A research project at Georgetown University Qatar is seeking to map “language landcapes” in Qatar and explore how language use intersects with aspects of culture and identity in the multiethnic country.
Yehia Abdel-Mobdy Mohamed, an associate professor of Arabic, is leading the project, titled “Narratives of Language Landscapes in Qatar,” which is based in the university’s Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS).
In a Zoom interview, Mohamed told Al-Fanar Media that the “lack of an introductory map of the reality of linguistic policies and their relationships with other sciences in the Arab world was the main impetus for launching the Language Landscapes initiative.”
Misba Bhatti, a research analyst at CIRS, told Al-Fanar Media in an email that the initiative aims to study the living practices of language use, the formation of linguistic identity, and intercultural communication in Qatar.
The project is starting from Qatar, Mohamed said, and hopes to cover all Arab countries eventually.
Addressing a Knowledge Gap
Mohamed, who holds a Ph.D. in Arabic and Semitic studies from Cairo University’s Faculty of Arts, has taught at several universities in the United States, including the University of Maryland, George Washington University, and Georgetown University’s home campus in Washington, D.C.
“The lack of an introductory map of the reality of linguistic policies and their relationships with other sciences in the Arab world was the main impetus for launching the language landscapes initiative.”
Yehia Abdel Mobdy Mohamed, An associate professor of Arabic at Georgetown University Qatar.
He says there is a great lack of information about linguistic landscapes and the relationships between language and other sciences in the Arab world, as well as the role of language as a means of revealing current societal transformations.
He hopes the Language Landscapes initiative will be a mechanism to bridge the knowledge gap on languages in the Arab world, without a political agenda.
The project is starting with a series of workshops in which scholars are examining topics like the history and typology of Qatari Arabic and how language use interacts with other aspects of Qatari society, such as social class, religion, gender, and worker status, as well as politics and culture.
Besides exploring and discussing the existing scholarship, the researchers will use ethnographic approaches to provide new, empirically based insights, CIRS says in a description of the project on its website. It adds: “The goal of the project is to address gaps in the scholarship and contribute new knowledge to our understanding of the sociolinguistic conditions in Qatar.”
Atlas of Languages in the Arab World
Mohamed hopes that the researchers’ efforts will culminate in producing an atlas of the Arab world’s languages that monitors sociolinguistic phenomena and serves as a reference for Arab libraries on language narratives in the region.
“The goal of the project is to address gaps in the scholarship and contribute new knowledge to our understanding of the sociolinguistic conditions in Qatar.”
The Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University Qatar
Muntasir Al-Hamad, an associate professor at the Arabic for Non-Native Speakers Center at Qatar University, told Al-Fanar Media that language is a living organism affected by a range of external and internal influences of varying magnitudes.
As an example, he cited the effects of Qatar’s societal growth and transformation from being a traditional, inward-looking state to one very open to the outside. This openness coincided with many challenges and influences on the language as a communication tool, said Al-Hamad, who is a former lecturer of Arabic and Oriental Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University, in the United Kingdom.
An expressive image of the initiative “Presenting the Language Landscape in the State of Qatar” (Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University-Qatar).
The Narratives of Language Landscapes project’s workshops are studying these changes in order to describe the linguistic context in Qatar amid such transformations, he added.
“The results of these research workshops will provide abundant, unbiased material for decision makers or researchers to help design language policies,” Al-Hamad said. “We seek to monitor the problem’s true context without exaggeration or minimisation, because we are not concerned with providing solutions.”
Identity and Linguistic Security
Emad Abdul Latif, an associate professor at Qatar University’s Department of Arabic Language, is a participant in the initiative’s workshops.
“The initiative’s research will cover issues of both academic and social importance, such as the impact of ethnic diversity on Qatar’s linguistic landscape, policies to protect the Arabic language, and their relevance to identity and linguistic security.”
Emad Abdel-Latif, Associate Professor at Qatar University’s Department of Arabic Language Studies.
“The initiative’s research will cover issues of both academic and social importance, such as the impact of ethnic diversity on Qatar’s linguistic landscape, policies to protect the Arabic language, and their relevance to identity and linguistic security,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
Abdul Latif hopes the initiative will also conduct field research to form an accurate picture of the linguistic landscape in Qatar.
“We need comprehensive data to understand linguistic interaction and evolution in a rapidly changing world,” he said. “Understanding these processes is of particular importance in Qatar, since it is a structurally similar model to most Arab Gulf countries, yet it is concerned with language policies that place the protection of the national language among its priorities.”
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