And so we enter a new year, and with it hopes and wishes that the world becomes a better place for people to live in. Welcome to new readers and thanks to those readers who comment, contribute or send in email with suggestions and constructive criticisms- I really appreciate them all, thank you. This short post is a review of the initiatives, activities, conferences and efforts to promote or re-instate Arabic language as the legitimate and proper language of native Arabic speakers in their home countries during 2013. These efforts are of course directly linked to the belief (of some) policy makers, educators and speakers in Arabic speaking countries who bemoan the danger they believe Arabic language finds itself in.
In looking over some of these fears and anxieties, take for example, the case of educators and teachers in the UAE who complained that many students prefer to use English as opposed to Arabic even in non-education/school settings.This of course is nothing new and definitely pre-dates 2013, but it’s a fear and complaint that is raised again and again. The teachers were further horrified because it was the parents who were demanding that their children be excused from the classes. Why? Because the parents argued that the children did not need formal instruction in Arabic since the language os instruction at university (the non-Arabic based ones) is English, (read more here).
The other anxiety in the UAE is the number of foreign non-Arabic speaking workers who outnumber the native Arabic speakers, which obviously makes it difficult to converse in Arabic in public. The writer of this article is frustrated with the difficult situation that the UAE needs foreigners to build its country and yet the price it may have to pay is the loss of the Arabic language (read more here).
As a way of discussing the issues surrounding the current state of the Arabic language in Arabic speaking countries, a conference was organised in Mid-2013 in Dubai. It was the Second International Conference on Arabic Language, organised by the International Council for Arabic Language in cooperation with Unesco, the Association of Arab Universities and the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States. The conference panelists discussed the state of the Arabic language in many of the Arab countries and many agreed that the curricula used for teaching needed urgent attention. Some of the experts blamed globalisation, others the pervasive use and nature the English language is taking on in these countries, and apparently the use of Arabizi (Roman characters and Arabic numbers) in speech and text, and other dangers were also discussed (read more here).
The other anxiety in the UAE is the low numbers of children who are able to read and write in Arabic without difficulty. The concern was so serious that an initiative was taken to present these concerns to a minister and presented as a case that needed to be addressed urgently. But, I must say this is not true just in the UAE, there are other countries in which students do not know how to read Arabic either (read more here). There are also students (together with their families) who do not see the benefit in mastering how to read and write Arabic and deliberately refuse to take the classes or care about their proficiency (it is their linguistic right, and I think any meaningful research into the so-called demise of Arabic language as a result of neglect from its speakers must also take this group into consideration when studying the topic!).
A panel of researchers were appointed at the end of 2012-April 2013 to understand the issues and challenges facing Arabic in the UAE by the Dubai government. The researchers all agreed that the Arabic language is not dead but that it needs better and more innovative teaching styles in order to revive an interest of the language within the students and their parents. So far I think this is a more productive manner through which to gauge the situation of the Arabic language, by way of study and research and to then produce a manageable plan by which teachers and educators can work (read more here). It would be great to see the notes/ papers presented at the conference or the report itself to understand how this study was carried out during those six months.
Again in response to the fears and once again based on some research it was announced in Dubai that the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) would oversee and ensure that all Arabic teachers employed in Dubai were of a high standard. This means teachers are to be assessed throughly for their knowledge of the language and their teaching methods (read more here). It sounds like a good idea and it would be great to see what the outcome will be in 5 years from now, would they have ensured that all teachers are at the same high standard? How would they measure the impact of this new initiative?
The Sharjah Government has also set out plans for improving the acquisition and maintenance of Arabic language for its native speakers. This will be achieved through supplying each student and teacher in the emirate of Sharjah with a tablet, according to the article this is initiative is the first of its kind in the Arab world (read more here). This seems like a good idea and perhaps a creative step away from the old traditional text books that relied on rote learning, again this is another initiative the needs to be looked at closely there may be a solution in it- who knows?
Finally, the creative twofour54 in Abu Dhabi aims to revive Sesame Street in Arabic, they hope and claim that this will help and promote the Arabic language and make it fun for the children. See that article here, I am working to get a comment directly from them about this initiative and I hope to write about it soon.
The Taghreedaat initiative that I have written about many times before have worked very hard in 2013 to make as much online content as possible available in Arabic. This year they ventured with help of volunteers to arabize: Whatsapp, TED (and in 2014 they will have special segment at the TED Global in Arabic for the first time in the history of TED), Khan Academy, and GameLoft among other online content. So it seems that 2013 was yet another busy year for policy makers, academics and educators who believe Arabic deserves a place in this modern and rapidly developing world, and more importantly in the lives of future native Arabic speakers. I chose these particular aspects about the Arabic language to give an overview of the fears, but more importantly the initiatives suggested to overcome and address those fears. Some of these anxieties are baseless whilst others have research as evidence, in all more research needs doing to understand the sociolinguistic situation of the Arabic language among its native speakers.
My next blog post will be an interview with an Arabic language teacher (but what kind? You’ll have to wait and see) so watch out for it, and my first review on Arabizi books is about to go up as well. Thanks for reading, and comments are welcome especially from those countries I have not mentioned.
So Wednesday 18th December was World Arabic Language Day as set out and proposed by the UN, because Arabic is one of its official languages. It is the first time ever that I have seen on Twitter such excitement and preparation for this day, tweets started circulating since last Tuesday. One of the ideas to create an awareness for the day, was to tweet in Arabic using the hashtag #بالعربي (meaning in Arabic) with the intention that by the 18th of December the hashtag would be trending on Twitter. It is also the first time that the day has received open official backing, in the case of Dubai the Mohammad bin Rashid al Maktoum Foundation supported the #بالعربي (bil- Arabi) initiative on Twitter among other initiatives in place to celebrate the importance of Arabic on the day.
Many parts of the Arab world were excited about the day, in Egypt the Supreme Council of Culture commemorated the day, whilst in Dubai free Arabic classes have been offered (among other activities) to non-Arabic speakers since the 15th of December until today the 19th and anybody can enrol. Dubai is also opening a new centre for Arabic language to coincide with the Arabic Language Day, this is in keeping with the recent programs and plans in the emirate to promote the learning of Arabic for native speakers. Saudi Arabia marked the day at it’s Riyadh book fair, and the day was celebrated as far away as India. And I could write forever about the fun and joy of the day, how children were treated to cakes in Arabic alphabet shapes, sweets and colouring books or if they were lucky enough they read a book in Arabic at school and listened to lovely poems and songs about the Arabic language- and I am sure it was that fun.
But in reading about the preparations for the day, receiving emails from various organisations about their plans for the day, and in reading about how different people celebrated the day, I wondered what the opportunities and challenges (if any) a day like World Arabic Day presented to policy makers and native Arabic speakers? I am sure you know that on Arabizi we are constantly trying to understand the current situation of the Arabic language based on how it is used by its speakers and the ever-problematic question of diglossia and the future of the language in its native lands. So a day to celebrate the Arabic language almost always get my mind working and thinking.
Is the 18th of December all about celebrating Arabic on that one day 1 every year? Reading poems, or indeed tweeting or posting them up on Facebook, and forgetting about it the next day? Is it about following the trend on that day (by tweeting, reading an Arabic book, writing about how much the Arabic language means/meant to humanity and civilisation) and showing everyone that Arabic is the best language? Is it about reminding the Arabic speakers that Arabic is the language of the Qur’an? I saw some good tweets, whilst I thought others were slightly over the top in their exaggeration of the uniqueness of Arabic compared to other languages (I don’t deny that its unique, but I don’t compare it to other languages with the intention of claiming its superiority). It was also fascinating to see that in their bid to demonstrate the superiority of Arabic language over other languages, some writers misspelled words and messed the grammar around, and the worst irony in all this, was that they didn’t even realise their mistakes!
The day offers many great opportunities for Arabic language speakers, especially native speakers, it reminds them that their language is good enough to (re)learn and use in everyday communication. By openly celebrating the day, people who perhaps felt judged at their insistence for the use of Arabic language in everyday communication feel rewarded and will maybe revamp their efforts with a new energy. I know that the Arabic language protection societies took the opportunity to prescriptively instruct people about the importance of ‘correct’ Arabic, ‘pure’ Arabic and their responsibility towards their mother-tongue the Arabic language. For some native Arabic speakers this is stifling and does not interest them in Arabic further, which is counter-productive if the aim was to encourage people to rekindle their relationship with their language.
Non-native speakers also have the opportunity to experience Arabic from a linguistic perspective (usually it’s food, dancing and some history for an Arabic themed day) and not just from a cultural perspective. During my masters I was an Arabic teacher and each year the school would put on an Arabic language day. For the entire week before that day, students would prepare small 10 minute presentations about Arabic language facts and present for the rest of the school during the morning assembly. In the end, even students who were not taking Arabic as a modern language, learned a few words and some facts about the language. So I would say for non-native speakers the day is a brilliant opportunity for them to learn about the Arabic language, or indeed the language itself.
However, in all this, I think that there are challenges that must be addressed and must be overcome, and I do acknowledge that there are efforts in process to overcome these challenges. Although, a day to celebrate Arabic presents opportunities, I think that it mainly presents for its native speakers and policy makers many challenges. First, the language policy in education needs to be addressed urgently. Children go through education and are confused about their languages and the roles those languages (should) play in their lives. I have numerous times discussed here on Arabizi. So a day celebrating Arabic raises many questions for native speakers,and in the last week I have received emails from people wishing that the situation really could be a reason to celebrate. They want to be at peace with their language, and still be modern and still be educated to the highest levels they can reach-all without losing their language. They have nothing against English or any other language.
The second (and final) challenge is keeping up the momentum and zeal for the language throughout the year, when all the balloons and grand elaborate calligraphy-inspired banners have all been put away. How can children and even adult native speakers feel encouraged to use their mother tongue for everyday use at work and in educational settings? What mechanisms are in place that will ensure that? And the age-old question of diglossia and standard vs. non-standard Arabic needs to be addressed. Does Arabic language not deserve to be a language of the future? A language capable of communicating information and knowledge? It’s a great idea to have such a day, but the work begins the day after the poetry lines stop appearing on our timelines and the newspaper articles no longer discuss the events of World Arabic day. A true and serious dialogue is needed, and practical steps must be taken to address any issues each Arabic country has with regards to Arabic (because different countries have different challenges). I will also be keeping an eye on the progress of the initiatives set up this year to improve the Arabic language situation to see the differences they will be making. Please share your comments and thoughts on the post. How did you celebrate the day? What challenges do you think exist?
Finally, I should also say that I have started another blog (an extension to Arabizi) to review Arabic linguistic books/papers and articles (arabizibooks.wordpress,com), please visit it to learn more about it. Thanks for reading, the next post will be about Arabic and globalization.
In June (2013) I blogged about Arabic dialects and the post received much interest from readers either through comments or emails. But one contributor in particular (SLC, you can view his Wiki page here on the Greek diglossic situation) to the comment section was perhaps the most interested in the topic of dialects and their relationship to Classical Arabic (CA) or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA, or whichever way one may wish to label it). That interest began a series of emails and comments (you can read the comments here). These comments have become so interesting (and much longer each time) that I asked him if I could blog them as a post and ask other readers to join in and discuss the situation of Arabic dialects as they relate to Classical Arabic (or any other similar diglossic situations).
The questions are quite simple really, 1. is the relationship between the Arabic dialects and the CA or MSA the same as Greek was to its dialect? (see previous comments and the Wiki page above) 2. Are the dialects so different from CA or MSA, so as to say that they are different languages?
You can read the details below ( I have re-blogged the comment without editing) to get a better idea of the Greek situation. SLC has done a great job and selected relevant excerpts and quotes from books he’s read about Arabic and Greek and he attempts to draw parallels.
Thoughts on the parallel between Arabic and the Greek Language Question, part 2 …
Well, I’ve read a bit more and thought a bit more, and first I’ll try to come back on some of the points in your reply. To start with:
“I would not go as far as to say that spoken Arabic is so different from Classical Arabic (CA) or MSA, in the way that Greek differs from its other varieties.”
Hmm. Well, with my own few words of Arabic I couldn’t possibly judge that myself. But here are some quotes about Egyptian Colloquial Arabic suggesting that MSA and ECA, at least, are different enough to be mutually incomprehensible.
I’ve just finished reading ‘Sacred Language, Ordinary People’ (2003) by Niloofar Haeri (she is from a Persian-speaking Muslim background) about the language situation in contemporary Egypt. In her preface she describes arriving in Egypt after learning MSA in graduate school. “Eventually, I went to Egypt to begin my first period of research in 1987-88, and was stunned to discover, like many researchers before me, that I was unequipped to have even a rudimentary conversation in the language. Of course I had been briefly told that the language I was taught was the language of writing and that it was different from the spoken language. But what I had not quite grasped was just how great the differences are.”
Of course Haeri was learning MSA and ECA as second languages, so she was unused to the mixtures of the two that Egyptians grow up with. But the quote does suggest that the two ends of the spectrum are far enough apart to be mutually incomprehensible.
In general Haeri comes across very much like the Greek demoticists of a century ago. In her ‘Conclusion’ she writes: “Preventing it (ECA) from becoming a language of writing and self-expression shows a highly uneasy relation to the self. Children grow up hearing at school and other places that their mother tongue is “weak”, “corrupt”, “has no grammar”, “is the language of donkeys” and so on. ” (p.149) Now that really does sound like Fotiadis and the Educational Association! And on the next page: “But the obligation to disown a central defining aspect of their identity – their mother tongue – when it comes to writing, to creating and evaluating what is or is not knowledge, mediates and intervenes in their relations to themselves and to the world. The censure of Egyptian Arabic from official and national culture, seem to prevent Egypt from tapping its many potentials.” And that sounds exactly like Psycharis and the Greek political demoticists.
Of course you could say that Haeri is an outsider, as a non-native Arabic speaker, and despite her years of study and research might not fully appreciate the Egyptian situation. So my second set of quotes is from ‘Arabic Sociolinguistics’ (2009) by Reem Bassiouney, born and bred in Egypt. On her p.267 she explicitly challenges Haeri’s “highly uneasy relation to the self” description, and concludes that: “Given the cases studied in this book in which the diglossic situation provided an opportunity for speakers to project their identity and leave an effect on their audience, I would consider diglossia, once more, an asset rather than an impediment. … diglossia itself is linguistic diversity, and by eliminating it we are suppressing a linguistic richness in Arab societies.”
In 1880s Greece, then, Bassiouney would fit among the defenders of the status quo like Vernardakis and Hatzidakis. And they did have a point of a kind; to those talented and well-educated enough to really master katharevousa (Papadiamantis, for example), the situation gave an opportunity to interweave narration in the written language with reminiscence in the spoken language and create some great literature. But realistically, there were very few, even among the cultural elite, with the talent and education to exploit this “linguistic richness” in writing, and the result, with its archaic-sounding narration, was not to everyone’s taste.
Bassiouney’s argument for the “linguistic richness” of the current situation would also be far more convincing if all children were taught to read and write their spoken colloquial language as well as the ‘official’ MSA. Everyone could then enjoy the “richness” in writing as well as in speech. (All the positive examples she gives of people “projecting their identity and leaving an effect on their audience” are taken only from spoken Arabic – code-switching between ECA and MSA in TV talk shows and so on – and not from written materials.) It is hard to see how preventing children reading and writing their own spoken native language can enhance the “linguistic richness” of their reading experience.
However, the statement that really struck me in Bassiouney 2009 was on the previous page (p.266) where she writes:
“In a hypothetical world, if each Arab country started using its own colloquial in domains in which SA was used, then in fifty years, all Arab countries would be detached from SA, and the common SA literature which was read by all Arabs would be incomprehensible for a young generation trained only in colloquial.” (Bassiouney uses SA, Standard Arabic, to cover both CA and MSA.)
Here is a plain admission, from an apparent supporter of the use of MSA, that it is so different from colloquial as to be “incomprehensible” to a colloquial speaker. Take this together with Haeri’s evidence from the other direction, that ECA is in practice incomprehensible for a well-educated speaker of MSA, and it does seem that the two are in fact different languages, using mutual incomprehensibility as a common-sense definition of ‘different’. This is exactly the same as the Greek situation, where Ancient Greek and demotic are now different languages.
Of course I know that this is not the official Ministry-of-Culture position. If you challenge such a Minister with Haeri’s statement, that Arab children are all forbidden to read and write their own native language, he will simply reply that MSA really is their native language, just in a more formal register. (I’ll come back to the idea of registers in my next post …) But I think Bassiouney’s picture of a hypothetical colloquial-only future is a very effective touchstone for revealing what people really think. If you then ask the Minister why the schools don’t do what they do in every other country, and teach the children to read and write in the language and register they speak and use every day (in other countries they don’t usually pick up the more formal registers of their own language until their mid-to-late teens, as they begin to encounter social situations in their own lives where those registers are appropriate in speech as well as writing), he would probably say (or at least think) something like: “Are you crazy – if we teach them to write both ECA and MSA, they’ll choose ECA every time, and never learn MSA at all! MSA would be lost in a generation!” This is the point at which my imaginary Minister reveals that he – like Bassiouney – really thinks of ECA and MSA as different, competing languages, and not as complementary registers of the same living language. At heart, he thinks a gain for one would inevitably be a loss for the other.
On your point about there actually being a polyglossic spectrum rather than two separate languages: yes, I know about ‘Educated Spoken Arabic’ and its variations, and about all the practical code-switching that goes on in everyday conversation. Speakers move up and down the ‘spectrum’ all the time, as Bassiouney describes and documents very well. But that’s just in speech, and just among adults. There, spoken Arabic is following exactly the same common-sense path as spoken Greek demotic, and gradually adopting many technical words and turns of phrase from the Classical language.
But in writing, everything seems much more restricted. Most of the polyglossic spectrum (apart from the CA and MSA end) is missing or forbidden, so Bassiouney’s diglossic “linguistic richness” is not available to writers or readers.
And very significantly, it’s in the first 7 years of life (the crucial formative period in which we all learn to love reading – or not) that the diglossia is most clear-cut. Young children speak hardly any MSA yet, so it actually does seem to be true that their spoken dialect is a completely different language from the written MSA they are taught at school (or CA if they attend a local kuttaab, as described by Haeri). There is no useful overlap at all (useful in the sense that they could use their knowledge of the spoken language to predict how the written language will behave). I’ll leave it to others to speculate about the effect this has on literacy learning. My own experience as a teacher suggests that it will make it very difficult for the children to form new written sentences themselves, even with lots of encouragement, and even if they can read quite well.
So, there may be a lot of talk about registers and code-switching and polyglossia in adult life; but in the primary school, where it matters most of all for literacy, Arabic really does seem to be completely diglossic.
This was also true of Greek primary schools before 1880, and for exactly the same reasons. For centuries Greek-language primary education had been run by the Orthodox Church. The only language taught was the Ancient Greek used in the Gospels, and the learning materials were almost all religious texts. The most able went on to work for, or at least with, the Orthodox Church, while the less able who dropped out early would at least know the alphabet so that they could read prayers (though they might not understand the Ancient Greek language of the words they were reciting). This seems very like the traditional Egyptian situation as described by Haeri, where ‘learning to read’ is practically the same thing as ‘learning the Quran’. Although the languages and religious beliefs are quite different, the social frameworks are exactly the same.
I also suspect that this social situation actively discouraged Greek primary-school children from producing new written sentences of their own (quite apart from the technical difficulty of doing that in – effectively – a foreign language). If the only teaching materials were religious texts which it would be blasphemous to alter or even summarise, how could the children ever practise writing original sentences? I don’t suppose the teacher (in those days usually a priest or a monk) was likely to set homework tasks like “Make up a story about Jesus performing a new miracle” or “Invent three new Commandments”. Even re-telling a Gospel story in their own words might well have been regarded as blasphemy (cf the Gospel Riots of 1901). I suspect that ‘writing’ in a pre-1880 Greek primary school was actually confined to just copying out the texts, or writing them out from memory.
Again, we can only speculate about the effect this had on literacy learning, but it can’t have been good. It’s only when we write our own thoughts for ourselves that we really start to feel ownership of our written language. Of course in Greece the more talented did grow up to express their thoughts in written katharevousa, but that was when they were much older. To really own a written language you need to start writing in your own words during the language-acquisition years (roughly ages 1 – 7). If you start doing it later, it will always feel as if you’re writing a language belonging to someone else. It’s a bit like the way learning a second language later always feels different from learning your native one(s) in those early years.
Of course the Orthodox Church was well aware of this. After all, the teachers had all been through the same system themselves. But they were quite happy to turn out generations of students who felt that writing itself belonged to the Church and not to the people; that policy had helped the Church maintain its political position for centuries.
Later on in their education the brighter pupils would meet the pagan writers of Classical Greece, but that doesn’t seem to have given them any more sense of ownership. They just felt that the written language now belonged to Homer, Sophocles and Plato as well as to the Church, and still not to them. Writers felt alienated from their own written language, but hated to admit it because that language had such a glorious past. It was only the inconsistency and incompetence of their use of katharevousa that revealed that it still felt like a foreign, second, language to them.
For the first few decades of Greek Independence (say 1830 – 80) the authorities were content to leave this system in place, quite logically, because it was official policy that katharevousa (and maybe even Ancient Greek itself) would soon become the universal spoken language of Greater Greece. In that case, the children would again be writing in school the same language they spoke at home, and the alienation problem would disappear naturally. It was only around 1880 that it became generally recognised that none of this was really going to happen, and that the educational system was therefore seriously flawed.
I’ll leave it to you and your other readers to judge how much of this also applies to Arabic today.
I think it’s also worth pointing out just how unusual the Arabic and pre-1917 Greek primary education situations are. Four things are happening:
a) Pupils are forbidden to read or write the language they speak themselves.
b) They are taught to read and write a different, learned language.
c) This learned language has no living native speakers.
d) The materials for new readers are often religious texts that cannot serve as models for the children’s own writing.
This is quite an extreme situation. For example, the teaching of Latin in Western, Catholic Europe was never like this, because (a) and (d) didn’t apply. As for (a), literacy in one’s native language always went hand-in-hand with learning Latin. And for (d), the model texts have always been non-religious things like history (Caesar and Tacitus), letters and speeches (Cicero), and poetry (Virgil and Horace), not one of them Christian, and all chosen for their purity of style, which students were encouraged to emulate. Even though the Catholic Church might have sponsored much of the teaching, written Latin was never felt to be the property of the Church.
As for point (a), perhaps “forbidden” is the wrong word. Bassiouney (p.267) makes it clear that Egyptian children do not experience this as any kind of prohibition; it’s not as if they were constantly sneaking off to write ECA and being punished for it. Instead, children generally take the adult world as they find it, and just accept that spoken ECA belongs in one “domain”, while writing belongs in another different “domain” (Bassiouney’s word for it). They then retain this attitude throughout their lives; it seems natural to them, even if it seems extraordinary to non-Arabic speakers who have grown up reading and writing their own spoken languages, and take for granted the freedom to do so.
This again is exactly the same as the situation in Greece in 1830-80. People thought of writing as part of a “domain” belonging to the Orthodox Church and the Ancients, and even professional writers felt like intruders there, constantly afraid of getting into trouble for making grammatical mistakes. Less talented school pupils must have felt even more excluded. It was a completely different world from that of everyday demotic speech where everybody felt at home.
Well, I’ve only come back on one point so far, and this post is already much too long. But there is so much to say …
What I would really like is some more feedback. As you know, I’m very much a beginner in the Arabic side of things, and I need to know if I’m getting that about right. To an Arabic speaker, does the Arabic situation feel like the Greek one?
Thank you SLC for that wonderful and very informative response, I am learning a lot about Greek! Thank you also for quoting from my two favourite books (Bassiouney and Haeri). I will not make this response too long, as I would really like others to join in, and yes there is always too much to say, and I always say when it comes to language we will blog forever- quite literally.
I will take the points you listed about Greek and try to compare those to the Arabic situation today, I am listing my response right next to your original points (italicised here):
a) Pupils are forbidden to read or write the language they speak themselves: Like you said “forbidden” is a strong word, it is generally frowned upon and not encouraged. I don’t think the “suppression” of the spoken forms is like that of Greek, it’s all a matter of ideology, and how native Arabic speakers come to view and consequently treat their language. Those who wish to write their variety do so, and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have allowed that to become widespread. Before the advent of social media, songs in Arabic were/still are almost always in one variety or another with only very few exceptions in FuSHa (CA/MSA).
b) They are taught to read and write a different, learned language: “Different” again is too strong a word, but let’s not forget that learning Arabic in school in Morocco is not like learning it in Damascus or in Dubai! Each case is different, and I for one cannot generalise I can only go with what I know, through experience and study. For some students (depending on their dialect) it might well be a NEW language, and to others a very similar one, it would be great to do research on each case, the we’d really be able to answer this question well.
c) This learned language has no living native speakers: This is exactly like Arabic.
d) The materials for new readers are often religious texts that cannot serve as models for the children’s own writing: Yes and no, there are great materials in CA for children due to recent efforts to make the language accessible to learners and young children. Many people learning Arabic (MSA or CA) usually watch children’s cartoons to improve their diction and grammar, and these are in pure CA. Religious texts are almost always in Classical Arabic, though there are both texts and religious speeches now in both CA and spoken Arabic (See for example, Bassiouney’s (2013) new article here on code-switching in religious talk).
But as I said previously this is one of those very complex issues, as you are just discovering, and people (both laymen and academics) can argue for both sides. I see some similarities between Arabic now and Greek pre-1917, however, I am not sure that Arabic is so precisely the same.
I think that negative attitudes are changing, and the reference to these being the languages of “donkeys” is not shared by all, and perhaps in part due to satellite television and other factors (I am deliberately avoiding “education” as a reason for positive attitudes, because I think that it’s too essentialist to assume that). Satellite TV has allowed millions of Arabs to be exposed to other Arabics they never knew of before, and before the advent of TV it was only the well-travelled Arabs who would return to their native lands and recount among other things, the discoveries they made about the Arabic of other Arabs. But now that has changed, there are even shows that teach non-dialect speakers how to speak in such and such a dialect. Surprisingly though, that teaching takes place through CA or MSA, for instance, a sentence is presented in MSA and its equivalent in ECA or Levantine Arabic is given. I can see Bassiouney’s point about the “richness” of the dialects, it is what makes Arabic, what Arabic is. It is a language that has a unique, even if a contentious, relationship with its dialects, but that’s how it has been for many centuries.
Did you know that CA as we know it today (and in going with the fact that it is based on Qur’anic Arabic) was once a dialect itself? It was the Qurayshi dialect, that became standardised for the obvious reason that it was now a sacred language, language of the Qur’an (see Mustafa Shah’s 2008 informative essay on this here). So, Arabic philosophically is not against dialects and varieties per se, as long as CA or MSA remains in tact untouched and free of mistakes (referred to as ‘Lahn’ in the grammar books).
I think if Haeri had taken her trip to Damascus instead of Egypt, her experience would have been so different, she would have perhaps said that her CA improved. She might have gone as far as claiming that CA actually does have native speakers! This is because it all depends on ideology, national language policies, agendas and how people eventually form opinions about their languages. Some Arabic speakers are comfortable with the fact that their variety is not written or used for official purposes; whilst others prefer to use their variety, and would welcome a change.
What do other readers think? Is the Arabic diglossic situation like that of Greek? Can we say the dialects are so different from FuSHa (CA/MSA) that they are different languages altogether? Comments are welcome, thank you for reading, and thank you SLC once again.
It has been a while since I last wrote, first, I’d like to welcome to new readers (from Turkey and China) and secondly, thank everyone for sending in emails and messages.
The month of May saw the 2nd international conference on Arabic language in Dubai that took place from the 8th until the 10th of May, it attracted over 1,000 participants interested in the future of the Arabic language. the conference was titled, “Arabic Language in Danger: All Are Partners in Protection”. The theme was of course to explore the use of Arabic and its status in Arabic speaking countries (specifically the Gulf and UAE regions) and the overwhelming conclusion of that conference was that the Arabic language is in danger of attrition or loss because of the starling low levels of speaker proficiency among native Arabic speakers. There are many reasons why Arabic language seems to be in the situation it is in, and I have discussed these before for example, schooling standards, perception of the language by speakers and so on. The experts at the conference concluded that, something needs to be done about the current situation otherwise Arabic really will be lost.
The minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, said at the conference that, (taken from Bikyanews article)
“Our duty towards the language of the Holy Quran is to grant it the natural status it deserves in historic, social, cultural and educational spheres”.
Commenting on the theme of the conference, Sheikh Nahyan said the Arabic language is still a living one in our daily lives; from schools to mosques, media to businesses and laws. Sheikh Nahyan noted that the Arabic Language is still appealing to increasing numbers of non-Arabic learners at a time when more centres have been established across the world to teach and promote the language. “The Arabic Language is widely used but not up to the mark of expectations of enthusiasts and lovers. And here lies the motive behind the saying ”Arabic Language may be in danger’,” Sheikh Nahyan said.
”The danger is not targeting the language as a means of learning, scientific research, translation or publishing; rather, as I see it, it lies with keeping the language away from its natural place in schools, government offices, banks, factories, media and advanced sciences and technology,” he remarked.”The danger”, he went on to say, ”lies with raising a new generation commanding foreign languages and neglecting their mother tongue.” Sheikh Nahyan warned that globalization is another threat to the Arabic Language, citing the adverse impact of social networks on the language.
”The real danger is in turning a blind eye to the findings of research and studies recommending promotion of the language, and its role in the development and progress of the individual and groups. Adopting sterile curricula and learning methods are among many threats to our language,” Sheikh Nahyan explained.
Gulf News printed a similar account of the conference, as did Khaleej Times, interestingly there were differences in opinion as to whether the Arabic language was in danger or whether it’s speakers were in danger of losing it (is there a difference I wonder, since I understand that it’s through speakers that a languages thrives or declines) I have cited the differences below (from the gulf news 2013 article),
Dr Heyam Al Maamari, Associate Professor of the Arabic Language at Ajman University of Science and Technology, said that she does not think that the Arabic language is not in danger and there are no challenges facing the language itself, but the challenges face the speakers of the language.
“Some of the challenges they face, are the spread of foreign languages, especially English and its dominance in general interactions and communication; the different Arabic dialects that are popular around the different Arab countries and globalisation that is spreading like wildfire between our children.She added that an outdated school curriculum also adds to the problem.
“There are many challenges, but there is hope in overcoming them as much as possible — each person within his own capacity.”She said that she had organized an initiative called “My language my identity” in December last year, which included many activities to promote the Arabic language such as plays, lectures, exhibitions, brochures and posters.
Dr Amal Shafeeq Al Omari, Professor of Arabic language and grammar at the Middle East University — Jordan, said that Arabic language is in danger and is facing steep hurdles.
“We now exchange greetings on our special occasions in English through text messages or social medias, also passersby in our countries are shocked to see the English names of shops and restaurants with absence of the Arabic name… also each job seeker makes sure that his CV is in English as if it’s the country’s official language.” Amal said.A nation that gives up its language or disrespects it, gives up its soul and mind and loses what makes it different,” she said. “Defending and protecting the Arabic language and bringing it back to the lead, especially in our day-to-day interactions, has become a religious and national duty.”
So I think we need to decide is it in danger? If so how? Is it not in danger? If so why not? What research have we conducted to draw such conclusions? These are important questions and must be answered with evidence no doubt.
The National also ran a story of “Arabic losing ground among native speakers”, one writer noted that, “The danger lies not in the fact that English is the language of instruction, but in that it has become the language of off-campus communication between students and, in some cases, between them and their parents at home,” Al Suweihi wrote.While educators, students and parents have a shared responsibility, the problem is much bigger, he said.
“In fact, the issue is closely linked to the moral value of the language, a value that is derived from the political, scientific, economic, industrial, intellectual, artistic, cultural and social reality of its speakers,” the writer observed.”The younger generation of Arabs shuns Arabic because they feel inferior when they speak in that language. However, they associate English – the global language of science … computers and technology – with privilege, and with belonging to a civilised society.”
Swayed by this perceived sense of “belonging”, many Arab youth work hard to nurture their non-Arabic culture, by reading English-language books, watching English-language movies and listening to English music, according to the writer.
I agree that many times English is blamed but it is to do with more than just language instruction, it is also to do with the psychological motivation an Arabic speaker has for their language. I am always intrigued when such articles are written and such conferences take place because I get a sense that the problem is becoming more and more researched and hopefully a solution will be reached. The challenge is a difficult one, it’s a balancing act between modernisation and language preservation..not easy though not impossible. It cannot be imposed by a body, it must come from within the people. It seems the first steps towards addressing the problem are underway….. I have put all the links on these stories so you can read them in their entirety.
With the current concern for the loss or weakening of the Arabic language among some scholars, one question pops to mind….which Arabic are they talking about? Egyptian? Yemeni? Oh but is it Sana’ani or Southern Yemeni? And even within the south which dialect, which style? Which words? Or is it Syrian or Saudi Arabic? Which Arabic really is deserving of being saved?
should we ignore dialects just because they are unwritten (at least most of them, but egyptian Arabic and others can be found in print)? Should we only concern ourselves with the Fusha (Classical or Quranic Arabic) or MSA (Modern standard Arabic) which many people in day to day conversation do not use (unless they are teaching, reading the news to viewers etc….). Arabic is a complex language, as I am sure you already know that, but if there are claims it is weakening the obvious thought is, “well let’s strengthen it then”. Yes but which Arabic?
While I sit here with all these hundreds of people passing by me, others sat down near me, others eating and talking, each is using language in one way or other. Through conversation (some even being annoyingly loud!), some texting, or blogging, or writing they are communicating and their only wish is to send a message across effectively, so should the type or style of the language matter? Is not the most important thing that the other person (recipient of the message) understand the words, meanings and inferences of the speaker (or communicator)? I think yes. That is key to language, and how it has evolved in history to what we understand it to be today. People have always to a huge extent affected language use, through contact with other people and their languages or through their own natural development and movement through time, their use of language has become accepted and standardised. Should we apply the same principle and reasoning to the Arabic language, and consider all dialects as worthy of being part of the Arabic language, and therefore worthy of being fought for? I think yes, we are our languages! What do you think? Do you think that dialects weaken Arabic in any way? Something to think about, a matter I think about a lot…..
Just thought I’d share a quick thought that I’ve just had because of sitting somewhere where so many people from all parts of the world are surrounding me….naturally language, its dynamics and role came to mind and more specifically the case of the Arabic language.
This week Arabizi (this blog) celebrates it’s 3rd birthday! I didn’t expect to still be writing 3 years after I started this blog because I wasn’t sure how blogging would work or how readers would react to my thoughts and ideas about a topic close to my heart- linguistics and Arabic. But, thankfully, it has been an eventful 3 years both on and offline, and I have learned so much from both readers (through comments, criticism & opinions) and from reading the extra books/articles in relation to some of the topics here. So in that celebratory spirit, I spent this morning going through many of the posts I wrote in the first 6 months of the blog, and decided to track how (if possible) those stories/events have progressed over the last 3 years. One such story I thought I’d talk about again, and which seemed to have had some sort of progress was the F’il ‘Amr initiative in Beirut (See the post here written in April 2010). Since the 2010 festival in which Suzanne and her team addressed their concerns about the future of Arabic in Lebanon and across the Arab world, she has been quietly working away at improving the organisation and working to be more effective in her goals and endeavours. At the end of 2012 TED asked her to participate in their Beirut event and of course she obliged (you can see the video here sorry it’s in Arabic), and the Gulf newspaper did the following review interview with her (without editing):
How did Feil Amer come about?
About seven years ago, I started working in the [Lebanese] civil society but while I worked for many causes, I realised that I and the other people were speaking Arabic only occasionally. After meeting people from different age groups I soon realised that Arabic was becoming extinct. It’s looked at by the new generation as something that is old-fashioned — not cool or modern — and it was almost like no one felt the need to speak Arabic. This made me wonder how we reached this stage.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, there has been this big change in the world, through the internet, technology, etc. We are just consuming because we feel we want to keep up or stay tuned, as they say. It became an emotional issue for me when I saw that even people from poor families would speak only in English just to prove that they are from a certain culture or maintain a certain image. This really made me raise important questions: Where are we now? What are we fighting for? What do we really want? What will I teach my children? What stories will I tell them? I needed to take this cause, the Arabic language, and put it in the civil society. I wanted to speak to the youth and do it in a very modern way, and to do that I had to establish an NGO and that’s why I established Feil Amer.
What do you think is at the root of this social issue?
Well, first of all, the new terminologies in Arabic are very poor. There aren’t any new terminologies that the youth can use and that reflects the world they’re living in, such as “CD”, “internet”, etc. Even if the terminologies are there, they are not easy to digest and are not marketed well. People will know about these terminologies from films, plays, songs, or the media, but they’re not marketed and if they are, they are marketed in a manner no one can relate to them.
Socially, the perception about the Arabic language is that it is very old and sometimes associated with terrorism. Many would rather say thank you rather than shukran because Arabic gives them an image they don’t want to project. It’s a matter of image in society. This is a very big conflict in our identity — between wanting to be a developed society and to be productive and creative and, on the other hand, wanting to forget anything that relates us to our identity. We end up consuming what is being given to us and building on that. So yes, socially and psychologically, we have a big conflict with the Arabic language.
What are you doing with Feil Amer at the moment?
Feil Amer has been around for two and a half years now and this NGO came about only because three people decided to say no to this situation. However, we’re still facing teething troubles. Although we have become known internationally, in the past year we’ve had a big problem with funding. I couldn’t find funds to continue working on our projects.
However, despite all this, the plan is to organise another Arabic Language Festival and make this an annual event in the Arab world to support all creative initiatives by the young in the different domains of graphic design, plays, films, Arabic calligraphy, novels, poetry and so on. It’s not only about making them aware, but making them interact in their own language and helping them realise that they can be creative in Arabic.
What do you plan to do next?
Right now, I’m planning to call for a meeting through social media to bring together all the people who want to help. I will present the organisation’s strategy and projects and see how we can do this together as the youth. I will not give up on this. Our target is the youth and our language is the language that the youth wants and our aim is to be creative in Arabic.
1. Talk, involve and address the youth in a language they can relate to.
2. Create a space where youth can express themselves.
3. Focus on linking creativity to revitalising the language.
4. Support youth initiatives to preserve the Arabic language
Well if you want to help you know where to contact her, I don’t think there is anything to add. She seems to be moving the organisation from one that panics to one that is organised and willing to think through this current perceived problem. Her tips seem straight-forward but it is as simple to implement, especially because of social beliefs, where some speakers prefer English as the language of modernity. A note about the pictures I’ve added, the one right at the top (on the left) is the original advert for the first Fi’l ‘amr event that took place in Beirut in 2010, and reads “we are our language”. The second picture is of the props that were put outside the convention centre where the event took place and is creative in its format, almost CSI-like, with the Arabic letter on the floor as if it is a dead body! The script on the yellow tape reads ” do not kill your language!”…
Let’s hope it lasts beyond the Sinatra sense, and that actually 2012 will be remembered as the year Arabic language made great changes, hopefully significant advancements so that its speakers can have more access to it now, and in the future. I hope it will be remembered as the year in which Arabic language was used seriously by its users and explored and stretched to accommodate new words and ideas. This is a belated happy new year to all Arabizi readers, I wish I had posted earlier in the year, but due to writing and other commitments I was not able to. I wanted the first post of 2013 to be a summary of everything that had taken place the previous year, based on my readings it would seem that many important initiatives were started or strengthened further in 2012 more than in previous years. I am sure readers have noticed that I tend to focus on the Gulf countries, not because in other countries there is not such effort for Arabic, but because the Gulf countries publically report on their efforts, both the good and those in progress or in need of improvement. In an overview style, and taking into account only the major events, we’ll start with:
1. The Taghreedat initiative born in Abu Dhabi and Doha in 2011 aimed to increase Arabic content on the internet, through the help and cooperation of volunteers all over the world who spoke Arabic. I have written about Taghreedat a number of times and I think their idea of arabizing online content is brilliant. So far Twitter has been Arabized and it is possible to use the entire site in Arabic instead of English see here. They are also in the process of arabizing, TED, The khan academy (this is taking place very fast!), Storify, and Wikimedia, and as of 2013 Taghreedat is in the process of arabizing Whatsapp! so any volunteers out there can read up more at Taghreedat’s website (you can follow them on Twitter @Taghreedat). Last month (Dec. 2013) they held important conferences in Abu Dhabi and Doha with Google, TED and Twitter and other internet giants to discuss a way forward because Taghreedat’s work in 2012 has proven innovative and very popular among Arabic speakers and users.
2. Last month I wrote about ADEC (Abu Dhabi Education council)’s initiative to assist parents to understand their children’s Arabic curriculum which was a welcome publication by many parents. The UAE aims by 2021 to become the centre of excellence for Arabic! A huge ambition but they have started work since 2012 in a huge way to increase their chances of achieving their goal. AlsoZayed university‘s Arabic language institute is working with the ministry of education to improve Arabic text books and material so that the acquisition of Arabic for children can be eased and made slightly more appealing than it already is. Of course they are also working hard to ensure teachers are well versed and proficient in Arabic as well as modern language teaching methods. There are many challenges in ensuring that this will be a successful initiative, remember it is also the enthusiasm and passion of the teacher, it is not enough to have a system in place. Dubai Women’s college has now stepped up efforts to improve the standards of Arabic language among its native speakers, which is welcome news to many students. Most students at the college, and based on my research, prefer to be proficient in both Standard Arabic and English rather than focus only on English. There are many other initiatives, but I don’t want this to read like an academic review! These examples give an idea of the work on the ground being done to improve Arabic language in the UAE in 2012.
On a slightly different note, a Palestinian mother living in Abu Dhabi decided to publish her own line of Arabic language resources in an effort to teach her children Arabic. She felt that they were not being motivated enough in school and named her collection Karam and Tamar after her children this is the website and this is her story!
3. The Arab Thought Foundation‘s (FIKR) 11th annual conference which took place in Dubai in November (amongst other issues discussed) introduced a new initiative to help promote the Arabic language. They call it “Let’s Rise with Our Language” through which they hope to make Arabic language more appealing to its native speakers. I do not have the complete details of the recommendations FIKR made as a result of a two-year research but you can read more about it here.
In 2013: Watch out for the Arabic language conference to take place in May in Dubai and I will try my best to post details about the conference if I go, or if I know someone going. It would be great to see their approach and their methods in meeting their goals for the promotion of Arabic language. In the meantime if there is anything significant I have missed that took place with regards to the Arabic language in 2012, please let me know!