SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Language and Oral Literature of an Arabic Vernacular

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year


Successful completion of the year abroad programme, or equivalent knowledge of Arabic

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of a module, a student should be able to demonstrate a basic knowledge of one of the following Arabic colloquial languages and the oral literary tradition attendant to each: (1) Egyptian; or (2) Gulf or Eastern Arabic; or (3) Levantine.  S/he will have gained a familiarity with the grammar, syntax and phonetics of one Arabic colloquial language, and basic conversational skills.  S/he will have been introduced to the principles of linguistics description, dialectology and literary analysis pertinent to the study of oral poetry and storytelling.  S/he will be able to relate the development and themes of a body of oral literary tradition to the history, changes and politics of the region to which it belongs.


A total of 22 weeks teaching with 4 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

The objectives of the module are to introduce students to one (1) of the three (3) main Arabic colloquial languages and the genres, themes and features of one tradition of oral literature, and to acquaint them with the theory and methodology of the study of oral literature.

Term 1 will cover language instruction and general linguistics topics, in particular the dialect geography of the relevant area, the historical origins of the dialect, and its developments in the modern era.

Term 2 will cover oral literature through readings in selected texts (or written versions of oral performances) and close examinations of audio-visual recordings of live performances.

Module readings and discussions for Term 2 are guided by, but not exhaustive of, or exclusive to, the following major themes:

  1. Diglossia and heteroglossia in the Arabic language and literature
  2. Orality and Literacy
  3. Performance and meaning
  4. Memory and the shape of an oral text
  5. Audience and authorship
  6. Punning, playful language, and repetition as artistry
  7. The role of music
  8. Participations in the politics of the state
  9. Folk moral universe

Method of assessment

One three-hour examination taken in May/June (70%). One 2,500 word essay to be submitted day 1, term 3 (20%). One oral examination of approximately 20 minutes duration (10%).

Suggested reading

  • Abdel-Malek, Kamal, Muhammad in the Modern Egyptian Popular Ballad. Leiden, 1995.
  • _________.  A Study of the Vernacular Poetry of Ahmad Fu’ad Nigm.  Leiden, 1990.
  • Abu-Lughod, Lila, Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. Berkeley, 1986.
  • __________. Writing Women’s Worlds: Bedouin Stories.  Berkeley, 1993.
  • Bial, Henry, ed., The Performance Studies Reader. London, 2004.
  • Booth, Marilyn, Bayram al-Tunisi’s Egypt: Social Criticism and Narrative Strategies.  Exeter, 1990.
  • Cachia, Pierre, Popular Narrative Ballads of Modern Egypt. Oxford, 1989.
  • Finnegan, Ruth, Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts: A Guide to Research Practices. London, 1992.
  • __________. Oral Poetry: Its Nature Significance and Social Context.  Bloomington, 1992.
  • Gary, Judith O., Cairene Egyptian Colloquial Arabic.  London, 1986.
  • Hobart, Angela and Bruce Kapferer, eds., Aesthetics in Performance: Formations of Symbolic Construction and Experience.  New York, 2005.
  • Holes, Clive, Colloquial Arabic of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia. London, 1984.
  • Ingham, Bruce, Najdi Arabic: Central Arabian. Amsterdam, 1994.
  • __________.  Northeast Arabian Dialects.  London, 1982.
  • __________.  Poetry and politics in Contemporary Bedouin Society.  Reading, 2009.
  • Kurpershoek, P. Marcel, Voices from the Desert: Glossary, Indices and a List of Recordings.  Leiden, 2005.
  • __________.  A Saudi Tribal History: Honour and Faith in the Traditions of Dawasir.  Leiden, 2002.
  • Louis, Samia, with Iman A. Suliman, Kallimni ‘Arabi: an Intermediate Course in Spoken Egyptian Arabic.  Cairo, 2007.
  • Lyons, M.C., The Poetic Vocabulary of Michel Trad: a study in Lebanese Colloquial Poetry.  Beirut, 1968.
  • McLoughlin, Leslie J., Colloquial Arabic (Levantine).  London, 1982.
  • Mitchell, T. F., An Introduction to Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Oxford, 1978.
  • Muhawi, Ibrahim (ed.), Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Folktales. Berkeley, 1989.
  • Ong, Walter J., Orality and Literacy.  London, 1982.
  • Reynolds, Dwight, Heroic Poets, Poetic Heroes: the Ethnography of Performance in an Arabic Oral Epic Tradition. Ithaca, 1995.
  • _________.  Arab Folklore: A Handbook.  Westport, Conn., 2007.
  • Slyomovic, Susan, The Merchant of Art: an Egyptian Oral Epic Poet in Performance. Berkeley, 1987.
  • Sowayan, S. A., The Arabian Oral Historical Narrative: An Ethnographic and Linguistic Analysis.  Wiesbaden, 1992.
  • _________.  Nabati Poetry.  Berkeley, 1985.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules