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Online Identities and Linguistic Practices: A case of Arab Study Abroad Students in the UK on Twitter

Alhejely, G. W. (2020) Online Identities and Linguistic Practices: A case of Arab Study Abroad Students in the UK on Twitter. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This research investigates the online linguistic practices of five Arab study abroad students in the UK who are Twitter users. These students deploy rich and diverse linguistic repertoires, which include Standard Arabic (Fus’ha), Classical Arabic, colloquial Arabic (Ammyah), as well as different English repertoires and digital affordances (emoji). The study explores and demonstrates how these individuals use their diverse linguistic repertoiresto communicate ideas and construct online identities. In addition, it investigates participants’ attitudes towards different online linguistic practices. Lastly, this study exploresthe impact of mobility, understood geographically as moving to study in the UK, and socially as becoming sojourners, on these practices, thus expanding our understanding of how these two aspects of contemporary life interact. Online ethnography is used as the methodology in this research. This includes observing participants’ Twitter accounts for nine months and conducting interviews with them to seek interpretations of, and comments on, their online practices. Thus, the study makes a methodological contribution to researching online practices of Arab sojourners in the UK. Previous studies (e.g. Al Alaslaa, 2018; Albirini, 2016; Al-Jarf, 2010; Eldin, 2014; Kosoff, 2014) have relied heavily on text analysis, making assumptions about individuals’ intentions when they analyse their repertoire use. To address this limitation, this study interviews the participants to allow them to comment on how and why they use their linguistic repertoires in order to delve into their language ideologies and aspects of online identity construction. The findings show that the participants predominantly used two categories of Arabic: Standard Arabic A (Fus’ha) and Colloquial Arabic (CA) in addition to the use of English and emoji. All these resources are deployed by the participants to construct different macro- and microlevel identities (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005). Another main finding is that most participants relied on CA more than any other varieties, despite the common language ideologies that continue to (re)produce and reinforce the status of Standard Arabic among Arabic speakers (e.g.Albirini, 2016; Bassiouney, 2015; Hoigilt, 2018). It was also found that the role of English in this study is not as dominant as has been reported in previous studies on Arab internet users (e.g.Al-Saleem, 2011; Eldin, 2014; Kosoff, 2014; Strong & Hareb, 2012). Finally, the analysis reveals that mobility does not seem to have a significant impact on the participants’ online linguistic practices. This study contributes to the literature on digital communication, language attitudes, and identity, and to our wider understanding of these areas. More importantly, it adds to recent debates in sociolinguistics regarding concepts such as ‘multilingualism’, ‘languaging’, ‘codeswitching’ and ‘translanguaging’. Moreover, the current study will have some potential practical implications. Thousands of Arab students come to study in the UK annually. Knowing how these students communicate on social media will inform university educators about their ideologies and attitudes to the languages they speak. Also, the findings help to change some of the common perceptions among Arab individuals about linguistic practices of Arab sojourners in the UK.

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