Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 13. Nr. August 2002

The Arabophones in German-speaking Communities between Diglossia and Bilingualism

Lexical Borrowings between Languages and Varieties

Agata Skowron Nalborczyk (Warsaw)

1. Introduction

As a consequence of socio-economically and politically determined processes, many industrialized European countries show evidence of a growing number of immigrant populations. Arabophones constitute an important although not the biggest one among minority groups.

Appearance of a significant number of immigrants creates not only a social or political but also a linguistic problem. The necessary acculturation of the immigrants into a new language contributes to the increase of phenomena and problems linked to their linguistic background and language choice patterns. Sociolinguistic research concentrated on the problems of the immigrants, focusing mainly on their bilingualism (i.e. language shift, language contact, code-switching). Although the host country's language attracts most of the researchers' attention, it should not be the only or even the main subject of linguistic research.

Development of the functional relations among parts of the immigrants' bilingual repertoire connected to the change or maintenance of the users' choice patterns or attitudes towards varieties of the host and home country languages has not yet been well researched. In the case of Arabophones, an additional element of importance for their language choice patterns has to be taken into account, i.e. diglossia common in the Arab world.

In my paper I want to deal with one aspect of the sociolinguistic situation of Arabophones living in a German-speaking community, i.e. the borrowings they make from one language into another. As an example of such a German-speaking community I have chosen Austria,(1) because I had the possibility to study the linguistic behavior of Arabophones in this country. Three years ago I interviewed and studied a group of them in their sociolinguistic situation. My investigation dealt with their use of Arabic and German varieties, their attitudes towards the varieties of these languages, their borrowings from one language into another, etc.

The majority of studies dealing with the language of Arab immigrants treat Arabic as one language, written and spoken.(2) In fact we have two languages: one of them is only written and very rarely spoken - it is called Modern Standard Arabic (High variety). The other is only spoken and very rarely written - it is called dialect (Low variety), although it constitutes a different language as far as a language structure and it's history is concerned.

This linguistic situation which prevails in Arabic, where two language varieties exist side by side, and in which each variety has certain, complementary functions, was described by Charles A. Ferguson as diglossia:(3)

DIGLOSSIA IS a relatively stable language situation in which, in addition to the primary dialects of the language (which may include a standard or regional standards), there is a very divergent, highly codified (often grammatically more complex) superposed variety, the vehicle of a large and respected body of written literature, either of an earlier period or in another speech community, which is learned largely by formal education and is used for most written and formal spoken purposes but is not used by any sector of the community for ordinary conversation.

There is a similar situation in Austria with a High variety - Hochdeutsch, and a Low variety - Dialekt or Umgangssprache (colloquial language). Of course there are some differences between the use of High and Low varieties in Arab and German-speaking countries. The main difference is that Modern Standard Arabic does not have a single native speaker(4) and no one uses it as his/her exclusive language of communication, not even highly educated people.(5) This variety is vary rarely spoken, it is rather read on formal occasions from a prepared text. This is also the reason why in this variety there are almost no words describing matters ofdaily communication, so it is, for example, practically impossible and even ridiculous to do shopping using this language. Obviously, German Standard Language has it's native speakers (educated, higher social classes) and it can be spontaneously spoken.(6) Its vocabulary does contain words concerning daily matters.

It is the High variety of German (Hochdeutsch) that most Arabophones learn when they come to Austria, because this language is taught in the language courses they attend.(7)

Of course, some researchers describe the sociolinguistic situation in Austria using the term triglossia (Hochdeutsch-Dialekt-Umgangssprache).(8) From the point of view of an Arabophone, however, it is important that he know one language, which he has learned, even thoughhe is aware that some people speak in a different way that he sometimes finds difficult to understand.

The Arabophones have a competence in more than one language, because they have learned German and are able to use it instead of Arabic (High and Low variety) in all linguistic situations. It means that they exist in a situation of bilingualism in addition to the diglossia of both languages.

Let us turn our attention to the lexical influence that diglossia from one side and bilingualism from another exerts on the languages the Arabophones use. Borrowing between languages and their varieties is the evidence of such influence. Borrowing involves the transfer of lexical items from one language to another,(9) and the borrowed items can be either unchanged or inflected like words of the same grammatical category in the borrowing language.(10)

We distinguish borrowing on the level of language or on the level of speech(11) - the last will be the focus of my study; Uriel Weinreich calls them 'nonce borrowings.'(12) As in the other studies dealing with this kind of borrowings, nouns were the most frequent also among my results,(13) but as Jeffrey Heath states, frequency of usage depends on different individuals.(14)

2. The Borrowings from Arabic

2.1. High Variety - Modern Standard Arabic

The considerable majority of my informants have denied the use of Arabic words in the German language. Some of them even told me that it is forbidden to use them in a foreign language.

However, there is one group of Arabophones that uses Arabic words and expressions when speaking German. These are Muslims who use Arabic expressions connected with Islam. These terms come from the Arabic High variety and are used mostly by men. Examples: ramad.aan, s.alaatu al-djum'a, h.adiit, suura, al-h.adjdj. Some of them talk about the wife wearing the veil muh.adjdjaba - although there is a German word verschleiert. Maybe the reason is that they want to emphasize the religious character of the veil. Of course they use such religious expressions as in sha'a Allaah or Bi-îsmi Allaahi ar-rah.mani ar-rah.iimi.(15)

The Christians never use Arabic expressions in German when they speak about their religion.

2.2. Arabic Low Variety - One of the Dialects

There is also a small group of Arabophones that uses expressions from their Arabic Low variety when speaking German. They are women, and they use these words when speaking to their children or husbands. These lexical borrowings are from such domains as the household and the emotions. A mother cooks Arabic dishes, uses Arabic spices and vegetables and names them in Arabic: za'tar, zuhuuraat, falaafel, baamiaa, muhallalaat, haal. When she speaks to her children and wants to express her feelings, her soft words or abuse come from her Arabic Low variety. That is because the dialect is always associated with the intimate situations, with the emotions. Of course, the choice of dialect depends on the country an Arabophone woman comes from.

2.3. Conclusion

In European communities women seem to be more sensitive to those linguistic variants that are socially stigmatized, and therefore they "consistently produce forms which approach those of the standard language." Since women who feel socially insecure are more status conscious than are men in equivalent social roles, it follows that they tend more than men to use those forms that carry the connotation of higher status.(16) But in Arab countries women do not associate themselves and their speech styles with the standard variety of Arabic. The structure of the Arab community is such that the house is still the place and living space of the woman. It is the man who deals with the outside world and handles public situations. So the men exhibit a greater tendency than women to attempt to approximate Standard Arabic in speech situations. The forms from Standard Arabic are associated with men's language.

So also the use of the lexical borrowings from Arabic varieties differs in men's and women's language in Austria.

3. The Borrowings from German

3.1.High Variety (Hochdeutsch)

The Arabophones live in Austria in a German-speaking environment. They learn and work in the German language. So when they speak Arabic (of course Low variety - a dialect, sometimes of a more supraregional character, called koineized colloquial or elevated colloquial - if they speak with Arabophones from different Arab countries), they use words from the German language. We can distinguish some groups of these borrowings:

3.1.1. The Names of Offices and Institutions

When Arabophones speak about their life in Austria, they use the German names of institutions, such as Parlament, Präsident, Partei, Regierung. There are of course names for these institutions in Arabic: madjlis, raa'is, h.izb or h.ukuuma. But they associate these Arabic words with the social life and politics in the Arab countries, so if they speak about the political situation in Austria, they use local expressions.(17) They even add the Arabic definite article al- to these words, i.e. al-Politik, al-Demokratie (not al-diimuuqraat.iyya), al-Wahl.(18)

They also use the German words for documents (Meldezettel, Wochenkarte, Monatskarte), official institutions (Finanzamt) and matters connected with these agencies (Steuer, Urlaub).

Some of them are students, and when the students from Arab countries speak about their studies in Austria, they use such German words as: Semester (as-Semester), Uni (al-Uni), Fakultät (al-Fakultät), UB (Universitätsbibliothek), Rektor, Dekan, Institut or Prüfung. There are, of course, such words in Arabic language (High variety), but they are associated once again with the studies in Arab countries.

When the Arabophone parents speak with their children in Arabic, they use German expressions connected with school matters, like Schule, Klasse, Lehrer, Handbuch. Examples: Baabaa geht il-Arbeit, Maamaa rayh.a il-Kurs, Anaa raayih. il-Kindergarten.

This practice is nothing special; many foreigners and immigrants from different countries do the same. I even did the same with my colleague, using Arabic words in Polish when we studied in Damascus. But what seems to be very interesting is that such expressions exist only in the Arabic High variety. Thus, when Arabs speak about these matters, they are forced to use in their Arabic Low variety expressions from the High variety. In Austria they do almost the same, they also use expressions from High variety in their Low variety, only this is the German High variety.

3.1.2. Professional Expressions

Many Arabophones have studied in Austria and have stayed there to work as doctors, teachers, librarians and ordinary workers.(19) When they speak about their work, they use German expressions. For example, in conversations with their Arabic wives and children, doctors use expressions connected with their medical practice, such as Ordination, Ordinationshilfe, Krankenschwester, Termin, Arztzimmer. Or librarians use terms like Katalog, Lesesaal, Großformat.

What is still more important, when they talk about professional matters with other doctors from Arab countries working in Austria, they use Arabic Low variety with German medical terms, such as names of diseases and their symptoms, methods of treatment, detailed parts of human body etc.(20)

There are, of course, many immigrants who have studied in foreign countries and do not know the professional expressions in their own mother tongue. But there are special difficulties with professional terms in the Arab world. During the modernization period of the Arabic standard language (from the beginning of 20th century), there was no pan-Arab language academy that could have coordinated the development of professional, scientific, technical and medical terms. Different scientific terminologies appeared in various Arab countries as a consequence of political fragmentation, so there are several different terms describing one referent. The result is that such university subjects as medicine or engineering are still taught in foreign languages (English in Jordan and Syria, French in Tunisia). So if graduates of such Arab universities want to speak about their professional matters, they are forced to use a foreign language or at least foreign terminology.

3.1.3. Daily Expressions

When the Arabophones living in Austria speak about their daily life, they also use German expressions to describe phenomena that do or do not exist in Arab countries, for example, Wochenende, Autobahn, Strasse, Verkehr. They even wish each other "Schönes Wochenende!", warn each other: "Pass auf!", call each other: "Komm hier!" during a longer conversation in one of the Arabic Low varieties, and sometimes even on a visit to an Arab country..

One can point to some other examples: Ween il-Mantel?, Ween ish-Shuhe lii?, Djib-lii Zucker!, rayh.iin einkaufen in-naharda - from Syrian and Egyptian dialects.

3.2. The Borrowings from the German Low Variety (Dialekt, Umgangssprache)

The Arabic-speaking immigrant first learns the High variety of German, and in most cases this variety remains the only one for them. They speak Hochdeutsch with their Austrian wives and husbands, sometimes even with their Arabic wives and husbands, with their children (of both Arabic or Austrian-Arabic parentage) After some years they start to understand Low variety in the streets, but only a very few are really able to speak it.(21)

So it is no wonder that the borrowings from this variety are very rare in their Arabic speech. These very few are connected with daily life, like food, Austrian dishes or vegetables, that sometimes do not have their Arabic names, etc., for example, Semmel, Würstel, Kren, Karfiol, Palatschinken, Marktstandl, Beisl, Jause, Sackerl.

3.3. The Arabophones' Opinions and Attitudes towards Borrowings from German into Arabic

In discussing the attitudes of the Arabophones towards these borrowings, my informants have told me, for example, that the reason for the use of German expressions is laziness, neglect or linguistic nonchalance. Some of them have even denied the use of German borrowings in their Arabic speech - but it has not been true. I have heard them use German expressions when speaking with other Arabophones about their business or jobs.

These attitudes are very specific for all Arabs, not only for immigrants, and spring from the prestige of the Arabic language as the language of Islam, of the Koran and the glorious culture and history of the Arabs. Because the language policy is very strict in all Arab countries, it does not make a good impression to use foreign words in Arabic. Language academies concentrate on preserving the purity of the language and defending against the encroachment of foreign languages. However, most of the Arabophones do not see any difference between their spoken and written language, the language they speak seems to them to be the very language of the Holy Script.

4. Conclusion

As shown above, knowledge of the linguistic background of the researched immigrant groups is very important for the study of their linguistic behavior and use of the host country language. The researcher should also be aware of the sociolinguistic situation in the immigrants' home country, for example, the phenomenon of diglossia and of the kind of diglossia (i.e. stable or unstable), as in the case of Arabophone immigrants.

© Agata Skowron Nalborczyk (Warsaw)

TRANSINST        table of contents: No. 13


(1) In Austria there were about 10 000 arabophones in the population of 515 000 immigrants in 1991; Findl, Peter , Fraiji, Adelheid : Ausländer in Österreich. Ergebnisse der Volkszählung 1991, in: "Statistische Nachrichten" 48:11, 1993, Bevölkerung, pp. 956-972.

(2) Examples are: Louis Boumans, Dominique Caubet, Modelling intrasentential codeswitching: a comparative study of Algerian/French in Algieria and Moroccan/Dutch in the Netherlands, w: Jonathan Owens (red.), Arabic as a minority language, Berlin, New York 2000, pp. 113-180; Ghazi Shorrab, Bilingual patterns of an Arabic-English speech community, "International Journal of the Sociology of Language" 61, 1986, pp. 79-88; Abderrahman El Aissati, Kees de Bot, Moroccan Arabic in the Netherlands: acquisition and loss, "Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics" 20:1, 1994, pp. 177-192.

(3) Ferguson, Charles A.: Diglossia, "Word" 15:2, 1959, pp. 325-340, p. 336.

(4) See: Cowan, William : Notes toward a definition of Modern Standard Arabic, "Language Learning" 18:1-2, 1968, pp.29-34, p. 30: "No Arab is a native speaker of Modern Standard Arabic." And later on: "Colloquial Arabic (…) is what native speakers of Arabic are native speakers of". See also: Killean, Carolyn G. : Classical Arabic, in.: Charles A.Ferguson (red.), Linguistics in South West Asia and North Africa, Current trends in linguistics 6, The Hague 1970, pp. 412-438, p. 412.

(5) Ibrahim, Muhammad H.: Linguistic distance and literacy in Arabic, "Journal of Pragmatics", 7:5, 1983, pp. 507-515, p. 509.

(6) Wiesinger, Peter : Standardsprache und Mundarten in Österreich, in: Gerhard Stickel (ed.), Deutsche Gegenwartssprache. Tendenzen und Perspektiven, Berlin, New York 1990, pp. 218-232, p. 228-229.

(7) I have had only one informant, and he had learned German before he came to Austria. Of course, there are immigrants who do not attend majority language classes (for example, guest workers) but are forced to use it at work. What they really speak can be a kind of pidginized language form (called, for example, Gastarbeiterdeutsch); see: Stölting-Richter, Wilfried : Migration und Sprache, in: Ulrich Ammon, Norbert Dittmar, Klaus J.Mattheier (eds), Soziolinguistik. Ein internationales Handbuch zur Wissenschaft von Sprache und Gesellschaft, Berlin, New York 1988, 2., pp. 1564-1574, p. 1569; Dittmar, Norbert: "Ich fertig arbeite, nich mehr spreche Deutsch": Semantische Eigenschaften pidginisierter Lernervarietäten des Deutschen, "Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik" 5:18, 1975, pp. 9-34; Meisel, Jürgen M.: Ausländerdeutsch und Deutsch ausländischer Arbeiter. Zur möglichen Entstehung eines Pidgin in der BRD, in: Wolfgang Klein (ed.), Sprache ausländischer Arbeiter, "Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik" 5/1975:18, 1975, pp. 9-53; Bodemann, Y. Michal , Ostow, Robin : Lingua Franca und Pseudo-Pidgin in der Bundesrepublik: Fremdarbeiter und Einheimische im Sprachzusammenhang, in: Wolfgang Klein (ed.), op. cit., s. 122-146.

(8) Wiesinger, Peter: Die Entwicklung des österreichischen Deutsch der Gegenwart unter soziolinguistischen Aspekten, w: Y.Shichiji (ed.), Sprachgeschichte, Sprachkontakte im germanischen Sprachraum, Munich 1991, pp. 20-29, p. 22; Ammon, Ulrich: Die deutsche Sprache in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz: das Problem der nationalen Varietäten, Berlin, New York 1995, p. 200. Some of them even deny the existence of such phenomenon as diglossia at all; see: Reiffenstein, Ingo: Sprachebenen und Sprachwandel in österreichischen Deutsch der Gegenwart, w: Herbert Kolb, Hartmut Lauffer and oth. (eds), Sprachliche Interferenz, Festschrift für Werner Betz zum 65. Geburtstag, Tübingen 1977, pp. 175-183, pp. 177-178, and Reiffenstein, Ingo: Deutsch in Österreich, w: Ingo Reiffenstein, Heinz Rupp and oth. (eds) Tendenzen, Formen und Strukturen der Deutschen Standardsprache nach 1945, Marburg 1983, pp. 15-27, p. 20.

(9) Haugen, Einar : Bilingualism, language contact, and immigrant languages in the United States: A research report 1956-1970, in: Thomas A. Sebeok (ed.), Linguistics in North America, Current trends in linguistics 10, The Hague 1973, pp. 505-591, p. 521.

(10) As Rouchdy, Aleya states, "borrowing and interference are obviously closely related. When borrowing occurs without interference, it is usually considered code-switching"; Aleya Rouchdy, Borrowing in Arab-American speech, in: Aleya Rouchdy (ed.), The Arabic language in America, Detroit 1992, pp. 36-49.

(11) Weinreich, Uriel: Languages in contact: findings and problems, The Hague1963 [1st publ. 1953], p. 4.

(12) Weinreich, Uriel: op. cit., p. 11. The definition: "nonce borrowings are not necessarily recurrent or widely recognized in the community as loanwords. they are, however, morphologically and syntactically incorporated into the host language. The necessity of phonological adoption is not clear and may differ from community to community and individual to individual"; Sankoff, David, Poplack, Shana: Adposition and article in Finnish-English code-switching, Montréal 1985, p. 12.

(13) See: Haugen, Einar: The Norwegian language in America, Philadelphia 1953; Myers Scotton, Carol , Okeju, John , Neighbors and lexical borrowings, "Language" 49, 1973, pp. 871-889; Sobin, Nicholas J.: Texas Spanish and lexical borrowing, in: Jon Amastae, Lucía Elías-Olivares (eds), Spanish in the United States: sociolinguistic aspects, Cambridge Mass. 1982, pp. 166-181; Rouchdy, Aleya : op. cit., p. 39-40; Nortier, Jacomine: Code-switching and borrowing in an Arabic-Dutch context, in: Guus Extra, Ludo Verhoeven (eds), Immigrant languages in Europe, Clevedon, Philadelphia 1993, pp. 237-248, p. 240.

(14) Heath, Jeffrey: From code-switching to borrowing: A case study of Moroccan Arabic, London 1990.

(15) For comparison see: Boumans, Louis, Caubet, Dominique: op. cit., p. 143. But they do not realize that these expressions come from MSA, not from the Moroccan Arabic (dialect).

(16) Bakir, Murtadha: Sex differences in the approximation to Standard Arabic: a case study, "Anthropological Linguistics" 28:1, 1086, pp. 3-9, p. 3; Abu-Haidar, Farida: Are Iraqi women more prestige conscious then men? Sex differentiation in Baghdadi Arabic, "Language in Society" 18:4, 1989, pp. 471-481, p. 478-479. See also: Wodak, Ruth, Benke, Gertraud: Gender as a sociolinguistic variable: New perspectives on variation studies, in: Florian Coulmas (ed.), The handbook of sociolinguistics, Oxford 1997, pp. 127-150.

(17) Myers Scotton, Carol, Okeju, John: op. cit. and Rouchdy, Aleya: op. cit., p. 40 define them as "nouns borrowed for words that already exist in Arabic but for which the existing word does not convey the same idea as the English noun"; p. 885-886.

(18) Compare the occurrence of this article's other form il in: Rouchdy, Aleya: op. cit., p. 40 and in Nortier, Jacomine: op. cit., p. 242.

(19) I have interviewed a lift-man from Burgtheater, cloak-room attendants from Volksoper etc.

(20) Rouchdy, Aleya: op. cit., p. 40 and Myers Scotton, Carol, Okeju, John: op. cit. describe them as "nouns borrowed for items that are new to the immigrants" culture."

(21) Among my informants there was only one person who was really able to speak the Austrian Low variety. She has never attended German-language courses. Her husband was Austrian, and she has learned the new language in the streets through shopping and conversation. She has a competence in the High variety, which she learned later from television, so she understands it more than speaks it.

For quotation purposes - Zitierempfehlung:
Agata Skowron Nalborczyk: The Arabophones in German-speaking Communities between Diglossia and Bilingualism.
In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 13/2002.

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