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Artwork by Mohmmed Rasheed


Libyan Arab: Issues in Language Contact and Identity
By Nahla Elsubeihi



In her personal novel, Lost in Translation, Eva Hoffman writes: “It’s not that we all want to speak the King’s English, but whether we speak Appalachian or Harlem English, or Cockney, or Jamaican Creole, we want to be at home in our tongue. We want to be able to give voice accurately and fully to ourselves and our sense of the world.” (Hoffman, 1990, p. 124). As our world is becoming increasingly small, multiculturalism and multilingualism have become the norm. In the streets of a metropolitan city, different languages with its sub-varieties can be heard. The majority of populations have a language and a culture to lean back on to identify themselves to the world. Many are able to say: I am Lebanese, and we Lebanese speak like this. However, the question at present is: what about the thousands of speakers who in cross-dialectical communication resort to accommodative strategies that simultaneously conceal their true identity? When speakers engage in such activity, they tend to modify their language to adapt to their interlocutors, a theory in linguistics called linguistic accommodation (Giles & Coupland, 1991). This paper argues that some features of Libyan Arabic accommodation to Mashreqi addressees in the UAE disguise the national identity of Libyans.  

This research paper will first provide an overview of the Arabization of Libya and the linguistic markers of Libyan Arabic.  Then, the paper will discuss the strategic linguistic accommodations in Maghrebi-Mashreqi face-to-face interactions explored by existing studies. Following that, I will present my field work research. The research involves interviewing university and middle-aged Libyans about their language habits in the UAE. The interviews will be categorized based on four major questions: (1) What are the linguistic accommodations Libyans in the UAE resort to? (2) What is the reasoning behind their language habits? (3) Do these linguistic accommodations conceal their Libyan identities? (4) Is Libyan Arabic an object of stylized mockery?  Lastly, I will conclude by presenting the essential findings that were unearthed in my research study.


The Arabization of Libya

It was the Arabization of the Maghreb by Arab forces, which came in two waves in the seventh and eleventh centuries, that transformed the linguistic, cultural, and ethnic complexion of what is called Libya today. These new conquerors, not only physically succeeded earlier invaders, they brought with them something that had an everlasting effect on the whole of the Maghreb – Islam. 


 In the seventh century, forces from the Arabian Peninsula crossed into Cyrenaica, eastern Libya, and made their way westward, meeting little resistance until they reached Tripolitania from furious Berber tribes of the mountains. In 645, Tripoli was eventually taken by the Arab commander - Amr ibn al-As. During this century, the Arab newcomers solely occupied towns that were strategically significant. Therefore, the pastoral and mountainous areas were left to the Berbers until the second wave of Arabization in the middle of the eleventh century.  The Arabic dialects of the regions that were invaded and Arabized in the seventh century are thought to be pre-Hialian dialects. [1]

In the eleventh century, a greater and much more “systematic” wave of Arabization washed over Libya (Pereira, 2007).  In 1050-51, the Bedouin tribes, Maqil, Bani Salim, and Bani Hilal migrated from the Arabian Peninsula to Cyrenaica after fleeing Egypt due to famine and continued their migration towards Tripolitania. The coming of the second Arabian conquest, which stretched across Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, led to intermarriage and intermingling with the Berbers, resulting in both the Arabization and Islamization of Libya. This is especially seen in Cyrenaica where it is populated by Bedouin Arabs, and remains today the “most ethnically and religiously homogenous regions in North Africa today” (Pargeter, 2012, p.17).


As the Arabization of Libya grew stronger, Pre-Hilalian Arabic dialect in the metropolitan areas of Tripolitania followed a process of koineization (dialect mixing) due to the great influence of the Bedouin tribes (see Pereira, 2007, 2011 for more on sociolinguistic history of Libya). Hence, after the Arabization of Libya in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Arabic dialects spoken were deemed to be Bedouin dialects. Despite the stream of foreign occupiers – with their diverse cultures and religions – it is the Arab identity that has engraved a lasting stamp on Libyan identity today.

The Language Situation in Libya

In 1911, the Italians embarked on a full-scale military colonization of Libya and its “institutionalizion of linguistics” (Golino, 1970, p. 344). Thus, as different regional spoken Arabic were reinforced in Libya, the influence of the Italian language and culture underscored the uniqueness of Libyan national identity within the Arab world. Of the various European powers that occupied the Arab world during the first half of the twentieth century, “Italian was the least prestigious” (Golino, 1970, p. 344).  Therefore, the French occupied Maghreb states (i.e. Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) adopted a derogatory outlook towards the Italian culture through condescending attitudes towards Libyans (Golino, 1970).

Following the defeat of Fascist Italy in World War II, and Libya’s birth as an independent nation- state on 24 December 1951, Libyans rejected Italian as a language of administration and culture – specific Italian loanwords (see Table 1) are still existent in spoken Libyan Arabic, however – and replaced it with Arabic. Therefore, Standard Arabic became the sole official language of Libya, making Libya – for at least a decade – the most “Arab” of the Arab states (Golino, 1970).  It did not suffer from the cultural dualism of French and Arabic as witnessed in other Maghrebi states or in the Mashreq such as Lebanon.  


 As per the “rearabization” (Pereira, 2007, p. 81) of Libya - with the help of the steel girdle of pan-Arabism that gripped the Arab World during the Nasserist era in the 1960s -  many linguistic and educational polices came into force. This nationalist agenda involved the Arabization of the Libyan public sector, the work place, and the strong literacy policy to not only see “the Arabization of the elite, but of the masses as well” (Pereira, 2007, p. 82). As a result, the rise of the Arabic language in Libya paralleled the decline of the indigenous Berber alphabet which fell into disuse and subjugation. Today, many Berber speakers must resort to the Arabic alphabet to write their own language. In spite of the particularism represented by the indigenous groups of Libya, Arabic represents the dominant linguistic element in the Libyan national identity.


The Linguistic characteristics of Libyan Vernacular Arabic


Phonetics and Lexis

In general, the phonetics and lexis of Libyan Arabic heavily reflect Bedouin features. For instance, the [q] corresponds to a voiced stop [g] revealing the Bedouin origin of the sound. Examples being: gɘrfa “cinnamon,” hɘgg “price,” dgῑga “minute,” gɘˁ da  “sitting, present,” mʂɘggɘˁ  “cold,” fōg “on, above,” mʌrʌg “broth,” etc. However, in all three areas of Libya, there are certain words that undergo an alteration between [q] and [g]: aqāreb or agāreb “relatives,” qāl or gāl “he said.” The shift between the [q] and [g] allophonic variations rely greatly upon the situational and social contexts.


Turkish, Italian and Egyptian borrowings in Colloquial Libyan Arabic

The lexicon of Libyan Arabic reflects many items of Bedouin type vernacular. The Ottoman presence in Libya (1551 – 1911) and the Italian colonization (1911 – 1951) also affected the lexicon of Libyan Arabic. In addition to that, there are Egyptian Arabic (Mashreqi Arabic) items found in Libyan Arabic. This linguistic influence is due to a major immigrant inflow of Egyptian labor workers to Libya - especially in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) which shares a border with Egypt. The table below summarizes the major loanwords found in colloquial Libyan Arabic.

















Table 1- Major loanwords items found in colloquial Libyan Arabic (Pereira, 2007)


Today, the many Turkish and Italian loanwords in colloquial Libyan Arabic solely represent occupational titles, mechanical tools, utensils, clothing, and culinary items. However, since the expulsion of these conquerors, and the political importance to Arabize Libya, many administrative and military loanword items were replaced by Standard Arabic items.


Linguistic Accommodation in Maghrebi-Mashreqi Encounters

Although many studies have been done in relation to the accommodative strategies speakers of language varieties adopt, research on Libyan Arabic speakers is scarce. The current linguistic situation in Libya is not as complex as other North African countries. While many Libyan Arabic speakers abroad engage in diglossic code-switching when addressing Arabs of the Mashreq, the engraved Arab identity of Libya demonstrates the unnecessary need to exercise bilingual code-switching as practiced by Tunisians, Algerians, and Moroccans.  Understandably, differences between different varieties of Arabic are existent; however, mutual comprehension could rise in communicative situations. It has been increasingly argued that the differences between Arabic varieties are so diverse that it would be accurate to call them languages instead of linguistic varieties of fusha (Standard/Classical Arabic) (S ’hiri, 2002).


Existing studies have stressed the interplay and tensions between fusha and it sub-varieties.  In fact, it has been a held belief, argues S’hiri, that since Arabs speak the same language of “slight variations” (S’hiri, 2002, p. 152) fusha would be the legitimate substitution in contact situations (S’hiri, 2002). In fact, when it comes to Maghrebi-Mashreqi face-to-face interaction, as opposed to writing, “a blanket switch dialect to ‘pure’ MSA [Modern Standard Arabic] is rare…even if within the ability of most Arabic speakers, and is a strategy to which is resorted to when all else fails” (Holes, 1995, Cited in S’hiri, 2002, p. 152).


In a recent study which makes apparent that fusha is not the reliable substitute in contact situations is a study undertaken by Hachimi (2013) who scrutinized the Maghrebi-Mashreqi encounters in the pan-Arab singing competition, Star Academy. In her findings, she cites an example of a Tunisian contestant who expressed linguistic frustration with an Egyptian contestant who tried to communicate a word through a Standard Arabic variant (Hachimi, 2013). After baffling the Egyptian contestant with the Standard Arabic alternative, he outright dismissed it by offering an Egyptian variant. Hachimi argues that even when “Maghrebi linguistic variants coincide with fusha they do not seem to be legitimate stylistic choices in Maghrebi-Mashreqi encounters” (Hachimi, 2013, p. 279). She further argues that “this moveaway from standard-like Arabic variants and to a locally dominant ones [Mashreqi] is well attested in intra-national cross-dialectal communication rather than transnational communication where educated Arabic speakers tend to exploit the resources of the standard stylistic shifts” (Hachimi, 2013, p. 279).


Therefore, in cross-dialectal interactions, Arabic speakers of the Maghreb resort to either “prestige” varieties of Arabic, “foreign languages” (Abu Melhim, 1992, cited in S’hiri, 2002, p. 152), and even “hybridized” forms (Holes, 1995 cited in S’hiri, 2002, p. 152).



My research study involved interviewing Libyan Arabic speakers in the UAE. The purpose of the study was to make visible the linguistic behaviors that conceal their Libyan identity in Maghrebi-Mashreqi encounters. In my original study, I interviewed 4 students at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), a student at Ajman University of Science and Technology (AUST); and two middle-aged (40-55 years) Libyans. For the purpose of this publication, I will present the findings of three interviews. My criterion for choosing these different age groups was to examine their different communication encounters with Mashreqi speakers. The interviews were conducted in English with occasional code-switching to Libyan Arabic. The interviews were audio-recorded, translated, and transcribed. The audio-recorded material consisted of open-ended interviews of 15 minutes on average. In practice, the questions in the interviews were not asked systematically; instead it took on a more conversational tone. However, all inquiries for the research paper were nonetheless addressed. Consequently, the responses of the interviewees below are organized into four major research questions: (1) What are the linguistic accommodations Libyans in the UAE resort to? (2) What is the reasoning behind their language habits? (3) Do these linguistic accommodations conceal their Libyan identities? (4)  Is Libyan Arabic an object of stylized mockery? All interviewees agreed to have their first names mentioned in this research paper.




The Interviews

What follows is a summary of the transcribed interview in which I asked the interviewees to describe the linguistic accommodations they make when they come in contact with Mashreqi colleagues and friends.


Linguistic Accommodations

Hanin, an Architect student at the American University of Sharjah, reported being surrounded by Jordanian and Syrian colleagues on university campus. She therefore switches from Libyan Arabic (LA) to a Jordanian or Syrian Arabic. As for Mohammed, a Biology major at AUS, he reported that he accommodates to the Arabic variety of the Mashreqi speaker. For instance, if the speaker speaks a certain Levantine Arabic he would switch to that variety of Arabic, if the speaker speaks an Arabic variety of the Gulf, he would accommodate to the relevant language. Emad, an associate professor at AUST, deals with colleagues from all over the Arab world. He reports that he does not resort to any Arabic variety as other Libyans do in the UAE. In fact, he does not like to “pretend to sound Egyptian” (Emad, personal communication, April 24, 2014) like many other Libyan speakers. Therefore, he chooses to speak Libyan Arabic and occasionally alternates unique Libyan words, especially the Italian and Turkish loanwords, with fusha, Emarati, English, or even Urdu alternatives.

Individual Explanations


The reasons the interviewees offered for their accommodation towards Mashreqi Arabic are encapsulated below along with their direct quotes.  


Hanin, who has been living in the UAE for 13 years, started accommodating to Mashreqi Arabic when she first came to the UAE. She claims that “when you are young you feel like you just learned the language fast and if you see everyone in the class talk this way you use their language because you find it easier” (Hanin, personal communication, April 14th, 2014). As she grew older Hanin continued to speak either Jordanian or Syrian Arabic because she “felt Libyan Arabic was 180 percent different from the other Arabics [sic]” (Hanin, personal communication, April 14th, 2014). When asked why she accommodated towards these particular varieties of Arabic, she reports that “most of [her] friends are Syrians and Jordanians” (Hanin, personal communication, April 14th, 2014).  When I asked whether or not she communicates by using the plausible stylistic choice, fusha, her answer was a negative. The reason why she does not employ Standard Arabic in her interactions is elaborated below:


Yeah some don’t really understand [fusha]. I remember taking the Arabic Heritage course in Arabic [an AUS course] and everyone was like ‘NO it’s hard’ and they were like ‘they use very weird language.’ I told them that, as Arabs, they should be ashamed of themselves.

Similar to Hanin, Mohamed also switches to a Mashreqi variety of Arabic because he also believes his variety of Arabic is incomprehensible:

Interviewer: So when you first came here (the UAE) did you start speaking Libyan Arabic with people or did change your language?


Mohammed: I had to change.

Interviewer: What are the certain things you had to change?

Mohammed: I had to change everything because no one understood what I was saying.

Interviewer: So what are the certain words you had to change? “باهي” (okay)? “توا” (now)?

Mohammed:  Everything!

Furthermore, in this interview, Mohammed cited the simple example of the Libyan expression "شن الجو؟"   (meaning: How’s it going?), that is mistakenly understood by Mashreqi speakers as “what is the weather?” since the Standard Arabic term for “weather” is “الجو”) al dʒo):

Mohammed: For example, if you say "شن الجو؟"   they think you are talking about the weather.


So, in order to avoid confusion and achieve easier more efficient communication in Maghrebi-Mashreqi encounters, he converges towards Mashreqi Arabic. Mohamed also cites another famously misguided word by Mashreqis. While "حوش"  (hōš) means “house” in the Libyan lexicon, it has a different semantic meaning in the Mashreqi lexis: “playground/yard.” Therefore, these mere examples, explains Mohamed, elucidates his convergence towards Mashreqi Arabic. When asked whether or not he converses in fusha with Mashreqis, the following was his reply:


Not everyone understands fusha of the Arabs themselves (0.5) yeah so you can’t use it all the time (0.5) and also the grammar of it (0.5) if I’m going to speak fusha it has to be 100 percent correct and I don’t know the grammar 100 percent.

Mohamed’s reported statement might help put aside the widely held belief that Arabs converse in fusha whenever they meet. Therefore, further confirming early and recent findings that code-switching to fusha is not a reliable strategy for accommodation amongst all Arabic speakers.


The fact that Libyan Arabs are a minority among the Mashreqi majority, who have dominated the arts and media in the Arab world, determines that lack of exposure towards Libyan art and music. Therefore, awareness and exposure towards Mashreqi art and media, especially Levantines, Egyptian, and the Gulf varieties, and the minority feeling of Libyan Arabs, makes them strive towards accommodating to Mashreqis. The array of media and art forms (e.g. film, music, novels, theater, television, radio, etc.) in various Mashreqi Arabic varieties plays in the “hierarchization of regional Arabic vernacular” (Hachimi, 2013, p. 276).  Mohamed interestingly mentions in his interview that due to the fact that Libyans are a “closed community” this determines to a great extent their peripheral status in this music and film industry:

Mohammed: Another thing is we barely speak Libyan abroad or introduce our language to the world (0.5). For example Egyptians, or people of the Gulf and of the Sham [Levant], have TV shows, and make music and all that (0.5) but we Libyans are a closed community (0.5). You know you won’t find a Libyan song on the radio in the UAE or Lebanon.


Mohamed therefore, does not only point her finger to “incomprehensibility” as a governing factor for linguistic accommodation, he also puts the blame on both the passive contribution of Libyan art and music in the entertainment industry, and the linguistic suppression Libyans exercise abroad. Therefore, if Libyans introduced their variety of Arabic and identity to their Mashreqi interlocutors, it would not only enhance intelligibility of Libyan Arabic, but would also eliminate the need to master different Mashreqi varieties.

Although Emad also cites the situation of miscommunication in contact situations, he refuses to conform to the language of his interlocutor as the Libyan university students. However, when all communication fails, he either resorts to fusha, English, Emarati or even Urdu due to their commonality:


Emad: I don’t pronounce the words differently I just CHANGE the words like instead of “قعمز” [gəˁmɘz “sit”] I say “اجلس”[edʒls, fusha]. Instead of “توا” [towwa “now”] I say “الحين” [al hin, Emarati] that’s it.

Interviewer: So you use so Standard Arabic and some Emarati words?

Emad: Yes, some Emarati words because they are common and maybe some uh Urdu words like “سيدها” (seedha “straight ahead”). In extreme cases, I would use English.

In addition, Emad expressed his bafflement at the Libyan words that resemble “pure Arabic” that are met with quizzical looks:

Interviewer:   Okay, what are the words that you change? Do you say “باهي” (bahi “okay”)? “توا” (now)?

Emad: باهي they don’t understand. But when they hear it a couple of times, they would know. The same person. Yes, “باهي”, “عدي” (əˁdi “ go”), “قمعز” (gəˁmɘz, “sit”) “قمعز” nobody understands “فمعز”.

Interviewer: {laughter}

Emad: Even when it is an Arabic (0.5) it is a pure Arabic word.


Language and Identity

As a major theme of this paper, I asked the interviewees about the role of language as a marker and the ingredient of the greatest importance in the formation of the Libyan identity. Their responses are respectively summarized below.


After the Arab uprisings in 2011, many Libyans believed that, through enhanced media exposure of their revolutionary cause, their Libyan identity would be properly introduced to Mashreqis. Hanin is one of the many Libyans that tightly gripped to this belief:

Although I try [to speak Libyan Arabic] especially after the revolution (0.5) I don’t want people to think that I am Palestinian, for example. I want people to know that I am Libyan (0.5) so I actually try to say a Libyan word {laughter} in a Jordanian or Palestinian accent.

Mohamed lamented the way his Libyan identity is not perceived through his variety of Arabic:

Interviewer: Do you believe that your Libyan identity is concealed when you speak these different varieties of Arabic?

Mohamed: Yeah, like I told you, I changed everything when I came here, so when they asked me where I am from, they were shocked to know I am Libyan.

While Emad understands that certain Libyan words might be incomprehensible to his Mashreqi colleagues, he strongly believes in the association between language and national identity:

Interviewer: So do you care about showing your Libyan identity through your language

Emad: Of course, of course all the time.

Interviewer: But why do you modify your words?

Emad: Just because people don’t understand that is all not because I am trying to be a different person.

The interviewee also made note of how a Maghrebi colleague of his speaks a mixture of Mashreqi Arabic varieties:

Emad: No, he [the Maghrebi colleague] modifies (0.5) he modifies a lot. He speaks a mixture of Egyptian and Lebanese. I don’t. I just speak Libyan.


Perceptions of Libyan Arabic

When I asked the interviewees about how their Mashreqi colleagues and friends perceive Libyan Arabic, some shared their own personal experiences. Hanin, for instance, expresses the shock and excitement her Mashreqi friends relay towards Libyan Arabic terms:

Hanin: When I say a Libyan word they tell me it kind of (0.5) it reminds them of the local Emarati words.

Interviewer: They don’t laugh?

Hanin: No, like they’re shocked, but they never laugh.

Interviewer: Okay, so they get shocked=

Hanin:                                                            And some of them get really excited

Interviewer:  Yeah? They admire it?

Hanin: Yeah, they want to hear it, but I never use it on a daily basis.


Mohamed, on the other hand, expressed the confusion on his friends’ faces when they first hear Libyan spoken for the first time. However, he reports that they show great interest in learning Libyan Arabic:


Interviewer: So have you ever spoke Libyan Arabic and someone mocked you? Or laughed at you?

Mohamed:  Whenever I speak Libyan they are shocked, no one understands. But what I have witnessed is that people are interested to learn Libyan after they figure out where I am from. They don’t mock or laugh, it’s just that they don’t understand.

Mohamed interestingly mentioned a Somali and Lebanese friend of his that both understand and speak Libyan fluently due to their interest: 

Mohammed: The thing is when you have a close friend that you know for a long time (0.5) they will start to understand you perfectly, like a Somalian friend of mine.




Mohammed: Yeah, he understands Libyan perfectly. (0.5) I also have a Lebanese friend that understands and speaks Libyan. I remember when he went with us to Umrah [pilgrimage to Mecca] we stayed in one room for like one week. By the end of that week, he started cooking shakshuka and speaking Libyan.


Emad as well conveyed his Mashreqi friend’s reaction towards Libyan Arabic. When an unfathomable colloquial Libyan word or expression is verbalized, he reports that his colleagues start adopting it after offering an explanation:


Interviewer: What are the kinds of Libyan words your colleagues would use?

Emad: Uh, “باهي” (okay),  "شن الجو؟" (“how’s it going?”)

Interviewer: So do you usually offer an explanation? And if you do, what are people’s reactions?

Emad: Yes, I would offer an explanation, and then they would use it when I am around.

Telling from the interviews above, some of the interviewees expressed their Mashreqi colleagues and friends’ excitement, admiration, shock, and interest towards Libyan Arabic. Although they might not represent every Libyan’s experience in Maghrebi-Mashreqi encounters, the findings of this study first help to point in the direction of refuting mere “mockery” as the main cause for Libyan’s asymmetrical linguistic accommodation to Mashreqis.


As the above interviews demonstrate, some of these Libyans in the UAE engage in, one way or another, linguistic accommodation towards their Mashreqi interlocutors. The audio-recorded interviews revealed that the interviewees made varying efforts - and in a variety of ways - in accommodating to their Mashreqi addressee. Therefore, they accommodated to the language of their colleagues and friends by incorporating Mashreqi, Urdu, English elements in their speech to avoid communication failure. These results, therefore confirm earlier and recent findings (Abu Melhim, 1992; Holes, 1995; S’hiri, 2002; Hachimi, 2013) that puts aside the myth that fusha is a legitimate stylistic choice in Maghrebi-Mashreqi encounters, but only resorted to when all communications fail, as Emad self-reports.


Moreover, the findings of this study also confirms Abu Melhim’s (1992) findings that diglossic, multiglossic, bilingual code switching play a significant role in linguistic accommodation. (S’hiri, 2002). Some of the interviewees voiced this particular accommodative strategy as legitimate in their Maghrebi-Mashreqi encounters. Therefore, their accommodative strategies involve the elimination of unique LA words, Italian and Turkish loanwords with Mashreqi, English, and Urdu equivalents.  So, words that may be considered false cognates, that is, words with similar but non-identical semantic meanings in LA and Mashreqi varieties, are replaced. For instance, Mohammed’s example: “حوش” “house” in LA, which means “playground/yard” in Mashreqi varieties, is subsequently replaced with the Mashreqi term “بيت” (bayt).


Another finding of this study is that the accommodation process in which some Libyan Arabic speakers in the UAE engage in is not reciprocated by their Mashreqi interlocutors.  This “asymmetrical linguistic accommodation” (S’hiri, 2002, p. 172) to Mashreqis places a “communicative burden” (Lippi-Green, 1997 cited in Hachimi, 2013, p. 270) on the shoulders of Libyan Arabs. Emad, for instance, makes clear that even when they try to resort to the accommodative strategy of substituting Libyan words with fusha in Maghrebi-Mashreqi interactions, some dismiss it as incomprehensible. Therefore, they must substitute Libyan terms with the variant of their Mashreqi interlocutors.


After listing the major features that characterize LA accommodation to their Mashreqi addressees, the reasons behind this linguistic phenomenon coincides with some of the findings of S’hiri (2002). All interviewees listed “communication failure” as their main motive for converging towards their Mashreqi counterparts. So in order to “maximiz[e] communication” (p. 168), they substitute words with Mashreqi variants. Mohamed significantly cites the passivity of Libyan arts and music, and the suppressing of Libyan Arabic by Libyans abroad as reasons why they accommodate.


The most significant finding of this study is the effect the process of linguistic accommodation has on the Libyan identity. Some Libyans in the UAE who use varying linguistic elements in the process of accommodation, such as Hanin and Mohammed, are met with shocked and surprised faces when their Mashreqi colleagues and friends learn that they are Libyans and not the spoken language that they adopt. This prevalent linguistic practice is unexercised by Emad, who tries as much as possible to speak his variety of Arabic as an integral marker in the manifestation of his Libyan identity.



A number of points have been raised in this paper. First, the study confirms that some Libyans in the UAE achieve asymmetrical accommodations that characterize Libyan-Mashreqi interactions. In the same vein, they identified the varying strategies to achieve linguistic accommodation. Second, it made visible that linguistic accommodation occurs due to “incomprehensibility” and not due to “stigmatization” or “mockery.” Last and foremost, the study demonstrates how some features that characterize Libyan Arabic accommodation to Mashreqi addressees in the UAE disguised the Libyan identity of some of the interviewees.



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Hachimi, A. (2013). The Maghreb-Mashreq language ideology and the politics of identity in a globalized Arab world. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 17(3), 269-296. 


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Pereira, C. (2011). Arabic in the North African region. In Stefan, W. (Ed.), The Semitic languages (pp. 954–969). Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter.


Pereira, C.  (2007). Libya. In Versteegh, K., Eid,M., Elgibali, A., Woidich, M., &  Zaborski. A. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics. (pp. 52-58). Leiden: Brill.


S’hiri, S. (2002).Speak Arabic please!: Tunisian Arabic speakers’ linguistic accommodation to Middle Easterners. In Rouchidi, A. (Ed.), Language contact and language conflict in Arabic: Variations on a sociolinguistics theme. (pp. 149-174). New York: Routledge Curzon.

[1] “Pre-Hilian Arabic developed from the Arabic spoken in the areas first occupied and arabized in the 7th century” (Pereira, 2011, p. 955).




Nahla Elsubeihi is a Libyan student at the American University of Sharjah in her third year. Currently, she is majoring in English Language. Upon graduating, she plans to amplify her knowledge and expand her career options by pursuing higher degrees in Applied Linguistics and TESOL. She is committed to pursue a career in the world of academia and pedagogy. She is a voracious reader, a history buff, and her favorite catch phrase is “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

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