The Arabic language and political ideology

Authored by: Mariam Aboelezz

The Routledge Handbook of Arabic Linguistics

Print publication date:  January  2018
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138783331
eBook ISBN: 9781315147062
Adobe ISBN:


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Broadly speaking, language serves two main functions in society. The first is an instrumental function: to serve as an effective means of communication. The second is a symbolic function, which includes the capacity of language to act both as a symbol (especially as an identity marker) and as an index (through the associations it invokes within the speech community). It also includes its role as a ‘proxy’ “to express extra-linguistic views and anxieties, as well as to hint at the political orientations of a group or individual” (Suleiman 2013, p. 16). In other words, at a symbolic level, language serves as a proxy for ideology. The concept of language ideology links the instrumental and symbolic functions of language in that the symbolic can be used to justify the instrumental: Silverstein (1979, p. 193) defines language ideology as “sets of beliefs about language articulated by users as a rationalisation or justification of perceived language structure and use”. We may also speak of political language ideology: this is when language becomes politicised; when it is used as a proxy to maintain or challenge power relations, group identity and (a particular) social order in society. This chapter is about political language ideologies in the Arab world.

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