Saturday, 19 November 2011

Do Omani broadcasters suffer from linguistic insecurity?

Every time I tune in the radio to a local Arabic FM channel and a music program is on, I stop to ask myself, are these broadcasters directing their speech to an Omani audience? Or are they directing it to a Gulf audience in general? As a listener of such programs (and away from being an objective linguist for a second) I would say that I find the use of ‘Khaleeji’ Arabic features in their speech radical, unrealistic and sometimes unfriendly. There is hardly any consideration for the language of the caller who is usually an Omani speaking a more ‘realistic’ variety of local Arabic that is more common in the country. It surprises me that it doesn’t seem to occur to the broadcaster that speaking in such a divergent way emphasises the distance between him/her and the caller; especially in music programs where the context is meant to be relaxed and informal. 

Many would argue that this is actually the way the broadcaster speaks and that it is far from artificial; or some might argue that it is a personal choice. Indeed both arguments could be true but when you listen to the vast majority of callers speaking in a different way and that they sound very similar to each other linguistically, while the broadcaster sounds very different, one can’t help but ask, what is it that motivates the broadcasters to continue distancing themselves from the language of the local public and choose to speak in Khaleeji Arabic? Is it because Omani dialects lack prestige? Are Omani dialects embarrassing? Is it because they have linguistic insecurity? Or is it because they look up to other Gulf countries and wish to be more similar to them? Should a broadcaster ignore the way most of his callers speak and continue to speak in the way s/he chooses? Is it really a matter of personal choice, or a deeper issue that goes beyond egocentrism?

As I listen to the FM, I'll keep wondering why there is a big gap between the linguistic reality in Oman and the public face of it which is heard through the media.


  1. That is very true indeed, the shift to use Khaleeji dialect is clear nowadays and this shift won't be a backward shift unless the authorities force the broadcasters to speak Omani dialect.

    However, the argument that the broadcasters naturally are khaleeji speakers is very strong, and that is another thing which is only certain group of people work in the media sector in particular T.V and Radio!

    Anyhow, I think broadcasters need to be well-trained especially those who are dealing with the public and broadcasting entertaining shows in order for them to accommodate with the callers/participants.

    so the question I would ask now, is it a purely linguistic issue or other factors contribute?

    P.S. Keep posting ;-)

  2. Thank for your comment GHUdaina :)
    I think the important thing is to see how big is the linguistic difference between the speech of the broadcasters and that of the listeners. The argument that some broadcasters speak Khaleeji naturally will always be there and it is difficult to prove it otherwise. But the important question is, even if they are speaking Khaleeji naturally, isn’t it friendlier to at least try to accommodate to the speech of the caller? I mean even in daily use away from media, converging your speech to your addressee (especially if you’re meeting for the first time), happens, I think, almost unconsciously because it is in your subconscious that you want to sound friendly to that person. With the conditions and setting of which the broadcasters work, i.e. the complete dependence on their voice to communicate, I think these accommodation techniques should be doubled; because we are talking about a type of communication that lacks gestures or facial expressions (which are also techniques of accommodation in verbal communication). So whether they are speaking Khaleeji Arabic naturally or putting on a voice, I think they should at least try and accommodate some features of the caller’s language; if anything it might make the communication smoother. This does not mean that the broadcaster should adopt an identity that matches the caller’s one, it only means that s/he will sound closer to the people if they try to represent the people more. But having a broadcaster speak in complete Khaleeji while 99% of the callers speak in Omani dialects that are more common in the country, makes one wonder whether it is due to social factors or is it a matter of policy in FM channels in Oman; or maybe a combination of both.

    To answer your main question, I think this linguistic phenomenon is a product of a number of social factors. Mainly it occurs, I believe, because there is a belief that Omani dialects lack prestige and Omani dialects have been negatively stereotyped through the media (by having Omani characters being portrayed as not educated and come from a low social class). On the other hand, Khaleeji dialects are always associated with prestige and being well off; and similarly, this is emphasized in the media. Also, Gulf countries tend to emphasize similarities in their ‘Khaleejiness’ and since language is part and parcel of one’s identity, Omanis are continually peer pressured into sounding and behaving like people from other Gulf countries, hence this pressure becomes a source of insecurity to many broadcasters who consequently adopt a Khaleeji dialect. This insecurity is manifested in the media through their use of Khaleeji Arabic forms to as if try and ‘polish off’ the negative stereotypes off Omani dialects. I still believe though, that running away from reality and adopting Khaleeji features is not the answer, instead we can promote a prestigious Omani dialect by simply having more broadcasters speak it through their microphones.