Language, nation, difference: Everyday language tactics of young Emiratis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter explores the symbolic role of Arabic, the official language of the United Arab Emirates, in the construction and maintenance of contemporary Emirati national identity. Using in-depth interviews and ‘participant living’ with young Emirati citizens from Dubai, I explore the ways in which Emiratis perform their national identity through their everyday linguistic choices. I focus on Emiratis whose ancestors have migrated to the Arabian Gulf from Southern Persia, Baluchistan and Zanzibar and still speak languages such as Ajam, Baloch and Swahili at home. Informed by theories of everyday performances of national identity, this chapter argues that while using Arabic as their everyday language is often unreflective among young Emiratis, as a result of the linguistic nationalization since the nation was founded in 1971, it is also a choice, which is made situationally. Those whose belonging is rather ‘ambiguous’ choose to speak Arabic in public, as an attempt to become recognized as a part of the Emirati nation by fellow citizens. Speaking ‘Emirati Arabic’ is also crucial in marking citizenship status in a context where Emiratis are outnumbered by migrants who may share similar ethnic, linguistic or geographical origins or phenotype as them.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGulf Cooperation Council Culture and Identities in the New Millennium
Subtitle of host publicationResilience, Transformation, (Re)Creation and Diffusion, Contemporary Gulf Studies
EditorsMagdalena Karolak, Nermin Allam
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9789811515293
ISBN (Print)9789811515286
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2020

Publication series

NameContemporary Gulf Studies
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISSN (Print)2662-320X

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