Women Gain A Voice Through English English Language Essay

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Why English is the desired means of communication:

"To talk one way is to be something that people who talk differently are not." (Sterling) The first and most obvious reason women chose to acquire English is because of the sheer unavoidability of it. It is the most practical means of speaking in a country with expats from all over the world and where communication is conducted primarily in English. Furthermore, as the main language in education and business, any deficiency in language will put a person far behind.

A second major reason for adopting English may have to do with how many view the Arabic language in itself. With all schools now emphasizing core English studies, they are not rendering Arabic equal value(CITE TOFOL). There is a cognitive conditioning for many students that makes them view English as being the superior form from a young age because of what Abbas Al-Tonsi, an Arabic professor and expert at the Georgetown University, believes to be a shortcoming of insufficiently stimulating Arabic texts in contrast to English ones. Many students associate a negative feeling with Arabic because the teaching methods are less interactive and appealing than English textbooks. Furthermore, the educational system has always been reliant on an "unquestioning attitude on the part of students… with the student receiving a static body of wisdom from the superior, authoritative teacher passing on what had been conveyed to him before,"(Rostrom). Al-Tonsi says, "Much of the material used for teaching Arabic lacks intellectual ideas and tends to encourage memorization rather than engagement and debate. This has bred a mentality that English is a superior language causing them to lend it more importance." So early on, students associate English with pleasurable learning and intellectual stimulation. They see it as progressive, personable, and interactive.

The second aspect of English and how it is viewed by young women in particular as more closely related to the context of the Arabic vocabulary that is irrelevant to contemporary thoughts. Children are learning language at the same time they learn about acceptable social customs. They words they learn highlight their culture and their surroundings. For women in particular, it's reasonable to conclude that they associate it with the culture that seemingly inhibits their progress, whereas English is perceived as the language of the unbound Western women. This view is most strongly revealing of how English is used as an escape for many. These women are now seeking an identity within the language.

Identity in English

English been readily applied by Qatari women and on specialized levels as they recognize that different encounters call for different applications and styles of language use. There is the formal academic language used by women when addressing audiences, writing academic papers, etc. that confirms their credibility as speakers and thinkers. It's the adoption of a fluent and properly structured voice that shows the merger of women into the society with complete competence and a full grasp of this leading global language. The level of fluency serves as a declaration that they are no longer bound by culture and have attained the needed education to partake in society. By expressing themselves in a language that tends to be associated with higher education and prestige, their entire sense of self is adjusted. In a study where Arabic speakers were asked their views regarding English use, 75% believed that foreign language mastery is necessary for the "attainment of a high degree of knowledge, prestige, and respectability," (Chaaban). Nearly 60% of students in the study observed that speakers of a Foreign language besides Arabic often viewed themselves as superior over those who are not as fluent in a second language, giving them "confidence and a feeling of achievement," (Chaaban 61).

Aside from spoken English, we see increased trends in writings, some of which are formal essay-types that do meet specific academic criteria, while others are undirected, "free styles," like blogs and posts on networking sites online that the writers pursue free of rigid, academic direction and are more accurately reflective of their English styles, and more notably, how the language is being utilized for more than just communicating. I'll be exploring several written pieces to fully illustrate to what degree English has taken hold of. The choice of language and vocabulary strongly reflects the image with which they seek to identify and it shapes the way these women distinguish themselves. Lippi-Green does a take on language and points out that through simply patterns of speech, we see how an individual "situate[s] themselves in relationship to others, the way they group themselves, the powers they claim for themselves and the powers they stipulate to others." [Lippi-Green 31].

Qatar university published an anthology of essays written by Qatari women in "Qatar Narratives: Women Write."This was the first of its kind as it gave students, as one of the essayists, QU Computer Engineering student Abrar Dalgamouni, explained, "the courage to speak up and discuss topics that [they are] timid to speak about". While writing in a foreign language has it's one set of challenges, these essays succeeded in capturing some very personal views and frustrations, along with some surprising elements that refute the image of an "oppressed" group of Arabian women.

Their work reveals an acknowledgement of their audience's limitations in understanding and connecting with them. This is a critical point in that it forces these women writers to adopt a style that makes them reachable by their readers and listeners. They show distinct styles depending on whether they are dealing with English/Arabic speakers of the same generation, English speakers, and most recently, Arabic speakers who have created Arabic equivalents of English words that suit the changing society.

Arabized English:

It is not unusual to hear conversations with English and Arabic merged. This was one of the most interesting aspects of English use by Arabic speakers because it shows a deliberate replacement of Arabic by English or distortion of Arabic words to fit the flow of conversations. I noticed this in homes, where cousins would meet for tea, in shopping centers, as they debate the appropriateness of the lingerie boutiques, and when they're deciding between hummos or McDonalds. The patterns are everywhere.

In "Language Dilemma in Qatar," an excerpt from a blog by a young twenty-something, Qatari essayist, Maryam A.S. (6/7/09), she note the following conversation between herself and a friend:

Maryam : Hey 3aoosh, do you wana go watch a movie? [3aoosh is likely a nickname for the name


 Friend: Yeah why not? Esh fee 3al cinema? [What's at the cinema?]

Maryam : I don't know, fi filim cartoon 7ilo,[there is a nice animated film] You know you can

never go wrong with cartoon.

Friend: Enzain [alright] you wana go eat something later?

Maryam : Eeh madry ween [ok, but I don't know where], how about Biella?

Friend: La ma a7ib Italian [No, I don't like Italian].

 Maryam : Enzain what do you want ya3ny? [Alright, what do you want then?]

 Friend: Abby applebeaze [I want Applebee's]

 Maryam : Waaa3 [e.g. gross] you know I hate it, akilhom elaw3 elchabid [e.g. their food

makes my stomach churn]

Friend: Enzin e5tari mokan [Alright, then you chose a place].

Maryam : Je ne sais pas 9ara7a [I don't know then, to be honest (French and Arabic)]

Analyzing the speech patterns by Qatari women, two things become clear: first, through the use of their native Arabic, they express a degree of intimacy shared with one another-it illustrates their shared roots and the solid ground they could stand on through the disorder of globalization. However, when English is merged with the language, it becomes the factor that separates them from the rest of society and distinguishes them as the generation amidst the transition. Neither their children nor their parents will be in this position.

Fort the excerpt above, it's clear that Arabic is the language of their shared customs and their value of their culture. It is their native tongue and they seek comfort in the familiarity they share. In most conversation they use the traditional greeting of assalamu alaikum (peace be upon you), they refer to their parents as umi and abi, and their lover as their habibi. However, when talking about life, school, their hobbies and interests, their jobs and so forth, they may use English. Sterling suggests that they may signal distance from these subjects, as they are foreign enough for them to resort to using the foreign language; however it is more important to note the relationship as a whole between these two speakers, as it shows the shared understanding between this single generation-an intimacy which may be lacking when speaking to their parents or other adults, who's language skills are not impacted by the language shift experienced by this generation (CITE).

English Slang

On the other hand, when we see a casual conversations taking place between two Qatari women, or between a Qatari woman and an English-speaking expat, we notice the use of modern slang. In a thread from Qatarliving.com, a curious expat asks what life is like for women in Qatar. A young Qatari woman steps up and her response is:

Most of us , Qatari women, wear an abayah on our clothes if we were getting out .( you know that black long kinda dress) , I think it's chic ;-)and we of course wear Hijab ( you know,hair cover) We don't have to bother doing our hair every morning lol.. that's the minimum. There are other women who prefer to cover their whole body including the face.

No , Seriously, Let me tell you why do we wear it. It's not only because we are Qataris. Actually We don't have to wear that specific color in Islam, but the idea of covering is from it…Okeee dokeee

She goes on

Your other question what life is like for women? Well, I don't know about others, but I like my life :-) Women in Qatar are getting their rights I guess. Hmmm, We vote, we Drive, we have the choice in everything in our life. Still, men are taking care of us lol, I don't think I hate that ;-) Even If your husband has like lower salary than you, still he should take no money from you unless you decide to give him some lol , otherwise he should pay for almost everything in the house and for the kids. I like that :-)

She also adds in another post, "Sorry I know my English sucks."

I like the way English was utilized here by the girl "Aisha." The response is casual; the language used is informal-even sloppy at times. Not only is it personal, but it crosses the cultural barrier by showing the humanness of the individual, opening doors to a wider, friendlier breadth of communication. The point being driven here is "I am one of you, don't be scared." Ayesha crossed all the rigidity of formal education and feels comfortable enough to seek an identity within the language by tailoring it to the circumstances and her persona. This is one of the most interesting applications of language, as we see a stronger role of English at play than its academic form. We recognize the influences of the media and expatriate peers shaping the way English is used (Okeee dokeee, sucks, "black long kinda dress", hmmm).

Slang provides an array of options that are a sort of mix-and-match, unlike the black and white spheres of academic English. Some of the women who are using words like "hey, man," "what's up," and "dude," (words I heard myself when living in Qatar) are women who've never left the country, or at least were not absent for a significant enough time to pick up on the casual street talk of the natives. Conversational English tends to blur the lines of social classification and is a way to ease others into conversations because of its unintimidating, non-authoritative character, and when approaching a topic that is sensitive in nature, like the status of women in the Middle-East, such a tone is quite tactful. This is strongly illustrates what Lippi-Green sees as the borders we draw up during conversations that either allows the conversation to move forward, or stop dead in its tracks. Slang is reflective of the direction the speaker wants the conversation to move it, the openness to others' input, and the general atmosphere of the conversation that is reflective of the individuals taking part.

FOOTNOTE: Modern Standard Arabic doesn't have the same stylistic evolution through generations that exists in English. English speaking teens and young adults have very different speaking styles than their parents, grandparents, etc. The differences of Arabic style that do exist are based on encounters, formality, etc, but not specialized for age groups. While vocabulary is constantly being introduced to accommodate the technological and social evolution of any society, the foundations of language remain the same.

English to disassociate themselves from the culture of Arabic speakers

English has enabled many women to criticize the aspects of culture with which they disagree. Perhaps it's the anonymity of online posting that really lets them speak out, but in almost all cases, it's done in English (there may be a co-factor at play as women who are educated might be more critical of society as they think of the "what if things hadn't changed? Where would I be? ). Regardless, they have a voice. English is the language of people they perceive as free, democratic, and enlightened.

It's pretty clear that certain topics are more easily approached in English. This might be because when being critical of society, these women prefer the anonymity of English, something that is inaccessible by parents or authority figures, etc. Also, as English has become a counterpart in education and social revolution, a non-English speaking audience would adhere more strongly to tradition and disapprove of criticism.

A poem written by Maryam, "If I Were a Man," was posted on her blog. This powerful poem mentions some social practices that highlighted the gender discrimination in the region. What's more interesting is the connection that Maryam made with her readers, many of who were women and praised her work for capturing some of the more sensitive and censored issues. Here are some lines from the poem:

If I were a man, I can wear whatever I want whenever I want

If I were a man, I don't need to have a permission to travel, to go out, to study to work or to breathe

If I were a man with bad reputation, my society would say "young and foolish, he will grow up and get married tomorrow, let him have fun"

If I were a man, I will have a bigger salary, just for being a man

If I were a man who studied abroad, in my society I will be a genius

But I am a woman

I am a woman and I must work twice as hard to prove myself

I am a woman and if I erred at work it is because I am simply a woman

I am a woman and if I studied abroad I will be too exposed and not suitable for marriage

I am a woman and on my society I am a burden

I am a woman and for my society I am a mistake that should be corrected

One response:

My favorite poem. I'm really proud of you that you read it in public that day and didn't care what people thought. Bravery is what you're full of and what other girls need. Thanks for writing something like this.


Hi Mimi - I want to thank you for writing this powerful poem and for translating it into English. I think what you have expressed here is how many Middle Eastern women are made to feel. You are such an articulate voice.

Another: We are all still women who love, get hurt, are lied to, used and abused, by the same men. You are not alone.

And another:

So let's be proud of ourselves for being "girls". We've been given rights, yet our problem is we don't ask for them, which raises a need to be educated about our rights- religious and civic- and educate other women. You know an advanced democratic country when you look at its women.

To which Maryam responds:

It means a lot to me that so many people could understand and relate to what I have written about. … I just feel that somehow I have given an image that I am sad or oppressed. On the contrary, my sisters and I lead a very liberal life here in Qatar. I just wanted to express what many women here feel….I think that women should stop acting or accepting being the victim. Change is in our hands, we are the ones who agreed to this. Not only that, but we pass these norms to our children… We have the choice to abide by these norms or simple refuse them. We should stop blaming men, and society. Society is men and women! and we are more than men in number! so why let them control us in such retarded barbaric way!

And here is another blog excerpt by another Qatari woman who expresses her frustration of despite having attained an education and a proven validity as an intellect, is still regarded as merely a "sexual object" by men in her society.

I seriously think that instead of getting stuck on the impossible mission of democratizing Arab governments, we ought to start with democratizing Arab men.

For their chauvinistic mentalities and outdated beliefs and attitudes towards women need not be completely eroded starting over with a clean fresh slate.

No free thinker can be tied down by prejudices.

No human being has the right to undermine a fellow human being on the basis of gender. 

The chauvinistic politics that jail women in the frame of shame, subjugating us to different kinds of discrimination need to change. 

In the so-called modern world, where men are forced to deal with women on daily basis, women remain the victims of the men's chauvinistic remarks, passes and looks. Arab men's decayed mentality needs a serious make over.

They need to understand that we are here to resist; we are here to share life with them, emphasizing sharing.    

Speech allows people to categorize themselves and others within a culture. Language has given rise to a cult mentality among these woman-a boarder separating them from the rest of society. Just look how many times collective words like "we" and "lets" and "us" "our" is being used. Nearly all of the responses are from Arabic speakers, yet they chose to conform to the language of the post. What langue does here is empower the women and help them categorize themselves as members of this movement. There is a strong element of "us" versus "them" that we see being implied, with us being the "enlightened," educated, English speakers, who know and recognize the social faults, and them being the traditionalist groups that uphold these "outdated beliefs". These women "use language to create and maintain role relationships between individuals and between groups in such a manner that the linguistic varieties used by a community form a system that corresponds to the structure of the society."( Polly Sterling, Texas A&M University).These women have certainly tore themselves away from the rest of their country by stepping aside and jointly critiquing. An Arabic group with the same aims would still not quite fit in with these women as they (the Arabic speakers) chose to still maintain a degree of companionship with the culture by speaking the designated language. For the English speakers, their choice of language only further distinguishes them.

Hence, our choice of words stand out, as do just as strongly the words we exclude. (CITE *might be found in language and identity article). In this case, an entire language is being excluded: Arabic. It is too representative of the "old ways" that is no longer appealing to this younger generation and no longer befitting of their lifestyles. This is an intentional tactic that points out to the listener "which groups [the speakers] are members of and which groups they are not. When people want to be considered part of a particular social group, they express their alignment with that group in different ways, one of which is "talking like" other members of that group." (Sterling)

English to defend their image and refute Western Stereotypes/misunderstandings

Mogahed, Dalia. Perspectives of Women in the Muslim World.

"Unfair Play: Doha Conference Sheds Light on Biased Images of Muslim Women in Western Media."

More than any other group of women, Arab women, particularly Muslim, Arab women, are subject to injustices in their native society. However, even more damaging than the actual injustices are the stereotypes that often define them as beings, limiting the opportunities they are presented and masking their competence as they are viewed as creatures to be pitied and liberated from an oppressive society, not individuals with any degree of potential. They are objectified. The problem with these stereotypes is that women believe they must change their very essence-their national identity or religion in order to liberate themselves. Because "Islam" and "Arab" are practically synonymous with sexism and injustice, many feel that to negate this image, they must disassociate themselves from their socio-historical backgrounds as much as possible.

Cross cultural communication is always a challenge. There is the context in which communication is conducted that could interfere with the message. This is very strongly the case with Arab women and the current media hype and stereotypes associated with them. Often, they are the subject of these stereotypes and the media coverage, not participants in the discussions and the analysis of the current situations. There is usually someone speaking on their behalf who may offer a skewed image because it's the image that the society wants to project, not the image that holds true to the women. English has enabled the world to listen to their accounts first hand, without distorted translation or censorship. Speaking English is really the only way that Qatari women can revoke the current stereotypes held by the rest of the world. When given the opportunity or asked their opinion about their current status, they utilize language skills to reach out and teach others about their culture (like Ayesha's response to the expat's enquiries above). Many women still hold strongly to their religion and culture. "If we don't protect and project our nations, who will? Even if Muslims don't come out and preach peace, to clear the doubts about Muslims, who will?" Sameera Rashid, Qatar Narratives .

Mimi and Aisha both showed tremendous respect and pride for their cultures, though through utilizing English, they were able to illustrate their nationalism to the outside world. Mimi criticized the disintegration of her culture, Aisha wanted to others to understand it as well as she. They chose a middle identity that shows them being progressive and different than their predecessors, though holding to their cultures. And this is surprisingly reflective of the majority of women, according to a study that showed that although Arab women tend to acknowledge and desire for themselves the rights of Western women, they do not necessarily desire the lifestyle and are content with the core social values.

Shortcomings of Arabic in Expressing contemporary ideas 2-3 pages

Linguistic standards evolve over time. Lippi-Green claims that only "unused,dead languages are static," as all languages are forced to change including the "social markings of variants and the meanings assigned to words," (10). Ideally this is the case and we've witnessed such linguistic evolution in nearly all world languages. While Arabic is by no means, "unused" the strong cultural connotations that link the words to the social customs have not adjusted themselves appropriately in Qatar and the rest of the Middle East, as the social revolution speeds forth at an overwhelmingly rapid pace, leaving language lagging behind. So although language is supposed to "change in pace as [the] community and the demands of the speakers evolve" (Lippi Green 100), when social revolutions take place too rapidly for all the speakers of the language to follow (and of course, there are those who resist the changes), speakers are forced to adopt a more befitting tongue. For Qatari women, English has already become a part of the nations' structure, so utilizing it doesn't suggest that they've somehow reached far to find linguistic accommodations.

Also, as Arabic is considered a sacred language due to Islam's strong foothold in the region and Arabic being the language of the Quran, Arabic hasn't adjusted well since people try to maintain the sacredness and refrain from making changes to the language. New vocabulary is added regularly to the many regional dialects; however, the fundamentals of classical Arabic have remained the same for centuries.

The lack of appropriate terminology and vocabulary in Arabic is also a factor that encourages English use, especially for those who critique Middle Eastern society in the light of feminism. Culture very much shapes the context of words (CITE). In a society where women are traditionally expected to uphold family honor, refrain from attracting unwanted male attention, caring for the family, etc., the words that are representative of women tend to uphold these attributes and are certainly not words that would be considered belittling or limiting to women when spoken in Qatari society. Thus, the challenge arises when a woman seeks to express her frustration with the current system and lacks the appropriate vocabulary to demonstrate her position.

English is a very functional language in that words tend to hold a single definition and rarely include multiple layers applicable to a single socio-cultural context. The world girl as defined by Webster's Dictionary is "n: a female child from birth to adulthood." Taken at face value, the world girl simply means a girl. However, in Arabic, all words pertaining to a female are too strongly linked to social expectations of women and cannot be spoken as separate from the collectively accepted definition nor the emotional reaction they evoke from the listeners. The closest word to girl would be bint, which doesn't only refer to a girl, but specifically to a young, unmarried virgin girl. Hence, a 16-year old who is either married or sexually active could not be accurately called a bint. Her status would be upgraded to imra'a, the surface equivalent to woman, albeit more strongly suggestive of her sexuality, not her age or wisdom. An unmarried woman, who has passed the socially appropriate age of marriage and is single is an aanis, a world with a negative social connotation that links the woman to her undesirability as a wife, and suggests her social worthlessness as she will not bear children. There is no equivalent to an older, unmarried woman that would hold a neutral connotation. For older, unmarried women, but who are educated and hold an influential position in society, the Arabic language doesn't do them justice. As more Qatari women today are delaying marriage to pursue graduate and doctorate degrees and long-term careers, they don't have a word that would solely signify them as working women. Even a married woman is rarely referred to as simply an imra'a, but rather her status automatically shifts to umm, or a mother, who holds the highest esteem with regards to the socially accepted position of a woman. Even then, a wife is often referred by her husband as umm al-iyyal, or literally "mother of the family." (FOOTNOTE: in many Arabic societies, a woman rarely called by her name, but rather umm and the name of her eldest son, e.g. Umm Ahmad, or "Mother of Ahmad.") A woman's identity if she seeks to speak in Arabic is never entirely separate from her role of either her potential to be or her status as a wife and mother. (Hellinger, e al.).

The gender neutrality of English is a driving force that encourages women to speak it as it doesn't stress a woman's role simply in terms of her association with males. As more women are delaying marriage to seek an education, they no longer allow society to dub them as an aanis, as their worthiness is no longer linked to their marital status and they've proven their competency as educated, functional parts of society. The language seems irrelevant to their current status, and hence, English is more expressive and practical, and most importantly, a means of establishing her own identity entirely separate from men.

Words cannot be properly aligned with the emotions of the speaker, the frustration of being accused of dishonorable acts, because of the context of these words are only subject to society's approval. Complaining about them would only further confirm suspicions of improper conduct. Why would a woman complain about segregation, when fasil of the sexes is the proper thing to do? Furthermore, a woman who does abide by these social regulations is Afifa (عفيفة), a word of praise (and a common first name for females) for women who exhibit a shy and sexually distant persona in the presence of unrelated men.

This is important on several levels as the women who study abroad, and who even think outside of traditional archetypes are often the subject of social disapproval and family/tribal dishonor. They are criticized for being too "exposed" as one woman put in her essay. But this exposure only paved way to acquiring new vocabulary complimentary to their new outlook. Common expressions that are used in English tend to emphasize Western celebration of individuality, self-expression, and looking inward. As a result, the language contains many expressions and metaphors that directly relate to these themes and flow naturally in English conversations. They are parts of everyday speech. Take for example this excerpt from an essay by Maha A., published as part of the Qatar Narrative series: "I was under constant scrutiny and criticized a lot, because I had the opportunity to live life to the fullest by doing whatever I put my heart into, as long as it didn't go against my principles."

Rise of a new "Arabized" English vocabulary illustrating the change in culture. 2-3 pages

Mimi's Blog- Language Dilemma in Qatar

A new vocabulary is introduced-one that is different than the language of "oppressed women" of preceding generation-it is a new identity that reflects how they're distanced from the stereotypes. English materialized ideas that didn't exist in their society, or didn't hold an appropriate connotation. Arabic equivalents wouldn't capture the essence of the word because of the social bias surrounding it.

Because of the growing number of women who resort to this style of language use, they are no longer seen as violating and linguistic norms of society. They do tend to only direct certain expressions and linguistic styles when speaking with their like-minded peers and are mindful of their tongues when speaking with authority figures or adults.

Aside from the use of English words and expressions, like "hi" (هاي ), open-mind (مايند اوبن), new "Arabized" English words have been introduced to the language. They are spoken as part of Arabic conversations and have even earned cultural validation by being spelled in Arabic letters. They hint at the current cultural change that's taking root in Qatari society. It is not uncommon to hear these words, even by women who don't speak English that fluently. For instance, it's now common to hear the word marka, (ماركة ) meaning "mark" or brand name for clothing, shoes, etc. This is significant because women, previously veiled in black from head to toe were never given the hundreds of options as far as clothes were concerned. Nowadays, it has become not only a status symbol, but a reflection of the coveted reputation of being up-to-date with latest fashion trends as women purchase the latest designs by Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Coach, Armani and others that have infiltrated the Qatari market. This whole embrace of fashion and feminine expression has come to defy one of the strongest upheld and globally recognized traits of Arab women, which is to virtually conceal any hint of her sexuality when out in public. Even the abayah itself has been impacted by modern changes, "[coming] much closer to outlining the woman's figure than the traditional bulky cloak, designed to conceal her form. So attractive and daring was this innovation that it recently caused quite a controversy… Despite the debate, "the new abayah" has caught on with the younger eneration." (MARR)

In addition, in a society that strongly disapproves of premarital relationships, words like "boyfriend" (فرند بوي ), Girlfriend, (فرند جيرل) and even the idea of "just friends"( فرندز جست)between males and females is surprisingly common nowadays. The words "sexy" (سكسي) and "cool" (كوول) are likewise widely used to describe different mannerisms, often in a positive light, especially among the younger generations.