SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

The Imaginary Futures of Arabic: ‘Ammiya in Egyptian Dystopian Fiction


Date: 23 October 2019Time: 3:00 PM

Finishes: 23 October 2019Time: 4:30 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G51

Type of Event: Talk

Speaker: Tasnim Qutait (Uppsala/SOAS)

A renewed interest in writing using ʿammiyya, dialectal Arabic, has refocused debate on its political effects as a literary language. Since ’ammiya is being increasingly used in digital communication and social media, its current presence in literature might be seen as part of what Tarek El Ariss has described as a new generation’s “techno-writing,” emerging from the “back and forth between virtuality and print, the novel and the blog, and Arabic and English”. The trend towards using ʿammiyya has been a dominant feature in the post-2011 wave of Egyptian dystopias, where the futures imagined are predicated on an increasingly globalized world, yet dramatize an ongoing failure to challenge the regime, contrasting technological and scientific change against the lack of political and economic development. Partaking in a wider dystopian cultural moment, these novels were hailed for their use of science fiction’s capacity for estrangement, and have been rapidly translated into English. This paper argues that the use of ʿammiya is central to Egyptian dystopian fiction, as they intertwine the sf plot with a literary language strategically blending ʿammiyya and fuṣḥā, as well as mixing Arabic with English loanwords and neologisms. These aesthetic and literary transformations do more than envision an imagined future Arabic; often framed as the natural language of a globalized generation, they also inevitably involve reflecting on the place of Arabic literature on the global stage and the reshaping of Arabic literary production under the dynamics of globalization.