Dominant Languages and Dialects
The dominant language of Egyptians is Arabic, a
Semitic language understood by all Arab nationals,
who hear it in popular Egyptian movies, songs, and
television programs. The written Arabic language is
the same in all Arab countries, but spoken Arabic is
dialectal and does not necessarily follow proper Arabic
grammar. A number of Arabic dialects are spoken
in Egypt. The Saiidis (Egyptians south of Cairo) have
a different dialect from the northerners. The Nubians
(who live around and south of Aswan) have another
unique dialect, as do the Bedouins, who live in the
desert. Despite these different dialects and their distinct
vocabularies, neither Egyptians nor Egyptian
Americans have any noticeable communication barriers
among themselves.
For Egyptian immigrants in the United States, English
is the language of communication in business and
contact with American society. Within their own gatherings,
they speak a mixture of Arabic and English,
switch with great ease from one language to another,
and sometimes speak a mixture of Arabic, English,
and French. Egyptian social gatherings usually involve
large numbers of people, with multiple conversations
occurring simultaneously. When they are discussing
subjects such as politics or religious issues, the level of
excitement heightens and the tone of the speech is
sharpened, so an outside observer may mistakenly
characterize the exchanges as chaotic or angry.
Cultural Communication Patterns
Several values govern interaction patterns among
Egyptians. The first is respect (ihteram), which is expected
when speaking with those who are older and
those in higher social positions. Respect is demonstrated
in the Arabic language by differentiation in
the words used to address those who are equal in age
or position and those who are older in age or higher
in position (see Format for Names). A second important
value, politeness (adab) is related to what is appropriate,
expected, and socially sanctioned. Truth
and reality may be sacrificed for what is appropriate
and polite. Politeness results in a preference for more
indirect modes of communication. Sharing negative
news directly or asking for things directly is not
polite. Therefore, a poor prognosis of an illness is not
immediately shared; calamities should be slowly and
deliberately introduced and shared in stages. It is
more appropriate and expected that such news will
be shared first with other family members who will
provide a buffer that helps those coping with and
responding to such news.


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