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A conflict of desires: global English and its effects on Cultural identity in the United Arab Emirates

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posted on 27.10.2017, 14:38 authored by Sarah Lynsey Hopkyns
The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) complex history, its current demographics, its youthfulness as a country, and the fact that it is a region undergoing fast-paced change make the issue of cultural identity particularly relevant and urgent to address in this part of the world. This is especially true given the rapid spread of English in the sphere of education and everyday life in recent years. The study investigates the effects of global English on cultural identity in the UAE through the perspectives of three distinct participant groups all working or studying at a large state university in the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi. Taking a hybrid approach in the form of a phenomenological case study, the research draws on in-depth qualitative data from open-response questionnaires, focus groups and the researcher’s research journal. Salient findings from the study revealed vastly differing views concerning English and Arabic. While English was associated with the wider world, education, future careers and global communication, Arabic was connected to religion, home life, traditions and the region of the Middle East. Although the majority of Emirati participants held positive views towards English, seeing it as important, necessary and enabling, concerns were raised throughout the study over its dominance in multiple domains, including education, and its effects on the Arabic language and local culture, especially for the next generation. The study revealed Emirati cultural identities to be complex, multifaceted and at times conflicting. Hybridity in identity construction was prominent in terms of differentiated bilingualism, code switching and use of an informal creative written language combining English and Arabic, known as ‘Arabizi’. In terms of teaching preferences, native-speaker English teachers were favoured, along with a marked interest in learning about western culture as part of an English course. The majority of participants called for a choice between or combination of English Medium Instruction (EMI) and Arabic Medium Instruction (AMI) in Emirati Higher Education (HE). The findings led to four main recommendations for future policy and practice. These include challenging contrasting views of English and Arabic, promoting Arabic and local culture in education, a greater acceptance of hybridity over purity, and providing a choice regarding medium of instruction in higher education.



Norton, Julie; Rogerson-Revell, Pamela

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School of Education

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University of Leicester

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