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A Sacred Language in Modern Times: Language Ideology in the Arabic World


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Honours College Humanities Lab.
Students in the first year of their bachelor's programme who achieve good academic results and are very motivated, may apply for a place in Humanities Lab.


In the Arabic world, there is a great disconnect between the official language (namely, Classical Arabic), and what speakers learn as their modern tongue (the modern dialects). As a result, with every speech act, a speaker has to make a choice: do I speak my mother tongue, or do I speak in the ancient classical language of the Quran? These choices have social consequences, choosing the wrong register in the wrong situation will either make you sound backwards, or completely disconnected.
In this course we will explore the diglossia in the Arabic world, using Niloofar Haeri’s book Sacred Language, Ordinary People as our guide. We will explore how and when a standard language projects power, and when simultaneously when the vernacular does the same.
The topic of this book, will be used as a lense through which we examine the language situation in the Arabic world, but also to reflect more broadly on questions of standard language ideology and the social power of language across all languages in the world.

Course objectives

  • Gain knowledge about the linguistic landscape of the Arabic world.

  • Analyse the sociolinguistic situation in the middle east and more generally, exploring questions of power and identity.

  • Develop presenting and collaborative skills in taking lead in the classes during the weekly group presentations.

  • Gain societal awareness on how language and standard language ideologies shape how we understand the world around us, and get to understand how this affects the special situation in the Arabic world.

  • Learn to reflect on the social meaning of language use, and how it affects one’s own views.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.
Humanities Lab courses are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.30 to 17h.

Mode of instruction

Seminar and Lecture

Assessment method


After the first class, each week a group of students will discuss the chapter in detail and explore several central questions that came up in the readings. The course will be finalized with a final project, which will either be a final essay, or some other form of multimedia presentation.


The final grade is the weighted average of the following components:

  • Participation: 10%

  • Group presentation: 40%

  • Final Project: 50%


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursions, etc.). If you are unable to attend, notify the lecturer (listed in the information bar on the right) in advance. Being absent may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course.


A resit is offered only for the final project.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Haeri, Niloofar. Sacred Language, Ordinary People. Dilemmas of Culture and Politics in Egypt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be enrolled in MyStudymap by the Education Administration Office of Humanities Lab. Students register for the Humanities Lab modules about two to three weeks before the start of the module through an online form. More information and the link to the form will be provided by Umail.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


This course is part of the Humanities Lab programme, visit the website for more information.
Visit the Honours Academy website for more information about the Honours College.