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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Read International Perceptions Of Camels In The Media

Researchers at King Abdul-Aziz University and Monash University (Australia) have conducted a study on how camels are referenced in the English-language press in three countries: Saudi Arabia, Australia, and China.

The study, led by A/Prof Louisa Willoughby, Dr. Zhichang Xu, and Dr. Lulu Alfurayh, explored all references to camels in eight major English-language publications throughout 2023.

They found that camels were mentioned much more often in Saudi Arabia than in the Australian or Chinese press, with 233 articles in Saudi Arabia compared to 56 in China and 117 in Australia.

In Saudi Arabia, camel-related news is dominated by camel races and camel beauty pageants, neither of which are reported in the Chinese or Australian press.

In both China and Australia, camels are frequently mentioned in terms of tourist activities – particularly camel rides – and in terms of camel foodstuffs such as milk and meat.

In the Australian press, these are often discussed in highly exotic terms, suggesting that Australian tourists have an emerging interest in camel-based tourist activities as an escape from the grind of everyday life.

In China, camels are strongly associated with the Silk Road and its modern incarnation, the Belt and Road initiative, some components of which are also referred to as the “steel camel fleet.” Across all three countries, camel-colored items occur in fashion reporting, and the corpus bears witness to the enduring popularity of the camel hair coat.

The project was undertaken by A/Prof Louisa Willoughby, a sociolinguist and applied linguist deeply interested in how multicultural societies respond to linguistic diversity. She works with mainstream institutions such as schools, hospitals, and libraries in Australia to explore better ways of engaging with clients from non-English speaking backgrounds and developing multilingual language proficiency.

Dr. Zhichang Xu, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics at Monash University and Associate Editor for English Today, has taught in universities in Beijing, Perth, Hong Kong, and currently in Melbourne. His research areas include world Englishes, cultural linguistics, intercultural communication, and language education.

Dr. Lulu Alfurayh, an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at King Abdul-Aziz University, is interested in the changing identities of individuals and societies in cross-cultural communication.

As well as literal reporting about camels, the study also found frequent references to camel-based metaphors in the press in all three countries. Considering these metaphors gives insight into the different underlying conceptions of camels English-speakers in each country bring to the Year of the Camel.

In all three countries, the metaphor of “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was found but at different frequencies: 14 times in Australia, 10 times in Saudi Arabia, and only 3 times in China. No other camel-related metaphors were used in the Chinese press.

The Australian press gives us two other camel metaphors: 4 instances of something difficult being akin to “threading a camel through the eye of the needle” and the idea that a camel is “a horse designed by a committee” – a derisive phrase generally attributed to Sir Alec Issigonis, a British car designer, and perhaps appealing to the anti-authoritarian streak in Australian culture.

2024 is the ‘Year of the Camel’ in Saudi Arabia. Camels are one of the most important elements of the cultural heritage to which the kingdom has given attention. This is because of their connection to the life of the Saudi people, which they are keen to cherish, be proud of, and keep alive throughout the ages. Clearly, camels continue to have salience to readers of the Chinese and Australian press, and the Saudi Year of the Camel provides a wonderful opportunity for visitors and Saudis to dialogue about the enduring importance and conceptualizations of camels in their different countries and cultures. — SG

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