Arabizi : an exploration of the use of the contemporary youth netspeak on social networking sites in Saudi Arabia

  • Hamdah Abdullah Alghamdi

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    With the emergence of social networking sites, young people in the Arab world have started using a new electronic language called “Arabizi”. Arabizi, which has dominated the internet sites, is the process of using Roman letters and numbers to write Arabic words so it replaces the Arabic script. This new linguistic code has received strong criticism from Arabic language scholars who claim that its use is detrimental to the Arabic language and the maintenance of Arab identity. However, Arabizi use has continued to rise especially amongst Saudi Arabian youth. Despite the numerous criticisms and discussions about the disadvantages of using Arabizi, limited research exists on the reasons behind its use. Adopting a sociolinguistic and a discourse analytic approach, the present study investigated the attitudes of young Saudi Arabians, aged between 16 and 28 years of age, towards the use Arabizi on SNSs, and specifically Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the reasons for its use and the functions Arabizi performs on social media. The study employed a netnographic approach which included a mixed method design. Naturally occurring SNS data were collected from 55 Twitter, Facebook and Instagram users. Electronic questionnaires, distributed through open accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other SNSs, were completed by 131 users of Arabizi and 20 face to face interviews were undertaken. The data were collected from all over Saudi Arabia and interviews were conducted in the three major cities of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah. The quantitative data were analysed using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis. The qualitative data obtained through the interviews and SNS were analysed using thematic analysis and discourse analysis respectively. The questionnaire and interview results confirmed that Saudi youth use Arabizi for several different reasons, namely,(1) it is a habit,(2) it is a cool and stylish script,(3) it serves their curiosity to try the new things others in their peer group are using,(4) it helps overcome difficulties with the Arabic language, and most importantly,(5) it is a language of secrecy that allows its users free expression and communication with peers – it allows them to escape from the judgements of older people. The participants also highlighted the Arabic and Arabizi codes serve different purposes and that addressee, topic and context play a significant role in deciding which code is to be used. The study suggests that of Arabizi has a strong social function and assists participants with development of social identity and solidarity. The online data revealed that Saudi Arabian youth not only use Arabizi on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram but also code-switch between three different codes: Arabizi, Arabic and English. Arabizi and English are used predominantly in their interactions and server similar functions whereas the Arabic language has limited use. Arabizi and English are employed on social media to express emotions through complaining, swearing, cursing and flirting. Arabizi is also used to share the participants’ updates and news, and to connect with other social media users while Arabic is limited to formal communication with employers and parents and for discussion of formal topics such as religion and politics. By using discourse analysis to examine the phenomenon of Arabizi on social media, significant insights are provided into the way the code functions as a means of expressing identity, creating solidarity, and maintaining rapport among young people in Saudi Arabia. Given its importance, it is recommended that future research be undertaken on the use of Arabizi.
    Date of Award2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorEleni Petraki (Supervisor)

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