“We Arabs are killing Arabic”: a view shared by many

Going to the Emirates is always fun especially during the fasting month; aside from family and friends just the linguistic situation is so fascinating that as a linguist I always find it hard not to notice it. Every time I go to the Emirates I notice something new and I usually like to annoy my fellow colleagues at the universities over there by asking them what they think of new initiatives to teach or preserve Arabic both on part of the government and non-governmental organisations.  On this occasion I noticed two initiatives launching one in Dubai and one in Doha, Qatar and it was good because I was in Doha after I left Dubai and so got the chance to hear about both first hand. In this post I will discuss the Dubai initiative.

I was informed that some government departs were helping their employees (Emiratis and other Arabic speaking workers) to improve their Arabic.  They call the series ‘قل و لا تقل’ which roughly translates as ‘Say, and don’t say’ something like: say this….but do not say this because it is wrong. This title is popular and there is a TV series that has the same title, the format is that each show has a theme, each week the presenter shows examples of how people misuse words or phrases and then shows the correct usage. It is all in classical Arabic and aims to improve the use of words amongst native speakers who have along the way picked up bad habits in their language use. 

Coming back to the initiative in Dubai, employees will be presented with about 200 small ‘letters’/ ‘messages’ over a long period of time, in how to correctly use words or phrases that are misused these days. I think it’s good that this is happening and that there is an awareness that people are not using language as it should be used (I know descriptivists are shouting at me right now, I am not usually prescriptivist but I think that if meanings are distorted and eventually changed people need to be told ‘how to speak’ it’s all part of language preservation!). The initiative was an idea of one person and now it has taken off and many employees will have access to these, only time will tell how successful or not it has been.

As I always say, people need to feel that their language is worth learning how to speak. I call for a strong education system (in my recent publication) that promotes the good learning and teaching of the Arabic language to students in their young age.   Without language being made important in education how can anyone be expected to speak language correctly, everything around them is in English or broken English, or Urdu or Hindi – here of course it is specific to the Emirates. Language learning and mastering needs motivation and incentives, otherwise speakers will not see the importance of the language and that’s why we are where we are. The calls that Arabic is dying, being lost, marginalized, discarded and all this in a land where Arabic is the language even of the date palm and desert!

Below is an article (without editing) addressing this issue, slightly dated but I think not much has changed in Emirates. Maybe in another post I will write about the struggles Emiratis are having now as adults in reading Arabic texts and the measures they are taking to ensure their children do not suffer the same fate.  Language fascinates me and as a sociolinguistic the way people interact with their language on a social level will keep me intrigued forever.


We Arabs are killing Arabic

The purity and originality of Arabic is at stake, especially when it comes to youngsters

By Muna Ahmed

“Lol, I don’t know how to read Arabic. Please write in English or use the (Maarab, Arabic in English app).

My mom is busy and she cannot translate what you are writing,” said my 13-year-old niece, when I started chatting with her on the Blackberry.

“Here, we don’t accept any document which is not typed in Arabic.

It is against the rules. Please go and get it typed in Arabic, only then I will be able to process it for you,” said an Emirati staff at the Dubai Traffic Prosecution who attended my call.

These are two opposite views of two girls whom I came in touch with in the past couple of days.

It was nice to hear the Traffic Prosecution staff stressing the importance of the Arabic language and that they don’t accept any other language other than Arabic, as per the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE’s Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

On the other hand, the sad part is that the new generation of Arabs are not very interested or keen to preserve their own language. The openness to the world has changed their lives to a very large extent. The majority of them today use the “Maarab” to communicate, and these are mainly those who go to private schools.

This will lead to a serious problem where the identity of the Arabic language will be lost.

This is a disaster as it will lead to the loss of purity and originality of Arabic, especially when it comes to youngsters who are in the process of learning their mother tongue.

I believe that Maarab was first created by those who did not have an Arabic application on their computer many years ago, and who did not know how to speak or write in English. Today, the majority of teenagers use Maarab to communicate.

They only know how to speak Arabic, and most of the time without correct grammar and usage. If this is the situation today, then I fear imagining how it will be 10 or 15 years from today?

And the shocking part is that many Arabs show off the fact that they don’t know how to read or write their own mother tongue. Parents of these children send them to a British or American Standard school, where English is the basic language for studies, and they also talk to them in English at home.

When I go out with my friends, they are surprised that my three-year-old son Saood doesn’t speak English. They try to persuade me to change this and start talking to him in English at a young age to strengthen his English.

They even go to the extent to say that Arabic is not important anymore and that I shouldn’t speak to my son in Arabic in front of others, as this means that I am not modernised.

It’s a pity. Arabic is the language of the Holy Quran, and I wonder how these children will grow to become true Muslims if they don’t know how to read the Holy Book which is the base of their religion? I don’t say that English is not important. It is very important, but it should not take the place of one’s mother tongue.

————end of article

It’s great that Muna speaks to her son in Arabic, though this is not the place to discuss bilingualism in-depth; I’ll say that his English will be better than those children who learn English first and not Arabic. That is true in this instance because for one’s English to be ‘perfect’ they should really learn it from a native, whereas here these people themselves have not mastered English! So Muna teaching her son Arabic is wonderful because his Arabic, even though its spoken, will give him a grounding in his mother tongue. After this grounding he will master English is school at the hands of natives, which is usually the case in the Emirates.  

Your views and thoughts are most welcome! In the next post I hope to discuss a new initiative started last month in Doha, Qatar to improve Arabic content on Twitter, how it started and its overall aims and progress so far.

Source: http://www.emirates247.com/columns/analysis/we-arabs-are-killing-arabic-2010-08-01-1.273429


7 thoughts on ““We Arabs are killing Arabic”: a view shared by many

  1. Nicol Muriatti-Wills

    I am usually not into blogs or blogging but i really appreciate your content. The article has actually peaks my interest in this difficult but butiful language. I’m going to bookmark your site and hold checking for new information thanks ciao

    1. Hi Nicol, thanks for the message and I’m glad Arabizi has been the exception to many blogs, keep reading and I hope you’ll soon take up learning Arabic language!

  2. Thanks for this window (a facet of) contemporary Arabic. I’m especially amazed that “They even go to the extent to say that Arabic is not important anymore.” Wow, I’m no expert on Arabic, but that’s a long, thin polemic limb to find oneself out on!

    All the swirling questions and ambiguities around language preservation/evolution, pre/de-scriptivism, declinism and so forth are endlessly fascinating, aren’t they? It seems to me that, as William S. Burroughs put it, language is a virus in that it has its semi-independent life, and humanity is on its chaotic own to wrestle over how it gets used and why. People like us (anyone, I dare say, interested in blogs like this) care deeply about it in and of itself. For so many others, though, it’s just a set of tools of no intrinsic interest (I’m speculating): they’d just as well use the handle of a screwdriver as a hammer to pound in a nail, if the former were closer to hand. In that context, it seems natural that people gravitate to what’s easy, even if that means losing at least their own connection with a rich heritage and expressive form — since those are not important values for them.

    As an artist and designer, I bemoan the prevalent ugliness of the human-built environment on a daily basis. I can’t understand how anyone could produce something so ugly as the average city block. But I realize that I am among a very few who actively care about these things. At the same time, it has been shown that the aesthetics of our surroundings affect everyone’s well-being and even the economics of places on amazingly local scales — regardless of people’s conscious awareness of or valuing of those aesthetic concerns.

    I have to imagine that the same obtains with language, and that that’s part of why those of us who care about it — descriptivists and prescriptivists alike — want to see language handled with consideration and engagement rather than treated as an inconsequential utility, to be thrown to the gutter like a candy wrapper!

    Thanks for prompting these musings, Fatma!

  3. Cassey

    Hi Arabizi, incredible material please whatever you do don’t stop writing just discovered your blog and I am so loving this. Thank you and please keep it up! Oh how do I subscribe? Send an email to you? Cheers Cass

    1. Thanks Cassey and I am glad you like the blog. To subscribe simply add your email address in the subscibe box on the right hand side of the site. Otherwise send me your email address and I can add you. Thanks

  4. Leo! You are welcome, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Yes, for some Arabic speakers that’s the extent it has gone to sadly, and of course you don’t need to be an expert it’s common sense to come to that conclusion!

    I agree these are endlessly fascinating and that’s what keeps people like me forever interested in languages. I like that quote, I’ll use it now, I think he had a really good insight into the nature of language. If you think language is so important to human beings you will care if languages die out, even if you don’t understand a word of that language. I like the your analogy- it’s a very powerful and sadly true in depicting how some people fail to recognise the importance of their language. Each language has a rich heritage, history, culture and unique view of the world. Yes, the same obtains for language, and we must care for language, like we care for the environment, what a sad world it would be if we all spoke one language! No variation, no difference, everything uniform, it would be the end of us.

    As always, thanks for sharing your views, I am personally learning a lot from a non-linguist, keep your contributions coming.

  5. Silvie Khan

    Thanks for the great post, it is truly sad that, that is the case. I think of Urdu and how sometimes people want to only speak English, but Arabic cannot be spoiled or lost that would be a real disaster for the Arabs. it’s okay for us we’ll have the translation for the Quran but Arabs will have a lot to lose. hope they wake up and realise that this is their beautiful language- thanks Keep up the good work

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