed as a bridge between a standard variety and a dialectal one. The present study argues against such a proposal at beginner levels on the following grounds: (1) FSA is different from the standard and dialectal varieties of Arabic and (2) FSA users can always shift to their dialectal varieties and employ features lying beyond AFL learners’ scope of competence. The argument is supported by examining variation in the use of the Arabic relative clause induced by the tendency toward different relativisation strategies (i.e. the pronoun retention strategy or the gap strategy) in different Arabic varieties. Considering that the relative clause can be embedded into any construction to modify a head noun, variation in its use can affect learners’ ability to make sense of the language input. This variation is demonstrated by examples selected from texts written in Classical Arabic, Modern Classical Arabic, and Iraqi Arabic. The study has implications for AFL course writers.


AFL; Arabic language varieties; Arabic relative clause; diglossia; relativisation strategies.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/lcm-2021-002-alre

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Lingue Culture Mediazioni - Languages Cultures Mediation
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (27/11/2013 n. 380)
Online ISSN 2421-0293 - Print ISSN 2284-1881

Dipartimento di Lingue, Letterature, Culture e Mediazioni  
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