- Language, politics and society in the Middle East: Essays in honour of Yasir Suleiman ed. by Yonatan Mendel and Abeer AlNajjar
This volume on Arabic linguistics edited by Yonatan Mendel and Abeer AlNajjar is a refreshing compendium consisting of eleven chapters of research, reaching from Morocco to the Sudan, to Israel and Palestine, with historic comparisons in some cases. The chapters celebrate the scholarship of Yasir Suleiman, a towering figure in Arabic linguistics with a career that spreads over more than three decades of research and mentoring. In his dedication to Arabic linguistics, Suleiman's scholarship demonstrates a remarkable breadth and depth of approaches and methods (see e.g. Suleiman 1999, 2003, 2013). The contributors to the chapters are scholars who know [End Page 572] Suleiman personally, either as former students or as peers. The foreword is written by Carole Hillenbrand, a former colleague of Suleiman at the University of Edinburgh.
As Mendel and AlNajjar state in the introduction, even the choice of a street sign as the book's cover image is a tribute to Suleiman's scholarship. The street is from an Israeli town, and as is the case with all street signs in Israel, Hebrew has to be first, then Arabic, and then English. The Hebrew reads 'Batzra', in reference to 'Basra' in Iraq, where some Jews fought during WWII, and as a tribute to the city, as pronounced in Ashkenazi Hebrew, which is what these military men were. The Arabic is a transliteration of the Hebrew (as is generally the case in Israel), and the English is 'Bazra', even though English also has the name of this Iraqi city as 'Basra' or 'Al-Basra'. The editors intended to show the seen, but most of the time unnoticed, depth of the semiosis of the sign. This is done to remind the reader that Suleiman was one of the early Arabic linguists to analyze street signs, and that was long before investigating the linguistic landscape became common practice in linguistic analyses (see e.g. Gorter 2006). Further, the fact that the two editors are a Jewish Israeli (Mendel) and a dispossessed Palestinian (AlNajjar) is also a gesture to the career and life of Suleiman, a dispossessed Palestinian himself in constant pursuit of social justice regardless of color or creed (see e.g. Suleiman 2016).
The book is in two parts. Part one covers some general themes in Arabic sociolinguistics. The authors made a good choice by opening with John Joseph, who applies Derrida's (1994) framework to the understanding of language and identity. Joseph highlights the centrality of Suleiman's scholarship in the debate on Arabic sociolinguistics. Derrida's term 'hauntology', loosely translated as the ghosts of history in the formation of identity, fits very well the framework in which Suleiman worked and through which he influenced Arabic debates. Karin Ryding's is a US-focused study of the pedagogy of Arabic, its shortcomings, and how to move forward. Chaoqun Lian examines the discourse of language policy in two of the oldest Arabic language academies, Damascus and Cairo. The metaphors used in the rationalization of the academy's work is indicative of the role of language in the collective imagination of the national identity of both academies. Eirlys Davies discusses language preferences on the internet in social media, emails, and text messages in Morocco. Users' preference for Moroccan Arabic is a bottom-up change happening in Arabic writing; thus Davies is moving the debate about code-switching in Arabic to the internet and social media realm.
Lastly in part one, Ashraf Abdelhay and Sinfree Makoni discuss ideology toward Arabic in the Sudan by looking into the discourse of President Bashir, the journalist Hussein Khojali, and John Garang de Mabior (the late South Sudanese leader), and how Arabic acts as a proxy for national conflict. Abdelhay and Makoni's chapter is a refreshing reminder that the...