Book Launch-The Politics of Palestinian Multilingualism: Speaking for Citizenship

Layal Mohammad's picture
June 25, 2019
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Arabic History / Studies, Government and Public Service, Linguistics, Middle East History / Studies, Political Science



Part of DIALOGUES 2019: a thought-provoking series of seminars on governance in Muslim contexts

Nancy Hawker will be in conversation with Deborah Cameron on the occasion of the launch of her new book The Politics of Palestinian Multilingualism: Speaking for Citizenship (Routledge 2019).

In the governing institutions of Israel, Arabic is suppressed. This practice crystallised in the early years of the state. Also, Arabic-speakers who also speak Hebrew make linguistic choices that result in the avoidance of Arabic in situations where Jewish Israelis are also present. These two elements form the sociolinguistic habitus of the Palestinians and other Arabs in the area controlled by Israel. When speaking Arabic, to give their propositions authority, their discursive strategies mobilise multilingual repertoires, including codeswitching and borrowing, for rhetoric effect and style. The analysis moves away from scholarship that has been concerned ‘language endangerment’ which has channeled concerns about political problems. The Palestinian multilinguals are performing the aspirations of an emergent middle class elite. On the political stage, this elite challenges the ethnorepublican political structures of Israel, as well as ethnonationalist campaigns, with different inhabitations of citizenship that envisage liberal equality, dignity and autonomy. Under conditions of late capitalism, multilingual language skills are re-packaged as marketable resource: this creates value, but in a contested way, with ambivalent opportunities. With new evidence from recent and historical political discourse, this book is about how speakers of an institutionally marginalised language engage with the political system multilingually.

"In this extraordinary and compelling book, Dr. Nancy Hawker captures the complex play of politics on the Arabic/Hebrew interface. By showing the effects of modern late capitalism and Israeli state policies on multilingual Palestinian Arab elites, she reinvigorates such classic sociolinguistic topics as diglossia, codeswitching and bilingualism, while contributing new understandings of language avoidance and social class. Sweeping through politics, media, and the analysis of fieldwork-based ethnographic encounters, this book is a must-read in linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and Middle Eastern studies."
Professor Norma Mendoza-Denton, Department of Anthropology, University of California at Los Angeles

"This important book is a powerful reminder that language is deeply intertwined with  state practices, ideology and power. In the case of Israel, the hegemony of Hebrew over Arabic and other languages results in everyday Palestinian multilingual navigations that are inherently political, as Hawker ably shows."
Yasmeen Abu-Laban, Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Politics of Citizenship and Human Rights, Department of Political Science, The University of Alberta, Canada

"A sobering contribution to the unveiling of Israel's repressive and marginalizing policies against its Palestinian citizens, Nancy Hawker's fascinating sociolinguistic lens and passionate fieldwork show how third-class citizens create cracks in hegemonic structures and carve out discursive spaces of humor, boldness and talent which defy determinism."
Amira Hass, journalist for Haaretz

Dr Nancy Hawker is a Research Fellow for AKU-ISMC's Governance Programme. Dr Hawker has a DPhil in Oriental Studies from University of Oxford and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from SOAS. After publishing Palestinian-Israeli Contact and Linguistic Practices (Routledge, 2013), she took on a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowshipat the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University. She has previously worked at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat in London. 

Prof Deborah Cameron is a sociolinguist who currently holds the Murdoch Chair of Language and Communication in the Faculty of Linguistics at Oxford University. Since she began her career in the 1980s she has also worked at the universities of London and Strathclyde in the UK, and held visiting positions in the US, Australia and Sweden. She is the author of numerous books, including Verbal Hygiene (1995), Good To Talk (2000), The Myth of Mars and Venus (2007), and most recently, with Sylvia Shaw, Gender, Power and Political Speech (2016). She regularly comments on linguistic topics on BBC radio, and presents research on language and gender for a general audience through her blog Language: A Feminist Guide.

Time and Venue
Tuesday 25 June 2019, 18.00-20.00
Atrium Conference Room,
Aga Khan Centre,
10 Handyside Street,
London N1C 4DN

This event is free but booking is essential: 
To attend in person, please click here.
To attend online, please click here.

Contact Info: 



Layal Mohammad


Coordinator, Marketing, Communications and Professional Programmes

Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

The Aga Khan University (International)

Aga Khan Centre, 10 Handyside Street, London N1C 4DN


Contact Email: