Digital Vernaculars: An Investigation of Najdi Arabic in Multilingual Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication

  • Ebtesam Alothman

Student thesis: Phd


The present study is conducted within the borders of multilingual Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) . It aims at investigating the orthographic representation of Najdi Arabic in Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Along with this basic purpose, the study examines the communicative functions of multilingual practices in representing Najdi Arabic online. These practices include code-switching between languages (English-Arabic) and script-switching between scripts (Arabic-Roman). In addition, it is within the intentions of this study to analyze the specific characterstics of Najdi Arabic online which make it a hybrid between written and spoken languages. The investigation starts with the hypothesis that Najdi Arabic online is a language form that shows interrelations of languages, scripts and features of CMC. In order to realize these intentions, an online questionnaire was administerated among internet users and a large corpus of IRC data was collected. Within Herring's (2004) computer-mediated discourse analysis approach, qualitative and quantitative approaches to data analysis were conducted. Responses to the online questionnaire were coded and analyzed in order to establish social profiles of who use Najdi Arabic online. IRC data was subjected to textual and interactional analysis to investigate the orthographic and linguistic features of this language form as well as the mechanism underlying code-switching and script-switching.The analysis of data yielded a number of important findings. First, youth language creatively uses non-standard spellings in constructing anti-standard orthography that constitutes a cyberspace code of communication. Regarding the orthographic representation of Najdi Arabic, the analysis reveals interrelations among languages (Arabic/English) and ASCII-characters. The process of Romanizing Najdi Arabic involves a combination of both transliteration of the Arabic orthography and transcription of spoken Najdi Arabic. Second, this writing system functions as a code of communication that carries social and cultural meanings and it is argued that switching between scripts is not entirely arbitrary. Applying the methodological tools of Auer's (1995) Conversational Analysis to script-switching online, it is found that alternating between scripts online achieves different communicative functions that define and enhance the IRC discourse. Third, code-switching has been found to serve communicative functions similar to those of face-to face conversation and stimulated by the synchronicity of online discourse. Finally, investigating the specific features of Najdi Arabic online reveals another level of language alternation between common English CMC features identified in the literature and innovative CMC features based on the Arabic orthography.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorYaron Matras (Supervisor) & Erik Schleef (Supervisor)


  • Computer-Mediated Communication- Najdi Arabic

Cite this