English is increasingly becoming popular across the globe. The proliferation of technological devices, the raised Internet penetration, and the effects of globalization have stimulated the spread and the usage of English in the Arab Peninsula. Consequently, English seemed to usurp the Modern Standard Arabic as the lingua franca in the area. Analysis, however, indicates that the recognition could not have been any further from the reality. The Modern Standard Arabic is practically lingua franca in the Arabic-speaking nations because it is the most widely spoken version of the Arabic language connecting the Arabs speaking diverse dialects. Moreover, the Modern Standard Arabic is progressively under use as the official language not only at the national level of the Arabic-speaking countries but also at the international rank by the United Nations. While English is increasingly learned and spoken in the region, the Modern Standard Arabic remains the bridge language between the linguistically varied Arabs.

What is the Lingua Franca in the Arab Countries?

Since the turn of the millennium, English has constantly become a widely spoken language in the Arab Peninsula. Jaradat and Al-Khawaldeh (2015) explain that English is currently the universal lingua franca that traverses the Arab world because most people turn to this language whenever there is communication between people who do not speak one common language. Its unprecedented growth of popularity in the Arab region with the undisputed language of choice being Arabic has prompted the debate whether English has usurped the Modern Standard Arabic as the lingua franca in the Arab countries. This paper defines which language, namely the Modern Standard Arabic or English, is the lingua franca in the Arabic region. Extensive analysis reveals that the Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca in countries that speak Arabic. It is not only the most extensively utilized version of the Arabic language but also the official language of a multitude of the Arab countries.

Argument for Modern Standard Arabic as Lingua Franca

The Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca in the Arabic region because it is the most widely spoken version of the Arabic language. No other Arabic dialect has transcended geographical boundaries as the Modern Standard Arabic has (Dahou, 2016). The Arabic language has gained global significance, and today, more than 200 million people across North Africa and the Middle East use it as their mother tongue (Shah, 2008, p. 255). Consequently, the Modern Standard Arabic is utilized in most formal communications in the Arabic-speaking nations, including journals, newsletters, newspapers, periodicals, and a number of other forms of publications involving broadcast (Dahou, 2016). All Arabic-speaking nations educate their children through the use of Modern Standard Arabic because it is the medium of instruction but no other Arabic dialects (Dahou, 2016). Its extensive usage indicates that the Modern Standard Arabic is the language that standardizes communications, providing the possibility for people to speak varied languages and dialects in the Arab region in order to understand each other.

Additionally, the Modern Standard Arabic is the official language, or at least among the official ones, in most Arabic-speaking countries. In states such as Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, it is the only official language talked by all the citizens (Gehrke & Claes, 2014). In other countries such as Morocco, Iraq, Iran, and the UAE, the Modern Standard Arabic is included to the official languages. Its common adoption in the region has even represented it as one of the official languages utilized during the United Nations summits. The latter indicated that this language has established itself as the de facto lingua franca of the Arab world with time. Moreover, Chew (2013) asserts that it has gone onto the global platform because the United Nations has made Arabic one of its six official languages. Its use internationally reflects how Arabian countries utilize it in its routine communications, compelling the world to uphold the language in order to make the Arabians feel accommodated in global activities.

Crucially, the Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca in the Arab region since the majority of people, especially the literate, apply knowledge of this language. It is taught in formal schools and is the primary language through which concepts are studied (Gehrke & Claes, 2014). It, therefore, provides a unifying level platform for all literate people regardless of their dialects to hold meaningful conversations. In the Arab world, Arabic is the lingua franca because more than one billion Muslims, including those from the Arabian Peninsula and non-Arabians, worldwide speak this language (Chew, 2013, p. 90). In the United States of America, Furman, Goldberg, and Lusin (2010) explain that Arabic is gained its ground as many non-native speakers are enrolling for programs taught in this language. This practice makes it a global lingua franca that the Arabian countries have pride of their language. The gaining of the global outlook is resulted by the fact that the language is a lingua franca for all Arab countries compelling the entire world to understand it.

Argument against Modern Standard Arabic as Lingua Franca

The opponents of the viewpoint that the Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca in the Arab region opine that English and some Arabic dialects buoyed by the intensifying allure of globalization have managed to usurp the former. They argue that English is significantly learned and used not only in the business and other formal settings but also in the daily communications with people beyond the Arab world (Boyle, 2011). In particular, in Dubai, most people use English once they do not understand each other because of language differences (Balfaqeeh, 2015). Accordingly, English is increasingly becoming the bridge language in the area with several linguistically diverse dialects of the Arabic language.

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Currently, English is used in education in the majority of the Arab countries. For instance, the educational shift in the United Arab Emirates that took place some years back by announcing English as the medium of instruction in all public universities contributed to the change of language from Arabic into English (Balfaqeeh, 2015). This shift went ahead to infiltrate all public schools through policy changes, which resulted in the recruitment of more than 450 native speaking teachers to improve English proficiency in the country, especially in Abu Dhabi (Boyle, 2012, p.317). It has enhanced the shift from using Arabic to English among the learned populations.

In addition, parents and their children regard English as a source of pride because it reflects how learned and globalized a person is in the United Arab Emirates. According to Balfaqeeh (2015), the change towards English use took place in social perceptions in the young generations since parents view education as a reflection of their endless efforts to provide their children with internationally recognized education. Consequently, education and formalization of English use as a medium of instruction in learning institutions have and will continue shifting the lingua franca of Arabian nations from Arabic to English.

Moreover, the adversaries of the concept have stressed on the linguistic complexity of the Modern Standard Arabic as the core reason it is becoming despised among the masses. The language is strenuous to comprehend because it utilizes a complex grammatical structure and rather archaic vocabularies (Nagel, 2014). It produces the image of language that is absolutely different from most Arabic dialects; its learning is similar to the insight into an entirely new language. Consequently, most people do not find it suitable for day-to-day communications as it is hardly a conversational language (Nagel, 2014). In fact, in the majority of the Arab countries, the Modern Standard Arabic is perceived as an elitist language since only several well-educated fellows utilize it. Therefore, it is almost inconceivable to denominate it as the lingua franca in the Arab world.

The last major argument fronted by the opposing camp is that the Modern Standard Arabic cannot be the lingua franca in the Arab Peninsula because it is detested by the majority. According to Baker (2016), it is evident that many people avoid using it, promptly embracing English and the varied Arabic dialects, especially in the rapidly modernizing countries such as the UAE and Qatar. The Egyptian as well as the Lebanese dialects that have dominated the Arabic televisions and cinemas for some time currently become the lingua franca of the region rather than the Modern Standard Arabic. Although it is taught and learned in Arab schools, it is hard to find people who use it in oral communication it is learnt for the purpose of reading and writing.

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Responding to the Counter-Argument

The argument that English has managed to supplant Modern Standard Arabic as the lingua franca because its usage has increased is fundamentally flawed. It is noteworthy that globalization has promoted and intensified the dissemination of English and other Arabic dialects. However, their use is incredibly limited to a select few most of whom have interactions with other regions out of borders of the Arab world (Dahou, 2016). Only those who have acquired a formal education in countries that offer programs in English can speak it (Dahou, 2016). Besides, the situation in the United Arab Emirates is not a reflection of the Arab countries. The United Arab Emirates has people from different countries who speak English, and its language use does not reflect the overall situation of the Arab world. However, a majority of the Arabs speak Arabic compelling even the educated individuals to use their native language. According to Hanani (2009), the Arabic language is highly prestigious since it is associated with the sacred book, namely the Holy Quran. Being tied to religion, the language will continue persisting as the lingua franca of the Arab countries since it is not only a medium of routine communication but also a medium to propagate religious beliefs. While its learning and usage have increased, English is yet to usurp the Modern Standard Arabic as the lingua franca and may not be advancing even in the coming few decades.

The fact that the complexity of the Modern Standard Arabic has increasingly prompted it into oblivion among the Arab natives is a plausible supposition. However, English is not excelling. In fact, if one is objective, one will discern that English is among the languages with the most grammatically complex structures and bizarre pronunciations in the world (Gehrke & Claes, 2014). The Arab natives cannot possibly prefer to learn English, an equally complex language, instead of the Modern Standard Arabic that, although difficult, shares some morphological and syntactical structures with most of the Arabic dialects. Rass (2015) revealed that Palestinian Arab students majoring in teaching English as a foreign language had a hard time to understand the complex language because it was difficult to learn as compared to their native Arabic. They repeated many phrases when talking and could transfer Arabic stylistic features to the English language. This fact therefore proves that English is difficult to comprehend.

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Finally, the argument that the Modern Standard Arabic cannot be the lingua franca in the region because it utterly is detested by the minority is misleading. First, it had been despised to that extent it would not have been utilized in major publications, both broadcast and printed. Second, the role of a lingua franca is to act as the bridge language in order to facilitate communication among people with diverse first languages (Dahou, 2016). According to Jaradat and Al-Khawaldeh (2015), Modern Standard Arabic is the trending lingua franca between both the native and non-native speakers of Arabic. Although it is the native language for people from the Arabian Peninsula, its use has spread beyond this region since the citizens of China, India, Middle East, Northern Africa, as well as some parts of Southern Europe and Central Asia use it (Jaradat and Al-Khawaldeh (2015). The lingua franca does not contain an aim to be adopted by the majority but has to be used by many beyond the geographical limitations to facilitate understanding. The Modern Standard Arabic contrary to English and the varied Arabic dialects plays this role to perfection.


It is obvious that the Modern Standard Arabic is de facto lingua franca in the Arabic countries. As the influence of globalization progressively permeates the Arab world, English and some Arabic dialects are increasingly spoken in the region. However, their continued usage does not infer that they have usurped the Modern Standard Arabic as the lingua franca in the Arab Peninsula. Only some people in the population who have acquired formal western education through English as a medium of instruction can use English whereas the majority solely relies on the native Arabic language for communication. The Modern Standard Arabic remains the absolutely widely spoken version of the Arabic language. It has been instituted as the official language in several countries and organizations, including the United Nations. As time passes, it is commonly utilized in private conversations and other routine communications in the Arab world. The language has in fact gone beyond the Arab Peninsula to other regions of the world, including the northern parts of Africa.

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