root: ر-س-ل / noun / plural: رَسائِل or رِسالات / definition: dissertation
I remember—back in autumn 2018, starting my final year of BA Arabic and Linguistics—I was searching for dissertation ideas. I’m not sure why I was surprised, given the general lack of specific resources for Arabic students, but I didn’t find anything helpful online.
So I thought I’d sit down and write a post now to give other Arabic language students some dissertation topic inspiration.
Some notes to start off:
- These ideas are going to be language-focused (think: literature and linguistics rather than politics)—mostly because I don’t think I’d be much help with anything else!
- The topics below are general ideas rather than dissertation titles, so to speak—your actual topic will be something very specific that allows you to analyse in great depth.
- You’re going to need a theoretical basis underpinning your work (basically, something that guides how you analyse whatever you’re analysing)—this will depend on the specific topic you choose. For example, my dissertation used the psycholinguistic theory of conceptual metaphors (a.k.a metaphorical concepts) to analyse a poet’s use of imagery.
- Reading other foreign language students’ dissertations really helps in terms of ideas. I’m not sure if every university gives students model dissertations to read, but you can always find some online.
- And finally, I’ll likely come back to this post and update with ideas as they come to me!
Okay so let’s get started!
I’ve divided the ideas below into categories: literature, translation, media, dialects and other languages, language acquisition, and miscellaneous.
- Looking at the expressions of a certain trope or theme in a particular literary era or group of works (e.g. the story of Layla and Majnoon still having influence in modern Arabic literature—like, have you noticed the link between love and insanity still going strong?)
- Analysing certain imagery or metaphors in someone’s poetry or a novel (is there a recurring image or link in their work? Why, and what do those specific examples tell us? In my dissertation, I analysed imagery linking the concepts of homeland and woman—from there, I discussed how these expressions were influenced by the poet’s experiences and what they told us about his perceptions of his birthplace)
- Tracing the development of a literary genre with key examples (maybe you want to look a Palestinian resistance literature over a certain time period, for example. What has stayed the same and what has changed? What are the overriding moods in each decade and through what means are they expressed?)
- On the topic of development, you can narrow things down and look at how a particular poet/author’s works have developed over time from a single angle (i.e. structure, form, use of imagery, etc. and then explore why these changes may have occurred)
- Comparing the work of two poets/authors who wrote about the same experience in different ways (e.g. take two Iraqi poets in exile and compare how they talk about this experience in their poems)
- Exploring the various influences on a particular piece of work (e.g. an Arabic poem with clear influence from a European author and a certain literary movement)
- Analysing the translation of a particular piece of literature (pick out a few notable aspects and analyse those)
- Exploring the translation of Arabic metaphors, similes, or proverbs (for this, you’re going to have to decide on a specific primary source)—you can even investigate how different translators go about translating the same imagery
- How translation to/from Arabic has changed over a certain time period—maybe you want to explore the types of literature being translated and in what genres translation has stagnated
- Comparing the language use of two different media outlets reporting the same story (this can be via headlines, articles, or news broadcasts—can we identify any bias or notable differences?)
- Looking at register switching (e.g. MSA/ESA to dialect) on a particular Arabic TV programme (just a note: transcripts take a long time and all the people I know who needed transcripts for their dissertations spent a really long time on them—so keep this in mind!)
Dialects and other languages
- Taking an aspect of the Arabic language (e.g. lexicon, phonology, etc.) and looking at how it has been influenced by another language—or vice versa
- Exploring the similarity between a particular Arabic dialect and the standard—to what extent has it been influenced by other languages? (Did you know there’s an Arabic dialect spoken in Cyprus? How has geographical isolation affected it? What about the remnants of the (old) Egyptian language in Egyptian Arabic today?)
- Looking at language variation in a particular Arab country and exploring whether the dialects present are undergoing levelling—and, if so, what is driving this standardisation? The media? Education?
- Child language acquisition: how Arab children learn their mother tongue (there’s lots of approaches to take here, you could look at the acquisition of phonemes, for instance)
- Second language acquisition: how Arabic learners acquire the language and where they struggle (not a bad idea if your classmates are willing to read an Arabic text and let you analyse the recordings phonologically!)
- MSA teaching or use in schools in the Arab world (has this changed over the past few decades? What policies are in place that affect this?)
- Arabic teaching in universities (try not to offend your lecturers here… but there’s a lot to explore in terms of methodologies and shortcomings)
- Exploring attitudes towards Arabic from non-natives, or attitudes towards MSA from native speakers across generations
- My mum’s contribution: looking at untranslatable Arabic words or expressions and exploring what they tell us about certain aspects of the culture!
Like I said, I’ll update this list as and when ideas come to me, but I hope this is enough to get you thinking!
Dissertations take a lot of research, even before you decide on a topic, so try to note down general topics that interest you and then narrow down to form a defined question. Make sure there’s enough to say but not so much that you can’t get into in-depth analysis!
Leave any dissertation topic ideas you have below or tell us what your Arabic dissertation was about to help inspire others.
See you in a few days for the next Wehr Wednesdays post!
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