The Impact of Diglossia on the Language Development and Educational Achievement of Saudi Students in Primary Schools

Abdulfattah Omar, Bader Deraan Aldawsari


Arabic is a diglossic language. Two variants of Arabic are widely used. H (the High variant) is Classical Arabic, now referred to as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). The L (Low) variant is the colloquial dialects (DA), which are mostly spoken. The H variant is used in education, press, and other formal correspondence. The Low version is associated with informal contexts. Interestingly, the two versions are completely different from each other in terms of vocabulary, syntax, and even structure. Given the social and cognitive aspects of the language, children go to primary schools with almost no knowledge of MSA. Despite the prolific literature on the linguistic features of Arabic diglossia, very little has been done on the impact of diglossia on academic and educational achievement. In light of this argument, this paper seeks to investigate the teachers' perceived impact of diglossia on the language development and educational achievement of primary school students from a linguistic and anthropological perspective. Interviews were conducted with selected primary school teachers from the Riyadh region of Saudi Arabia to elicit their opinions and perception on how diglossia should be tackled when students arrive in a classroom. The data collection tool was an interview comprising close and open-ended questions. The interview questions explored three areas: teachers’ perception of diglossia; perceived challenges that students faced with teaching and study material; and how teachers addressed these challenges. Findings indicate that diglossia poses serious sociolinguistic challenges to most young learners in Saudi schools. Both teachers and learners face difficulties in using only MSA in classrooms as the formal and official medium of instruction in Saudi schools. It is recommended thus the colloquial and vernacular dialects (L varieties) of Arabic should be integrated into the instruction mode to reflect the linguistic reality of the Arab countries.

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World Journal of English Language
ISSN 1925-0703(Print)  ISSN 1925-0711(Online)

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