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Sacred Language, Ordinary People: Dilemmas of Culture and Politics in Egypt Hardcover – January 15, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

Review

“the book is a welcome contribution to the field of Arabic linguistics.”--International Journal of Middle East Studies

“[T]his is one of the most interesting books I have ever read on language. It is certainly unique insofar as the study of Arabic is concerned, for no linguistic ethnography exists for Classical Arabic.”
-Steven C. Caton, Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies, Harvard University

“I don’t know of anyone who has carved out the subject Haeri is pursuing in such original fashion. She writes clearly about a very complicated set of issues, and she has a wonderful way of blending theory with empirical work.”
-Philip S. Khoury, Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Haeri’s fine book explores one of the most fundamental distinctions in human communication systems-formal versus informal-by examining one of the world’s most important official languages-Classical Arabic. She shows that understanding the role of formal language in society is crucial to an understanding of the state and its relation to symbolic capital. This subtle and well-written analysis is only possible because Haeri relies on concrete ethnographic data of language in practice for her examples.”
-Joel Kuipers, George Washington University, Institute for Ethnographic Research

About the Author

Niloofar Haeri is Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. She was a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (1999-2000) and is an internationally recognized scholar of Arabic. She has conducted research on language change and its relation to class and gender in Egypt. Among her publications are The Sociolinguistic Market of Cairo: Gender, Class, and Education (Kegan Paul International, 1996) and Structuralist Studies in Arabic Linguistics: Papers Published by Charles Ferguson 1948-1992, with K. Belnap (E. J. Brill, 1997).
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (January 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312238983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312238988
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,602,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ali Aldailami on July 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is a very intelligent book about a topic that has been plaguing Arabic philoloigists and thinkers. How do you modernize a language that is considered sacred? Is there a difference between the modern Classic Arabic and the Quran's Classic Arabic? What are people's attitudes towards Classical Arabic? Perhaps one of the best passages in this study is when an Egyptian would explain the ease and the relaxed state of mind he is in upon hearing or reading the Quran (which is written in Classical Arabic), yet at the same time would describe the same language as "diffcult", and a burdan to write and communicate in within other spheres. Other topics explore the efforts made to transfer a sacred language into print and media and how it defines social heirarchies within Egyptian society.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By AA on September 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
Niloofar Haeri is an Iranian American; she studied Arabic Language in the USA and went to Egypt to further her studies. On arrival she realized that the language she learnt "modern Arabic" is very different from the language spoken by the Egyptians. The difference was more than just accent or dialect; it was far more fundamental than that. Haeri set out studying the Egyptian "Arabic" language in great detail and studying its role in the society.

Haeri describes contradictions galore in the way the society deals with the language issue and the way the whole language question is suppressed virtually by the entire nation. Egyptians are trapped unable to develop their language because any such development would be a departure from the sacred language of the Quran; a language the Egyptians never spoke and need to learn. Even the Copts, Egypt's Christians see Egyptian Arabic as an inferior language. Some of the amazing findings of Haeri include her analysis of the language of the newspapers which follows the sentence structure of Egyptian Arabic, political speeches and language on the TV. It was interesting to see how presidential speeches in Egyptian Arabic are often "translated" into proper Arabic for official news purposes.

I first heard of this book from a very negative review of the Al Ahram Weekly that was written by an American woman living in Egypt. The negative review was front page of the book review supplement of the Ahram. I was fascinated by it, so on my return to the US I ordered and truly loved it. Outstanding work, very highly recommended!
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jeanne E. Gale on January 11, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was for the same Egyptology student, who is taking her studies further in Social Anthropology. Makes a good case for a bridge between Ancient Egypt and the culture of today.
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