The case of the "innocuous" middle-class migrant employee: English language use and attitudes in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Margie Berns

Committee Chair

Margie Berns

Committee Member 1

Dwight Arkinson

Committee Member 2

Fatima Esseili

Committee Member 3

Felicia Roberts

Committee Member 4

Tony Silva


Recent literature on the presence of English in the United Arab Emirates has shown an increasing change in focus from the English Language Teaching (ELT) domain, to a more sociolinguistic and economic one (Boyle, 2012; Karmani, 2005; Randall & Samimi, 2010; Weber, 2011). While these studies have been significant to the field of World Englishes, no study has particularly observed the “innocuous” middle class migrant workforce hailing largely from Outer Circle countries, in an Expanding Circle context such as Dubai. This case-study thus, charts new ground by observing a small group of middle class Outer Circle migrant employees’ use and attitudes towards the English language in the workplace and daily spheres of life. It also provides a brief sociolinguistic backdrop of the emirate.

The project employed mixed methods (observational accounts, field notes, a survey, and interviews) to garner data. It surveyed a convenience sample of 128 participants (comprising of Indian, Filipino, and Pakistani origin) and interviewed a subset of 13 participants to understand their attitudes towards English, and their impression of the Arabic language. Findings reveal: a sense of English occupying a ‘default’ space in these employees’ lives, rather than a nefarious, or an empowering role; Arabic language is seen as beneficial but not an indispensable asset; and possibilities of Hindi developing as a lingua franca in the emirate. This study provides not only particular descriptions of English language use by these migrant workers, but also pushes for a new theory where the presence of English is no longer dominated by the vestiges of linguistic imperialism, but has become an important part of participants’ identity, existing in a parallel realm with their first languages, without necessarily encroaching it.

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