Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Saudi Arabic Diglossia and Code-Switching in Twitter: Education and Gender Effect

Saudi Arabic Diglossia and Code-Switching in Twitter: Education and Gender Effect

Hind Ababtain

This study attempts to investigate the consequences of electronically-mediated communication, specifically the social network site Twitter, on Saudi Arabic diglossia. This paper examines 440 tweets and 220 replies to others’ tweets of the 22 most popular Saudi male and female users using methods from discourse analysis to formulate statistical results. Another 60 random tweets in two hashtags, one written in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and one in the Saudi Colloquial Arabic (SA), were selected to see how people respond to the hashtag written in MSA and the one written in SA in terms of code choice. Also, 10 different random tweets were linguistically analyzed to look for the relation between humorous effect and code choice. Fundamental questions are raised: What are the mechanisms of diglossic switching in Twitter? Can we generalize norms, rules and customs which explain how people switch between different varieties of Arabic and why they do so? What is the role of code-switching in humorous written texts in Twitter? Do different factors, like education and gender affect code choice? Diglossia research focuses entirely on the spoken language in a society, but limited research on diglossia in online communications has been made.   

It is found that the MSA is treated as a high variety of Arabic and used by elite and educated Saudi users when talking about poetic, scientific and religious topics; on the other hand, the SA is treated as a low variety of Arabic and used to discuss everyday experiences and in replies to one another. However, there are tweets about religion, science and folk poetry that are written in SA. Also, there are replies to others’ tweets in MSA.  As data shows, female users are more likely to use MSA than male users, and they are more likely to avoid code-switching within one tweet. So, education and gender variations are important factors that affect code choice. However, male and female users are both likely to switch between the MSA and SA just for humorous effect; it is found that frequent code-switching in Saudi tweets are for humorous effect.

Keywords: Saudi Arabic diglossia, code-switching, online media, social media, Twitter, tweets, linguistics, sociolinguistics, CMC, EMC


April 15, 2013 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Very interesting, and very clearly written!

    Comment by Ljiljana Progovac | April 15, 2013 | Reply

  2. Great topic. I always find the various pragmatic uses of code switching very interesting. I wonder if the use of code switching for humorous effect is found in both speech and online communication? Or if it’s not, will it eventually extend to verbal communication?

    Comment by Georgia Diamantopoulos | April 21, 2013 | Reply

  3. Fascinating study! Have you formalized this research at all? I’d love to know more

    Comment by eac | November 2, 2013 | Reply

  4. very interesting topic, I’m doing a similar study, and I’m wondering how to get a copy of the study?
    I goggled it everywhere but It did not show up except here!!

    Comment by huda | December 3, 2013 | Reply

    • I’m wondering how to get a copy of the study? How i can contact with the writer ? i’m working on diglossic code switching

      Comment by Hussein | August 18, 2014 | Reply

    • Huda can i get your work please? m leaving my id below.

      Comment by sheroshkhan | September 18, 2014 | Reply

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