"IrHal!": The Role of Language in the Arab Spring
Harb Michel, Nazir Nader
This research investigates the explanatory power of Arabic dialects in describing why the `Arab Spring' is a transnational regional phenomenon rather than an isolated local event specific to Tunisia or Egypt? Is the Arabic language (standard), or its colloquial variants (dialects), part of the explanation, and to what extent? In a December 31, 2011 YouTube posting, Al-Arabiya spotlights language as a critical component of the Arab Spring uprisings. In countries where certain kinds of speech and particularly anti-regime expression are monitored, regulated, and punishable by both legal and extra-legal means, an imperative like /irHal/ (MSA: `depart') is interpreted by regime security apparatuses as action. Elliot Colla explains that the "slogans the protestors are chanting are couplets--and they are as loud as they are sharp." This poetry is "not an ornament to the uprising," but rather it is a veritable "soundtrack and also composes a significant part of the action itself." In the Arab Spring uprisings, then, poets are warriors. Code choices about Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Colloquial Arabic (CA) in the context of the Arab Spring reflect Reem Bassiouney's concept of "involvement," a psycho-social objective related to the speaker's intended level of audience engagement. Its corollary, "ideation," is the "translation of this aim into different types of discourse." In the Arab Spring, involvement is a choice the chanter makes after determining a communicative aim and then decides upon a method of ideation, and finally arrives at a code choice based on her/his perception of the intended audience. This analysis argues that there is an illocutionary element at play in the "travel" of the revolutionary chants, and therewith its requisite sentiments and objectives, across Arab state borders. The chants are designed to increase public engagement and sustain the tenor of the uprisings in order to provoke the revolutionary movement, or action. The language of the Arab Spring is a critical form of action. The shouted slogans of the demonstrators take the form of couplets with predictable and simple rhyming patterns that set the tone and meter of the protests. These `couplet-slogans' carry the sentiments and objectives of the revolutionaries across national borders, down streets and alleys, but also transmit the entitlement, the right, the messages, and the impetus to revolt into the mouths and feet of the public at large, but also into lexicons, syntaxes and synapses of spectators who, in turn, are driven to activism. In participating in a protest one understands her/his words to be a form of revolutionary activism, or involvement. In most cases, the language of the Arab Spring slogans has been colloquial Arabic, which, this research argues, contributes to the transnationalism of the uprisings because dialects are perceived to be the authentic speech of ash-sha'b (the people) and therefore travel more easily across borders. With the words of the people echoing across borders, revolutionary action is inspired. This analysis suggests that the chanters in the uprisings believe the revolution to be popular (sha'bi) and, while they perceive their audiences to be Arabs of all nationalities, they choose to speak and be moved by colloquial rather than standard Arabic. While the regime speaks MSA, the protestors speak colloquial Arabic to engage locals and use MSA to interact with and spread the revolution regionally.
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Coordinating Mass Protests in Tahrir Square: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of Engroupment, Multi-Modal Intertextuality and Revolution Harb Michel, Nazir Nader (Georgetown University, 2016)This dissertation poses three central questions about the 2011 Egyptian Arab Spring: 1) What catalyzed and perpetuated Egypt’s 2011 ‘revolutionary interval’? 2) How effective were various messaging channels (vocal, gestural, ...