Giuliano Lancioni & Laura Garofalo, Roma Tre University

A Formal Account of Diglossia in Egyptian Arabic as a
Unified System
Traditional accounts of the linguistic reality in Egyptian Arabic capitalize on the
concepts of diglossia and code-switching or –mixing: according to most models,
Arabic is represented by two varieties, a higher, formal one and a lower, spoken one.
The two variants are mixed by speakers that switch between them according to a
variety of linguistic, psychological, social motives.
However, this picture shows a number of inadequacies: (i) the “pure” versions of
both the higher and the lower varieties are rarely, if ever, met in real discourse; (ii)
mixing of varieties is explained away as a more or less casual process, which does not
account for the relatively high degree of systematicity that shows up (as convincingly
argued for by Hary, 1996); (iii) the two varieties largely overlap, with as much as
85% of words being identical, apart for possibly partially different phonetic
realizations, which are not more important than what is found within other,
presumably non-diglossic, linguistic systems.
A short sample from the an Egyptian blog shows the degree of commonality
between standard and spoken Arabic in a typical informal text:


(‫ ھذا‬hāḏa)

Dialectal interpretation






Original form



(‫ التي‬allatī)



(‫ ترد‬tarid)







HB register the verb itsāʾil but, of course, not a maṣdar tasāʾul (whose form is clearly

K. The paper will present a sketch of a formal grammar which is able to generate a number of real sentences attested in a corpus of Egyptian informal texts. Mark (2000). References Hary. The Importance of the Language Continuum in Arabic Multiglossia. Elgibali (Ed. MA: MIT Press. 30). 2000. (Eds. The Syntactic Process. In: R. Mark and Jason Baldridge (2011). VS/SV Order in Spoken Arabic: a Categorial Grammar Account.A different path has been convincingly argued for by Hary (1996). Mark (1996). Boston. DC: Georgetown University Press. Börjars (Eds. Giuliano (2014). MA: MIT Press. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press. 2011). Surface Structure and Interpretation (“Linguistic Inquiry Monographs”.J. 69-90. according to lines developed by Lancioni (2014).). In: A. Our approach pushes this idea forward by devising a formal grammar of informal Arabic which generates both standard and spoken forms. The model proposed is within the framework of Combinatory Categorial Grammar (Steedman.C. 181–224. 1996. In: O. Ryding. Formal Spoken Arabic: Basic Course. 2nd Ed. & D. Benjamin (1996). Steedman & Baldridge.MA/Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Steedman. Washington. Washington.D. Non-Transformational Syntax: Formal and Explicit Models of Grammar. Wien/Berlin: LIT. Malden. Steedman.C. Lancioni. Mehall (2005) Formal spoken Arabic: Basic course. . Ryding. K.). The pedagogical feasibility of such an approach has been practically shown by Ryding (1990). Ryding & Mehall (2005). Understanding Arabic. Steedman.). Combinatory Categorial Grammar. Boston. Alf lahǧa wa lahǧa. 225236. DC: Georgetown University Press. who advocates the possibility of a unified grammatical description of Arabic as used by speakers in a variety of contexts.Durand et al. Borsley & K. possibly with specific usage markers. (1990).