The Effect of Diglossia on Literacy in Arabic and Other Languages

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This paper shows that basic literacy rates in Arabic-speaking countries are far lower than would be expected based upon their relative wealth, and argues that much of the explanation for this lies in their usage of a standard language which is based upon an earlier version of the language which no one speaks anymore—comparative evidence shows that languages of this type around the world consistently have uncommonly low literacy rates. The best policy for addressing this problem, so as to achieve a high rate of literacy while maintaining the traditional written language, would appear to be to use a strategy parallel to that adopted for languages such as Chinese, Japanese, and Sinhala: base early literacy, through the third or fourth grade, on written phonological representations of the different spoken dialects, and then switch to the traditional written language after this, when children are better able to deal with a writing system which is quite different from their own spoken languages.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Arabic Literacy
Subtitle of host publicationInsights and Perspectives
EditorsElinor Saiegh-Haddad, R. Malatesha Joshi
Place of PublicationDordrecht
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages27
ISBN (Print)978-94-017-8545-7
StatePublished - 2014


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