Theses Doctoral

Language in the Mirror: Language Ideologies, Schooling and Islam in Qatar

Asmi, Rehenuma

My study explores language ideologies in the capital city of Doha, Qatar, where school reform movements are placing greater emphasis on English language acquisition. Through ethnography and a revised theory of language ideologies, I argue that as languages come in greater contact in multi-lingual spaces, mediation must occur between the new and old relationships that are emerging as a result of population growth, policy changes and cross-cultural interactions. I interrogate the development concept of the "knowledge economy" as it is used to justify old and new language ideologies regarding Arabic and English.

As Qataris change their education systems in response to the economic development framework of the "knowledge economy," they are promoting language ideologies that designate English as useful for the economy and "global" citizenship and Qatari Arabic and Standard Arabic as useful for religious and cultural reasons.

I argue that Standard English, through its association with the "knowledge economy," becomes "de-localized" and branded an "international" language. This ideology presents English as a modern language free of the society in which it is embedded, to circulate around the globe. In contrast, Standard Arabic is represented as stiff, archaic language of religious traditions and Qatari Arabic is presented as the language of oral culture and ethnonationalism. These findings counter the arguments of scholars who have viewed Arabic's linguistic diversity as a binary of written religious tradition and spoken dialects. I argue that scholars have ignored the metapragmatic analysis of Arabic speakers, who view both Standard Arabic and their regional dialects as one language that needs to be defended against the encroachment of foreign languages.

In chapter one, I explore the history of Qatar through narrative accounts of western historians and Qatari oral and written accounts. I reflect upon the efforts of the current Qatari leaderships to connect with narratives of globalization through the framework of the "knowledge economy." In chapter two, I outline the actor-networks of the "knowledge economy" that create a development hierarchy between English, the language of the de-localized "international" citizen, and Arabic, the language of the "local" Qatari. In chapter three, I trace how privatization of schooling affects Arabic teachers and their defense of the value of Arabic through an ideology of "Arabic is the language of the Quran." In the following chapter, I move to sites of higher education, where orality and literacy of Arabic are disputed by Arabic teachers, Qatari students and non-Qatari students of Arabic.

I contend that studying language through the speech community reduces the tendency to see language variability as problematic or a sign of language death. In chapter five, I explore the role of Islam in Arabic language ideologies by juxtaposing discourses of the secular and of religious tradition. While some scholars have argued that Arabic speakers do not fully understand the implications of Arabic's connection to Islam, my work indicates that speakers are fully aware of this relationship and when necessary, utilize it discursively to promote various political, social and cultural agendas. In conclusion, I argue that a methodology of actor-network theory has allowed me to write a situated ethnography of globalizing processes. The tracing of actor-networks is ideal for studying the rapid changes in Qatar and the ways in which immense wealth has brought many different types of individuals into the country to create new models of schooling and education. Rather than placing the focus on "international" discourses, knowledge economies and globalization, my ethnography emphasizes the need for situated accounting that combines the metalanguage of academics, policy makers and leaders with those of the individuals affected by reforms and projects of globalization.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Asmi_columbia_0054D_11189.pdf Asmi_columbia_0054D_11189.pdf application/pdf 4.57 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Anthropology and Education
Thesis Advisors
Varenne, Herve
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 1, 2013