Language, Nation, Difference: Everyday Language Tactics of Young Emiratis

Part of the Contemporary Gulf Studies book series (CGS)


This chapter explores the symbolic role of Arabic, the official language of the United Arab Emirates, in the construction and maintenance of contemporary Emirati national identity. Using in-depth interviews and ‘participant living’ with young Emirati citizens from Dubai, I explore the ways in which Emiratis perform their national identity through their everyday linguistic choices. I focus on Emiratis whose ancestors have migrated to the Arabian Gulf from Southern Persia, Baluchistan and Zanzibar and still speak languages such as Ajam, Baloch and Swahili at home. Informed by theories of everyday performances of national identity, this chapter argues that while using Arabic as their everyday language is often unreflective among young Emiratis, as a result of the linguistic nationalization since the nation was founded in 1971, it is also a choice, which is made situationally. Those whose belonging is rather ‘ambiguous’ choose to speak Arabic in public, as an attempt to become recognized as a part of the Emirati nation by fellow citizens. Speaking ‘Emirati Arabic’ is also crucial in marking citizenship status in a context where Emiratis are outnumbered by migrants who may share similar ethnic, linguistic or geographical origins or phenotype as them.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Islamic and Middle Eastern StudiesThe University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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