The need to move away from Arabizi: A Riyadh perspective

This is a rough translation (or rather interpretation as I had to add stylistic expressions) of an article that appeared in the Riyadh newspaper (Arabic online) opinions section contributed by Aala Badr ad-Deen where she discusses the nature of Arabizi and why she thinks it’s bad for the Arabic language. As usual no editing, my own words are italicised and the source is provided below for Arabic readers. I have also posted up a poll today about the use of Arabizi, I would appreciate it if people could vote it’s only up for six days- thanks.

———Translated text of article

Arabizi by Aala Badr Ad-Deen
Over the last couple of years it has become very normal to hear Arabic terms merged with English words, or to read Arabic words witten in latin/English script amongst the young people or those of the higher more elite classes in society (it seems here she is referring to Saudi society). This type of Arabic has been named Arabizi, the reason I was pushed to look further into this phenomenon was because of the effect [I saw] it had on the Arabic language and its speakers. Language is not merely words repeated, rather it is how human beings communicate and it is the very vessel that carries culture therefore it is the only medium through which a culture of a society can truly and precisely be expressed.  And because each culture is different and unique it is also holds that the languages (words available) carry specific meanings for its speakers that non-speakers can never appreciate. For example in Arabic we say ‘I have warmed my heart’ and the Arabic listener would feel at ease and they understand that this means the speaker is about to announce some good news. Whereas, in other languages other expressions would be used instead, this shows that the choice of words is a reflection of the fact that our [cultural/linguistic] environments affect and influence our language and thought [something of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis here- yes I know one of my favourite topics] as well as feelings and judgements. So when there are countless English words being used by Arabic [native] speakers this shows if anything something of cultural subordination [a feeling of my language is not good enough and perhaps therefore my culture?]. The strange thing in all this is that there are neighbouring countries to Britain, like France for instance, who have preserved their language and went as far as passing a law  (especially for the media) prohibiting the use of English words where the French equivalent is available. Whilst at the same time some of the Arab countries have unfortunately moved to change their curricula from Arabic into English under the pretext of keeping up with the times. Experts from the UN have recently warned that 234 languages are dead already and that in the 21st century they expect a further 90 to disappear.

If we look closely around us we will see that there is much subordination in language use, the majority of people in the Arab countries speak to foreigners in English, and there is now an unprecedented use of shop/business signs in English [even if the name is Arabic in origin]. Even products made in Arab counties like medicine, food etc have their information/ingredients written in all languages except Arabic- despite the fact they are Arab made. I often wonder at the absence of laws [to protect Arabic] prohibiting shop signs to be in English and even laws to force the Arabization of non-Arabic words. One of the outcomes of this subordination is that many countries do not know Arabic language and even when Arabs travel on tourist tours there are no translators for the Arabic language. Whereas, you will find translators for most of the world’s languages, even if that language is spoken by only one country like Japanese [what about a language spoken by more than 20 countries?]. Even when I surf the internet I don’t see many websites offering Arabic translation right away, but languages such as French and German can easily be translated into.

I am not asking for us to wage war against the English language, it’s important knowledge for us to have knowledge of it and understand the world. But no one can deny that having control over one’s language allows for creativity and innovation; and also any nation that prides itself with its language will rise up and move forward. I hope that we can realise and acknowledge the importance of our language, we will otherwise lose the chance to advance in civilization and our own history is testimony to my words.

—————-end of translation

This is a post dating back to 2007, so to be fair some of the issues about internet and translators have improved somewhat since then. But it is clear to see the emotions stirred up in someone who not only loves their mother tongue, but takes pride in it and believes that the current situation of her people can be alleviated through empowerment of their language. There is a feeling of disgust and disbelief at the level of Arabizi being used but could you imagine her writing that now with Arabizi in its more advanced stage? There is a hint at the effects of globalization and how language is suffering as a result of that, she alludes to that through her insitence on ‘subordination’. There is also the feeling that things need to be Arabized for the Arabic speakers and that Arabs in their countries should not have to accommodate English or any other language in its use of signs etc…

This is of course coming from a person who sees this phenomenon take place everyday around her and not from a removed perspective. Like I say all the time, Arabizi is not bad per se (linguistic creativity is natural and healthy], as long as the original language is still in use and the speakers can understand it. The problem is when Arabizi replaces Arabic and the speakers now communicate in English, as the previous post here on Arabizi showed that. If there is an incentive and if the education system supports the language, if the media uses it well then the people will use their language well…and that seems to be another topic for another post. Thanks for reading, any comments are welcome and thanks for the emails – apologies for the late replies I have had too much writing lately!