Queen Rania Foundation

Raising our heads from the documents: sharing some mid-term findings from our systematic review into Arabic diglossia

A growing number of researchers interested in Arabic language around the world have been voicing concerns over Arabic diglossia and its links to low student achievement, low literacy and its general effect on Arab children’s learning. Despite this, there is currently no reliable synthesis of the existing literature that can inform future directions in research, policy and teacher practice. 

To rectify this gap, QRF have been working with Zayed University to conduct a comprehensive systematic review that will address major questions related to diglossia and inform future directions. This will allow academics and practitioners to rigorously, and comprehensively, understand the map of existing knowledge, analyze how the concept of Arabic diglossia is being framed, and identify gaps in both research and practice in relation to diglossia. 

To date, we’ve -  

  • Completed a targeted literature search of the nine major databases for articles, reports, and book chapters published from 1970 to 2020.  
  • Reviewed 447 documents at abstract level then full-text level by a team of qualified researchers. The review process resulted in the inclusion 158 documents that met the criteria set for the review. 
  • Extracted from each of the documents the information needed to critically analyze the evidence presented in them. 

For example, information such as: type of manuscript, author country affiliation and specialization, concerns or main issues presented, and recommendations offered. If the manuscript was a research study, further information was extracted: study objectives, research methodology used, grade level, linguistic skill tested, language variety, type and duration of interventions (if any), number of participants, and overall diglossia-related findings. 

  • Finalized content analysis to generate the general themes for further analysis. 

At the beginning of this research project, we committed to sharing our insights as close in real time to them being generated. In this spirit, these are the preliminary findings that will be further presented and discussed in a forthcoming full report.

Paper type: Analysis revealed that the most common type of paper was quantitative research (50% of all papers). This is encouraging, and bodes well given how young this field of research is. However, the quantitative research was mostly descriptive with some correlational and comparative studies. The majority of sample sizes were relatively small, and the methodologies employed focused on a series of language tasks (31.4%) that students needed to get through. Very rarely were experimental and control groups used (6.6%). With the exception of one study, no educational interventions were examined. We find this troubling.

The next most common type of paper was theoretical and position papers (22.8% of all studies reviewed). This was followed by qualitative research focused mostly on thematic analyses (16.5% of the total papers analyzed). Mixed methods papers formed 10.1% of the total papers reviewed. Finally, an encouraging finding relates to the introduction of brain scans in the diglossia literature in 3 studies (2.5%).

Affiliation Countries: Most research studies engaged with the topic of Arabic diglossia came from authors in Occupied Territories (35.4%) and the USA (30.4%), with a lesser number from the Arab countries (17.7%). Within the Arab world, Lebanon and Jordan contributed the majority of both the identified and included documents. It is worth noting that the majority of Occupied Territories and USA-based researchers are from Arab origins and are themselves speakers of Arabic. 

Author Specialization: Most authors publishing research on Arabic diglossia came from linguistics backgrounds (56%). This included applied linguistics, psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics. This was followed by authors whose specialization is in education (28%). However, most of those authors came from a special education and Teaching English as a Second Language backgrounds We’d hoped to see more representation in the literature from researchers with a background in literacy, reading, curriculum and instruction and language policy.  

Main Concerns: Many of the papers reviewed voiced concerns with the low academic achievement of Arab children (39.2%) followed by concerns regarding the distance between Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Spoken Arabic (SpA) at 19%. Concerns around the teaching methods used in schools ranked third (16.5%), followed by concerns over the complexity of MSA (15.8%), socio-economic status (13.9%), non-native learners (13.3%), limited research (10.1%) and lack of early exposure to MSA (7.6%). 

Please note that the information shared here constitute a part of the total analysis that is currently underway. Please stay tuned as more in-depth analysis will be conducted and findings will be shared as soon as it is fully completed.