Do we need a law to protect a language or are its speakers the ultimate defence?

The end of last month saw yet another high profile attempt to protect the Arabic language from foreign influence. Reported in the Gulf News on the 21st of April the article states that Ahmad Bin Shabib Al Daheri, first deputy speaker of the Federal National Council (FNC) had demanded a law to protect Arabic language in both the private and public sectors in the UAE.

The following is a quote:  “He told Gulf News earlier that only a law can protect the Arabic language, its viability and prestige as a language of business, science and scholarly publications and its perceived “purity” in the face of foreign influences. Citing laws to protect the French language in France, Al Daheri said a law must mandate the use of Arabic in all economic, social and intellectual areas of life and the translation into Arabic of any publications, documents and presentations originally written or held in a foreign language”.

It is high time that perhaps the Arabs took control and protected their language, but will enacting a law solve the problem? I think what is good about this statement of Al Daheri’s is that not only does he claim Arabic is in danger of being lost but gives the possible solutions. The idea of speaking the language, of making its speakers comfortable with reading the language and through that perhaps speakers of Arabic will feel a sense of importance and regard for Arabic. There is much to do with regards to the speakers feeling comfortable with their own language, of course this refers only to the gulf as the article states and as I have personally experienced. The sociolinguistic situation of the gulf is unique on many levels and that is perhaps why we see every few months a story about how these governments are working to ‘revive’ Arabic (a story for another blog). To any linguist or more specifically those who work in the field of language revival or restoration they would agree that these are good small initial steps to take with the intention of saving a language that is perceived as dying out. 

According to the article the other steps taken are the FNCs recommendation to universities to accept students who don’t have English as a language, and to even teach some of the subjects offered in the Arabic language. That is something new and I would love to see how that works in other institutions both Emarati and international, I know that Zayed University is a pioneer in this bi-lingual delivery at the university level. Their goal and ultimate aim is to have the students’ English- Arabic bilingual proficiency to be almost equal, where students can write academic papers, present projects and converse in both languages without much difficulty.  There was also talk of improving the quality and standard of Arabic schools in how they deliver the language to the students.  These are praiseworthy attempts to revitalize Arabic language, and perhaps the examples of how Welsh and Hebrew succeeded in reviving their languages should be looked at. I will keep a close eye on the enactment o this law and whether these steps work or not.


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