RESEARCH

As a specialist in sociolinguistics, I am interested in a range of theoretical issues related to the sociopolitical aspects of language, e.g. multilingualism, language policy, language movements, discourse analysis, language and education, and orthography. My primary research interests, however, revolve around the linguistic construction of ethnic, religious, and national identities. In my recent papers, I examine the social and cultural dimensions of script.

Research Interests

Theoretical interests: sociolinguistics, language and ethnic/religious/national identities, language ideology, multilingualism, language policy, language movements, sociolinguistics of orthography,diglossia, and discourse analysis.

Field specialization: South Asia with focus on North India with special reference to Urdu and Hindi and the sociolinguistics of the Arab World.

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Refereed Publications

I give below information about my publications. If you would like to get a copy of any of my articles, please send me an email. If you have any comments or questions on any of my papers, email me as well.

2021 (with Sara Hillman). Laboring to communicate: Use of migrant languages in COVID-19 awareness campaign in Qatar, Multilingua 40, no. 3, 2021, pp. 303-337.

2020 (with Torlakova et al). Figurative Language in Arabic E-Commerce Text. International Journal of Business Communication. 57.3. 279-301.

2020 “Hate, Bigotry, and Discrimination against Muslims: Urdu During the Hindutva Rule”. In Disrupting Hate in Education: Techer Activists, Democracy, and Global Pedagogies of Interruption. Eds. Rita Verma & Michael Apple. Pp 129-152. New York, Routledge.

2020 “From Rajjal to Rayyal: Ideologies and shift among young Bedouins in Qatar”. In The Routledge Handbook of Arabic and Identity. Reem Bassiouney & Keith Walters. Pp 13-25. New York, Routledge.

2018 (in press) My name is Khan. . . from the epiglottis: Changing linguistic norms in Bollywood songs. Journal of South Asian Popoular Culture. Taylor & Francis

Abstract: Many recent studies, academic and non-academic alike, have argued that the use of Urdu in Bollywood has started to decline. These studies, important as they are, however, suffer from some limitations. They are either impressionistic or based on non-representative data. Furthermore, they do not specify the object of the study or the site of the assumed decline of Urdu. Therefore, it remains vague which element of Urdu, for example sounds, words, syntax or script is under investigation. Similarly, it is not clear which component of films for example titles, dialogue s or songs are experiencing the decline. Fulfilling this research gap this paper makes two contributions. Analyzing songs from 1959 to 2010’s, it empirically demonstrates the decline by documenting the shift in the pronunciation of the sounds /kh̲/, /gh̲/, and /q/ from the Urdu to Hindi phonetic norms. Singers from the 1990’s, unlike those from the previous generations, merge them with the sounds /kh/, /gh / and/q/. The paper also makes a methodological contribution in that it shows how language in cinema can be studied empirically using a corpus.

2017. (First published January 2017). Figurative Language in Arabic E-Commerce Text. International Journal of Business Communication. (with Torlakova et al). Sage Publication.

Abstract: Based on an analysis of a corpus of Arabic e-commerce websites, this article investigates the use of figurative language in e-business texts. While our focus is on metaphors, we also incorporate the related concept of metonymy to explain the data. Using the theoretical framework of cognitive linguistics and discourse analysis, we examine the linguistic and conceptual metaphors used in e-commerce texts. The empirical analysis demonstrates that the metaphor of COMPANIES ARE LIVING ORGANISMS is the most prevailing one and provides the cognitive frame within which the e-commerce texts are constructed. Entailments and specifications of this cognitive metaphor further structure the texts. Other cognitive metaphors that underlie the text are those of a FORWARD MOVEMENT, PATH—GOAL, and COMPANIES ARE COMPLEX STRUCTURES. On a more general level, we show that despite the fact that the e-commerce text is in Arabic, the underlying cognitive framework is not much different from that in other Western languages. We do, however, find some linguistic strategies that attempt to make the text sound more typically Arabic.

2017. Metaphorical Expressions in E-Commerce: A Study of Arabic Language.  Journal of Global Information Technology Management. . Vol. 20.2. pp 75-90. (with Divakaran Liginlal et al.) (Taylor & Francis/Routledge).

Abstract: This study examines the use of metaphors in Arabic language e-commerce websites and shows that metaphorical language plays an important role in enhancing the effectiveness of websites and e-commerce businesses in general. Arabic text was extracted from 3,065 websites across 22 Arab countries and 10 types of e-commerce domains. More than 14,000 metaphors were annotated in a sample of 1,208 rhetorical clusters (cohesive text units). Metaphor usage was highest in fashion, restaurant, and retail websites, and lowest in e-banking, airline, and tourism websites. Colloquial figurative language was rare—suggesting e-commerce businesses could do more linguistically to localize their websites.

2016. Expatriate Languages in Kuwait: Tension between Public and Private Domains. Journal of Arabian Studies. . Vol. 6 (1) pp 29-52. (Taylor & Francis/Routledge)

Abstract: Following the rise of oil-based economies after the 1950s, the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries became extremely attractive to workers from other Arab countries and beyond. Initially, Arabs were a majority in the expatriate workforce but were gradually outnumbered by Asians. Consequently, the GCC countries, which were monolingual in Arabic, became multilingual, with Urdu, Malayalam, Tagalog, Hindi, Singhalese, and Bengali used widely by expatriates, in addition to Arabic and English. Based on an analysis of data collected in Kuwait between 2008 and 2011 combined with ethnographic observations, this paper corroborates findings of previous research that there is often a gulf between the official language policies and actual practices. I further show that language policies at the top are not monolithic either. In Kuwait, there was a disjoint in the use of expatriate languages on two levels: between government institutions dealing with religious matters and other departments; and between government and private business institutions in general. Driven primarily by the Islamic faith, which is not predicated upon linguistic identity, the Religious Affairs Ministry utilized expatriate languages, whereas other government bodies responded to the perceived threat to Arab identity by enforcing Arabic-only policies in public institutions. Private businesses, guided by commercial interests, used expatriate languages freely to reach out to their clients.

2016. Teaching linguistic diversity through linguistic landscaping. Journal of Language and Language Teaching. Vol. 5 (1) pp. 1-7, Azimpremji University, India.

Abstract: While the cultural diversity of India is highlighted in the school curricula, its linguistic diversity does not receive much attention. When it does, the instructor does not exploit the rich symphony that languages and dialects create in day-to-day lives of the students. Consequently, students are not able to establish a connection between the classroom and the real world of languages. In this paper, I suggest that the data gathered by students and teachers collaboratively from public signs and billboards, known in the sociolinguistics literature as linguistic landscape, can be used to teach many important issues related to language. I further argue that the use of such data and the involvement of students in gathering it can lead to active and enhanced learning.

2015. The polyphony of Urdu in postcolonial North India. The Journal of Modern Asian Studies. Vol 49.3, pp 678-710

Abstract: Many scholars, politicians, and the lay people alike believe that Urdu in North India symbolizes a Muslim identity and culture. Based on an eight-month long ethnographic study and quantitative language data collected in Old Delhi, this article challenges this notion and shows that the symbolic meanings of Urdu have been mutating in post-colonial India. A cross-generational study involving both Muslims and Hindus shows that different generations assign different meanings to Urdu. Unlike the older generation, Muslim youth do not identify themselves with Urdu. A study of the Urdu sounds /f/, /z/, /kh̲/, /gh̲/, and /q/ in the speech of Muslim youth further demonstrates that they are losing three of these sounds. Another transformation involves the adoption of the Devanagari script to write Urdu by many Muslims. This change in the literacy practices of Muslims reinforces the shift in the symbolic meanings of Urdu. I argue that the transformation in the symbolic meanings of Urdu is reflective and constitutive of the sociopolitical changes that Muslims have undergone in the twentieth century.

2012. Hindi is perfect, Urdu is messy: the discourse of delegitimation of Urdu in India. In Mark Sebba & Jannis Androutsopoulos. Orthography as Social Action: Scripts, Spelling, Identity and Power. pp 103- 133. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

This study investigates the discursive construction of Hindu identity in the late nineteenth century in North India. Analyzing historical data from a language ideological debate, I show that the construction of the Hindi language and script as perfect and the Urdu language and script as defective were part of the construction of Hindu identity. The metalinguistic debate on Hindi and Urdu often transgressed from linguistic into sociocultural realms by establishing links between language, ethics, morality, and authenticity. The Urdu language and script were argued to be foreign, fraudulent, and prejudiced, in contrast to the Hindi language and script, which were projected as indigenous, honest, and impartial. Drawing on a language ideological theoretical framework (Irvine and Gal, 2000), I show the actual workings of the semiotic processes of iconization, fractal recursivity, and erasure in this language debate. I also demonstrate that a major outcome of this debate was that Hindi and Urdu began to index Hindu and Muslim identities, respectively.

 

2011. Urdu in Devanagari: Changing orthographic practices and Muslim identity in Delhi. Language in Society. 40.3. pp 259-284.

In sociolinguistics, Urdu and Hindi are considered to be textbook examples of digraphia—a linguistic situation in which varieties of the same language are written in different scripts. Urdu has traditionally been written in the Arabic script, whereas Hindi is written in Devanagari. Analyzing the recent orthographic practice of writing Urdu in Devanagari, this article challenges the traditional ideology that the choice of script is crucial in differentiating Urdu and Hindi. Based on written data, interviews, and ethnographic observations, I show that Muslims no longer view the Arabic script as a necessary element of Urdu, nor do they see Devanagari as completely antithetical to their identity. I demonstrate that using the strategies of phonetic and orthographic transliteration, Muslims are making Urdu-in-Devanagari different from Hindi, although the difference is much more subtle. My data further shows that the very structure of a writing system is in part socially constituted.

2011. Review of Sedlatschek,  Andreas. 2009. Contemporary Indian English: Variation and change. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing. In Language in Society 40 (1). 123-124.

2010. How do I know you are not a CBI agent?: Examining the identity of a researcher in sociolinguistic fieldwork. In Imtiaz Hasnain & Shreesh Chaudhary. Problematizing language studies: Cultural, theoretical, and applied perspectives. pp. 426-435. Delhi: Aakar Books, 2010.

2008. Scripting a new identity: the battle for Devanagari in nineteenth-century India. Journal of Pragmatics. 40.7. pp 1163-1183.

Abstract: This study investigates the discursive construction of Hindu identity in the late nineteenth century in North India. Analyzing historical data from a language ideological debate, I show that the construction of the Hindi language and script as perfect and the Urdu language and script as defective were part of the construction of Hindu identity. The metalinguistic debate on Hindi and Urdu often transgressed from linguistic into sociocultural realms by establishing links between language, ethics, morality, and authenticity. The Urdu language and script were argued to be foreign, fraudulent, and prejudiced, in contrast to the Hindi language and script, which were projected as indigenous, honest, and impartial. Drawing on a language ideological theoretical framework (Irvine and Gal, 2000), I show the actual workings of the semiotic processes of iconization, fractal recursivity, and erasure in this language debate. I also demonstrate that a major outcome of this debate was that Hindi and Urdu began to index Hindu and Muslim identity, respectively.

2008. Unpacking indexicality: Urdu in India. In Amy Brown and Josh Iorio: Texas Linguistic Forum. Austin: University of Texas. 2008.pp 1-9.