Competing Pressures in Diglossia: Avoiding Colloquial Elements in Writing Modern Standard Arabic

  • Alexander Magidow


This article investigates speaker choice of variant lexemes and structures when writing in formal Modern Standard Arabic, using a multiple-choice survey that was distributed to 28 native speakers of Damascene Arabic. The study finds that speakers tend to avoid elements that are common in their local colloquial dia-lect, even if they are attested and permissible in Modern Standard Arabic, what might be called “negative interference.” However, in some cases interference from the colloquial form is so strong that speakers appear to be confused as to which form is correct (“positive interference”), and when given the choice, prefer to avoid problematic forms altogether. These results suggest that there are a number of competing pressures in diglossia, supplementing previous studies which have primarily found evidence of positive interference from the local dialects on Modern Standard Arabic. This study concludes that this avoidance behavior may explain the historical robustness of diglossia, as well as some of the regional variation that occurs in Modern Standard Arabic.