Language Choice among Arabic-English Bilinguals in Manchester

© Mohamed Fathi

The Arabic community in Manchester, Britain is a recent immigrant community. The present study investigates language choice among Arabic-English bilinguals in this community. Such a choice reflects the status of Arabic maintenance/shift as a minority language in Manchester. Answers to the following questions are sought: first, do Arabic and English have distinct functions; i.e., each is used in different domains from the other? Second, are there situations in which they overlap within the same domain? Third, is the second generation going to maintain Arabic? Fourth, what is the status of code-switching (its structural and functional aspects) among the first generation? Finally, what are the status of Arabic schools in Manchester and the status of Arabic in Manchester City Council's services?

The findings show a compartmentalization in function in the parents' use of Arabic and English. Arabic is consistently used in the domains of home (either between parents or between parents and children), friendship, media and mosque; English in the domain of university/work and in shops. This reflects Arabic maintenance. However, in a few situations both languages overlap, e.g., when an Arab talks to his/her friend in the presence of a non-Arab they use English although Arabic is the unmarked choice in the domain of friendship. Arabic will be maintained in the second generation due to many factors, e.g., the use of Arabic at home, the availability of Arabic satellite channels, the availability of Arabic schools and mosques in which children learn Arabic, and the ease of travel to the Arab world. Two types of intrasentential code-switching are attested among the first generation: insertion and alternation. Insertion is the most frequent. The commonest motivation for switching among this generation is being used to saying certain words in English. This shows that Arabic is the dominant language.

There are many Arabic schools in Manchester which are controlled by Arabs and which set their own policies regarding curricula and methods. In these schools Arabic is taught and used as the medium of instruction. Many of Manchester City Council's services are provided in Arabic, e.g., advice telephone lines, interpreters, information about education, health, etc.

[The above is the abstract to Mohamed Fathi's MA dissertation.]