Sacred Language, Ordinary People

Overview

The cultures and politics of nations around the world may be understood (or misunderstood) in any number of ways. For the Arab world, language is the crucial link for a better understanding of both. Classical Arabic is the official language of all Arab states although it is not spoken as a mother tongue by any group of Arabs. As the language of the Qur'an, it is also considered to be sacred. For more than a century and a half, writers and institutions have been engaged in struggles to modernize Classical Arabic ...

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Overview

The cultures and politics of nations around the world may be understood (or misunderstood) in any number of ways. For the Arab world, language is the crucial link for a better understanding of both. Classical Arabic is the official language of all Arab states although it is not spoken as a mother tongue by any group of Arabs. As the language of the Qur'an, it is also considered to be sacred. For more than a century and a half, writers and institutions have been engaged in struggles to modernize Classical Arabic in order to render it into a language of contemporary life. What have been the achievements and failures of such attempts? Can Classical Arabic be sacred and contemporary at one and the same time? This book attempts to answer such questions through an interpretation of the role that language plays in shaping the relations between culture, politics, and religion in Egypt.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The book is a welcome contribution to the field of Arabic linguistics.”—International Jourbanal of Middle East Studies

“[T]his is one of the most interesting books I have ever read on language. It is certainly unique insofar as the study of Arabic is concerned, for no linguistic ethnography exists for Classical Arabic.”
-Steven C. Caton, Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies, Harvard University

“I don’t know of anyone who has carved out the subject Haeri is pursuing in such original fashion. She writes clearly about a very complicated set of issues, and she has a wonderful way of blending theory with empirical work.”
-Philip S. Khoury, Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Haeri’s fine book explores one of the most fundamental distinctions in human communication systems-formal versus informal-by examining one of the world’s most important official languages-Classical Arabic. She shows that understanding the role of formal language in society is crucial to an understanding of the state and its relation to symbolic capital. This subtle and well-written analysis is only possible because Haeri relies on concrete ethnographic data of language in practice for her examples.”
-Joel Kuipers, George Washington University, Institute for Ethnographic Research

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312238971
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 9/5/2000
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Niloofar Haeri is Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. She was a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (1999-2000) and is an internationally recognized scholar of Arabic. She has conducted research on language change and its relation to class and gender in Egypt. Among her publications are The Sociolinguistic Market of Cairo: Gender, Class, and Education (Kegan Paul International, 1996) and Structuralist Studies in Arabic Linguistics: Papers Published by Charles Ferguson 1948-1992, with K. Belnap (E. J. Brill, 1997).

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Table of Contents

Introduction
• Humble Custodians of the Divine Word: Classical Arabic in Daily Life
• Text Regulation and Site Ideology
• Creating Contemporaneity: Struggles with Form
• Persistent Dilemmas: Pleasure, Power, and Ambiguity
• Conclusion

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