Hard and Soft Multilingualism


  • Yaseen Noorani University of Arizona


multilingualism, monolingualism, globalization, Arabic literature, poetry, Ahmad Shawqi, Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati


Based in analyses of the work of the Egyptian poet Ahmad Shawqi (1868-1932) and the Iraqi Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati (1926-1999), this essay questions the heuristic and historical stability of the category “multilingual,” and suggests that the last century saw the rise of “a globalization of soft monolingualism.” In particular, Noorani suggests that Arabic-language poetry in the 20th century underwent an assimilation toward international norms of poetic expression and nationalist messaging, and that modern and postmodern national language repertoires in general may indeed be the product of such streamlining of linguistic forms through colonization and nation-building.

Author Biography

Yaseen Noorani, University of Arizona

Noorani holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of Virginia and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Chicago. He has previously taught at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Michigan. His research centers on how social norms and ideals such as virtue, nationality, and the public/private division, have been imagined and represented in Middle Eastern culture in both premodern and modern eras. He has also published articles on modernism in Arabic literature. He is the co-editor of Counterhegemony in the Colony and Postcolony and the author of Culture and Hegemony in the Colonial Middle East