World Arabic Language Day: Challenges and opportunities

arabic1So 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 speakersSaudi 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.

arabic 2

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.

 

Is Arabic like Greek? Diglossia and other things

Language and identity and its speakers

Language and identity and its speakers

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.

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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?

SLC

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Functions and domains of each variety in a diglossic situation

Functions and domains of each variety in a diglossic situation

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.

 

“Scorching hot like the heat of the sun on stone!” The etymological origins of the word ‘Ramadan’

scorching hot by Micheal FarruggiaIn previous posts I have written about the importance of Ramadan in relation to the Arabic language (because the Quran was revealed in Ramadan and of course in Arabic). But I’ve been thinking recently, “what does the actual word ‘Ramadan’ mean?” So yesterday morning I took out my Lisaan al Arab (by Ibn Mandhuur) and looked it up, and my goodness what a treasure I found! The intricacy of the word, how it relates to other words and more importantly how it relates to fasting left me amazed.

The word Ramadan, like many other Arabic words based on a three-letter-root template, is derived from ‘Ra-Ma-Da’ which means ” to be scorching hot” (notice that I have made all root letters bold, so we can see the root even in different derivations). How hot? Well Ibn Mandhuur was specific and made sure to describe it, as hot “as the scorching heat on stone under the hot sun” The earth can also be described as scorching hot (Ra-Ma-Du), and he goes on to give examples and similar derived nouns and adjectives to describe the “unbearable heat of the sun on stones and sand”. When inflected (to suit, gender, number and tense which is typical of Arabic) the word Ra-Ma-Du can be used to describe “unbearable heat on a people” or to describe “scorched or sunburnt hands or feet as a result of being exposed to the very hot sun”. Then when derived as iRMaa-Du it means “pain all over” both physical and that “which unmercifully eats the mind away with worry”. When inflected it can refer to an “upset stomach” and as a noun aRa-Ma-Diyyu it refers to the clouds and rain. Why? aha why indeed? Because rain is produced “as a result of heat from the sun” which causes evaporation and so on (the water cycle), who would have known? That’s why I said above that words almost always make sense to be ‘those’ words and those words only! Alternatively, it can also refer specifically to “rain just before Autumn at the end of summer that falls to hit the scorching hot ground” it’s that water that is produced that brings relief.

And finally, the next entry is the month of Ramadan, and Ibn Mandhuur mentions it as a name of a month (obviously), he quotes an account from a source named Ibn Durayd who says, “when the names of the months were being decided upon from the language of old, they named them based on the seasons in which they fell, it so happened that Ramadan fell during the season when it was scorching hot with unbearable heat”. It seems that at the time of naming the months Ramadan fell in the summer, but because the Arabic/Islamic calendar is based on the lunar system, the months move each year by a week or two, so the months are not fixed like the solar ones (January, February etc…). So in a period of about twenty years Ramadan will fall in the summer only 3 times (as it doing right now), and it will take another decade or so for it to fall in the spring/summer again.  Another source named Al-Fara’ says that “Ramadan is derived from ‘Ra-Mi-Da’ which refers to a fasting person’s feelings of heat and dryness inside the mouth due to thirst”. Finally (because I could go on), the word ‘Ra-Ma-Da’ means to “wait for something”, it also refers to the “blunt blade of a knife that needs sharpening”. Interestingly though, none of the meanings contradict one another, it shows the versatility of the root and the many similar meanings it can carry.

dates

In summary, the word Ramadan refers to, the month, the heat, the thirst, the waiting and the eventual ease (like that of rain after a hot day) of whatever may be the problem. An almost metaphorical way of describing the fast and the month in which it occurs is that, it’s not easy, not especially if it falls in the summer months, and people observing the fast wait until they can eat and drink, at which time they experience ease. Their beings are blunt and so need sharpening through the hardship of the fast (sounds a bit Yoga/meditation like!) and ultimately they experience relief (like the rain on the scorching hot ground) that will come with great benefits (Ibn Al ‘Arabee and others). Who would have thought that one word, would have so many associations and meanings, and yet all be suitable? I know this is not my usual post style, I wanted to share with you all another dimension of the Arabic language. It would be a shame if such a language were to be lost or unstudied, the treasures we’d lose would be irreplaceable. Your thoughts and ideas are most welcome as usual.

Sources:

Ibn Mandhuur (2000) Lisaan al Arab volume 6 pages 224-225. Beirut: Dar al Sader  (note: in the 1975 version the pages are slightly different 225-226).

Muhammad Al Bartajee (2002) Al Yaqoot wal Marjaan fee I’iraab al-Quran (Syntax of the Quran) Amman: Dar al-I’ilaam

UAE steps up bid to preserve Arabic: a way forward?

Taken from Gulf News article May 2013

Taken from Gulf News article May 2013

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.
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links: http://bikyanews.com/88438/uae-culture-minister-globalization-threat-to-arabic-language/

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/is-arabic-in-danger-in-the-uae-1.1181550

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-article-display-1.asp?xfile=data/nationgeneral/2013/May/nationgeneral_May165.xml&section=nationgeneral

http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/arabic-language-is-losing-ground

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/new-approaches-to-teaching-arabic-language-1.1183832

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-article-display-1.asp?xfile=data/nationgeneral/2013/May/nationgeneral_May307.xml&section=nationgeneral

 

Fight for Arabic? But which Arabic?

arabic dialectsWith 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 saudi dialectseating 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.

 

“Who says I won’t be cool anymore if I speak Arabic?!” The fight for Arabic

fi'l amr1This 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):

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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.

To help Feil Amer or get involved, visit www.feilamer.org.fi'l amr2

Suzanne’s tips-

What parents can do:

  • 1. Never tell your children that Arabic is not important and that they won’t need it.
  • 2. Talk to them in Arabic.
  • 3. Make sure they read in Arabic.
  • 4. Tell them stories that relate to their life in Arabic.
  • 5. Explain to them that one’s identity is related to the language and culture and that it’s important to preserve it.

What teachers can do:

  • 1. Engage your students in cultural activities outside the school premises.
  • 2. Encourage your students to be creative in Arabic.
  • 3. Use new teaching methods that associate Arabic with being “cool”.
  • 4. Discourage your students from writing Arabic using Latin letters and numbers.

What NGOs can do:

  • 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

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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!”…

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Source: http://gulfnews.com/about-gulf-news/al-nisr-portfolio/weekend-review/making-arabic-the-language-of-the-young-1.1137102

2012 was a very good year…..for Arabic

Support Arabic Language

Support Arabic Language (Photo credit: Beshroffline)

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.

An ad/banner for Arabic Wikipedia containing t...

An ad/banner for Arabic Wikipedia containing the Wikipedia logo in it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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. Also Zayed 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!

Other final points, first, thank you again to all those who stopped by and made comments and a huge hello and welcome to the new readers, thanks for joining club Arabizi! It means a great deal to me if readers make constructive comments because it helps me improve the blog. Thanks also to everyone who emails with questions, queries or pointers to other sources on the stories/ideas/opinions I have written about. I hope 2013 will be a better and bigger year for Arabizi-how we use Arabic today©, there will be a few changes to the blog which you will see soon, and I am in the process of adding new pages/videos and so on- here’s to 2013 and Arabizi!

Improving standards in Arabic teaching: Much needed and timely

The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) has taken important steps to ensure that the standards of teaching Arabic are raised in the UAE, how are they planning to do that? Through involving the parents! Which I think is an ingenious idea that I hope other countries will also adopt, if parents know what their children are studying they can help and be a positive aspect of their child’s learning. The Arabic curriculum is usually criticised for its difficult text-book tasks and non-accessible style for students, but based on the pasted articles below, it seems perhaps that is about to change. I think much thought has gone into the guide, I have not seen it myself, but it appears that making such a tool for parents is helpful and may actually help parents re-learn some of the Arabic they themselves have forgotten! Exciting times ahead….the articles are passed below,

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The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) has introduced a new Arabic language curriculum for all Cycle 1 (KG to Grade 4) students across the 268 public schools in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

School teachers who teach Arabic Language, Social Studies, and Islamic Education, have received concise training courses on the new curriculum from 2nd – 5th October, in efforts to enhance their modern teaching skills with 21st century schooling methods which mainly focus on creative/critical thinking, research and analysis, and strong language skills.

“It is vital to encourage fluency in Arabic language since it’s the UAE’s mother tongue language.  We have introduced a completely new approach and standards in learning Arabic, through engaging activities that encourage active participation and meaningful communication among school students,” said Dr. Karima Mazroui, Director of Arabic Curricula Division at ADEC.

Students will acquire linguistic skills through quality literature written in Arabic, where they will be required to understand text, apply authentic writing, and speak and listen fluently.

“Teachers have been trained to use a wide variety of stimulating material as a new teaching concept. This will encourage effective participation in a classroom setting, while setting fair, transparent and accountability standards,” added Dr. Karima.

The idea behind the newly inaugurated Arabic curriculum is to shift from textbook based learning to application and standard based instruction, a shift that both parents and students will start to witness, and one that is in line with the best school systems around the world.

“ADEC’s vision is to encourage students to become life-long learners who are not only proud of their own language but are also able to use what they learn in an intelligent, fluent and accurate manner. Research has shown that the education which encourages the active engagement of children results in a much higher level of proficiency and a greater desire in students to progress in their language skills,” said Dr. Karima, adding that the transformation of the Arabic language instruction will place Abu Dhabi on the forefront of Arabic language teachings regionally and globally.

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The Guide is based on ADEC standards and criteria in terms of ensuring delivery of quality Arabic curriculum teaching and learning. It aims to enhance parent’s role in teaching their children their mother tongue language. The publication is neatly printed out and the text is drafted in easy, simplified and in a detailed holistic manner, covering all Arabic standards and criteria.

The information flows smoothly in the readers mind and creates a base of information to help understand what is specifically required. Dr. Karima Al Mazroui, the Arabic Curriculum Section Manager in ADEC said, “This initiative comes in line with ADEC’s policy to focus on improving pedagogies of teaching Arabic in Abu Dhabi schools.”

Dr. Al Mazroui pointed out, “The guide helps parents and ADEC key partners to realize the importance of assisting their children at home and includes a detailed section of Arabic curriculum standards and criteria.”

“Parents play a vital role in educating their children as well as achieving ADEC goals aimed at fostering Arabic learning,” he added.

The Guide focuses on topics and skills such as listening, reading, comprehension, composition, communication and writing. Educational standards ensure that students acquire the appropriate skills and knowledge needed by the end of each grade and cycle.

“The adoption of standard-based teaching provides students with equal opportunities to learn and master the language, regardless of their social and cultural background as well as demographic distribution factors that is common in our Arab world,” said Dr. Al Mazroui.

“The standards and criteria help regulate basic concepts, identify learning outcomes and expectations in each cycle regardless of school level, student cultural and social background or text books used. This will help us provide students with equal learning and teaching opportunities as well as enable our children to acquire a standardized Arabic language and basic knowledge and concepts about it,” emphasized Dr. Al Mazroui.

The last section of the book focuses on parents role at home in acquisition of Arabic skills through reading aloud, storytelling, acting, use of IT applications, observing the acquisition of vocabulary as well as enhancing discussion and dialogue skills.

The Guide is considered an important educational reference for parents to take an effective part in their children’s education and contribute effectively to support the role of a school in acquisition of Arabic language based on sound academic standards and innovative pedagogies that apply the latest techniques and methods.

—end

Sometimes the resources are already available but it’s finding new ways through which to deliver the information that’s lacking. Perhaps this is one, such innovative way to deliver all the important Arabic language rules, grammar, syntax etc. but in a way that is appealing to children who are growing up around TVs, computers and iPads. It’s never too late to improve language standards
and transforming language learning from the classroom into the outside world (home and parents) is one way to preserve Arabic language (according to the article I disused last month) and to promote its importance among young children. If students become strong in their Arabic use and understanding they will be empowered to feel pride for their mother tongue and that maybe a step in the direction of changing social perceptions of Arabic…maybe who knows? I’d love to know what you guys think of this latest effort to promote Arabic language…thanks for reading.

 

Sources: 

http://www.adec.ac.ae/english/pages/newsdisplay.aspx?ItemID=434

http://www.ameinfo.com/adec-introduces-parents-guide-arabic-language-318079

Arabic deserves a better chance of survival: The need to change perceptions

The teaching of the Arabic language or the education policy on teaching Arabic is often criticised for its rigid and removed approach in the way language is taught to native speakers of Arabic. It is often difficult for a child to leave the classroom and apply their learned Arabic with those he/she meets (of course there are reasons for this which we have discussed in other previous posts due to other factors, but the fact remains that the language policy needs to change). In the post below the author identities many important issues that affect Arabic language proficiency among native speakers and he predicts that Arabic language will die out soon if Arabic does not go beyond the classroom door and social attitudes do not change. It is pasted below without editing……
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Arabic will die out if it is locked up in classrooms

In his inaugural address to parliament last December, the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri kept mispronouncing words and whole phrases in Arabic, smirking the entire time.

Not only did the Georgetown-educated, English-speaking Mr Hariri laugh at his mistakes, but he also cackled when Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament, asked him if he needed someone to help him out.

Being bad at Arabic is almost like being bad at an obscure sport, say croquet: no one particularly cares if you fail to grasp the quaint and overly complex techniques needed for mastery of the subject.

In Lebanon, French is the language of the learned and the sophisticated. The same is true in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and other former French colonies in the Arab world. Failing to speak proper French in those countries is a handicap in professional and social life.

In some circles, it is fashionable to make mistakes in modern standard Arabic and rather chic to be unacquainted with the meaning of a word or expression. In Morocco, the French word francisant, (French-educated) has a positive connotation. If you are francisant, it does not matter if you cannot speak Arabic. The preposterous part is that a so-called Arabist does not get away with the same glory-in-incompetence should their French leave something to be desired.

Fluency in French and English in the Middle East and North Africa has come to imply intelligence, erudition and even affluence, even if that person struggles with Arabic.

Many Arabs feel that speaking modern standard Arabic, the form of the language taught at school, is something of a burdensome, if not embarrassing, endeavour. It is not the local dialect that they use at home and on the street, which they speak with ease.

Proficiency in Arabic, proper grammar, conjugation and a broad use of vocabulary are seen as the sole purview of language geeks. It is bizarre that they are looked down upon, while those Arabs who spent time ploughing through Chaucer and Coleridge, Rabelais and Pascal to become proficient in English and French are respected.

What has happened that once-proud Arabs, who once would kill or be killed for a single verse of poetry, gauge their level of intelligence by how little they know of their mother tongue? Perhaps, it is because true Arabic is no longer their mother tongue.

It is an obvious, if little known fact that modern standard Arabic is no longer anybody’s mother tongue. No one in the world speaks it as a native language. The 350 million people spread across the 22 Arab states learn this language in school in the same way they might learn French or English. They make horrendous mistakes when they write, read or speak it. Even many Arab Muslim senior citizens can barely understand a sentence of a Friday sermon because the preacher delivers his lecture in modern standard Arabic.

All Arabs know Arabic, but a Tunisian speaks Tunisian, a Libyan speaks Libyan, and an Egyptian speaks Egyptian. None of these is “proper” Arabic. Countless Arabs find that their friends from Morocco and Algeria may as well be speaking Greek when they speak in their native dialects.

True, these derivative languages bear a close resemblance to Arabic, but they are not, strictly speaking, Arabic. The extent to which they differ from pure Arabic is far greater than the comparitively minor difference between Kenyan and Scottish English.

A native tongue is – and some linguists may wish to differ – a language that you speak fluently. It is a language that defines who you are. No one faults an American or a Briton for the differences in their use of the English language. It is just how they speak and their distinct dialect defines them.

Arabs should not be asked to speak like the 10th-century poet Abu Tayyib al Mutanabbi. No one should expect English speakers to speak like Milton either. It is futile and fails to serve the ultimate purpose of language: ease of communication.

Languages die when they become stagnant. Latin has almost died out precisely because it was locked up in church bookshelves. Arabic, with its elasticity, rhetorical treasures and axiomatic wealth may suffer the same fate if its use is restricted to the classroom, the mosque, and the halls of government.

Arabic deserves a greater chance of survival than what it is currently being offered. Occasional events celebrating it will not push it into every day life. The language must get back in touch with the most mundane aspects of our lives. It must be allowed to grow and change, given room to breathe and stretch its legs out on the streets. Otherwise it will shrivel and die.

If you’re an Arab, ask yourself: how do you say “zipper” in your supposed mother tongue?

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I don’t think there is anything for me to add to the article, except to say that these issues he has brought up will always affect Arabic language if nothing is done to help the situation and improve it. It may seem negative and very pessimistic but anyone who speaks Arabic knows that everything raised in the article is precise and not exaggerated- Arabs no longer feel proud of their own language! But those who do, are few and love it with a passion that pushes them to master it. But if they were to bring this passion to their friends they would be ridiculed and their only option may be to join an old Arabic club- which is mostly boring, archaic and very uninteresting.  A language is not an object that can be fixed and mended from the outside, it needs nurturing and fixing from the inside, in this case by its speakers so that it can become a language of everyday use. I mean here not a code-switched, code-mixed, ungrammatical version of Arabic, but a grammatical version- one where a speaker can write without fear and can speak without mistakes. This does not mean I am against ‘ammiyyah (spoken Arabic) that would be denying an important part of Arabic speakers’ linguistic identities, I just think if one claims to speak a language they should work to master it in its important versions. We will always talk about this for a long time to come….. Comments are welcome as always…. thanks for stopping by.

Can humour help preserve Arabic among native speakers? Guest post

It’s great to be back after a good break, Ramadhan, lots of writing (and thinking!) and of course the absolutely wonderful mind-boggling Paralympics sadly now over. A warm welcome to new readers and fellow WordPress bloggers, and apologies for late replies to comments and emails.  As promised in July, this is a short and to-the-point guest post by Lina al-Adnani about the sorry situation of Arabic language proficiency amongst its native speakers. The post is based on her current ongoing research about the role humour may play in highlighting that situation to Arabic speakers. She is an artist and creative person doing her MA in Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries at Central St. Martins. You can imagine my fascination at the creative link between issues of language shift or language change with the idea of humour. Her passion for the topic and her zeal for the project impressed me so much I asked her  to write a short blog post about her thoughts so far on the project and what she thinks is the reason behind the current situation of Arabic language, and how she thinks humour is one way to highlight these issues. So here it is, below without editing from myself and we have a video, so artistic of you Lina thanks!

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By speaking in English, are we hindering our Arabic development? And where does humor fall in all of this?

I recently googled the word Arabic and got some… results… they weren’t interesting, but they weren’t uninteresting either. The first results page (and lets face it, that is usually the only page we look at) was of websites for the learning and teaching of Arabic language, but I thought to myself that Arabic is so much more than just a language.  I wish there were other results that showed another aspect of this language we all know that languages are more than just words, they each stand for an ideology, one that connects to that specific culture and norms. One can argue that this language (Arabic) along with the culture it is connected to is on its way to disintegration. Why is that? Well I guess I can only refer to my own circumstances, experiences, and observations from my own country (Jordan) if I am to tell you why I feel this way. Arabic, in some circles in Amman is becoming an uninteresting and low level language, resulting in creating the hybrid known as Arabizi; it is not enough to only speak Arabic, we must integrate English to it so that it can live up to our “standards”. Speaking Arabizi reflects a certain air of sophistication, education and even marks of upper-class upbringing, this is how it has become.

I am an Arab, but my Arabic is horrible, so is my knowledge of Arabic history, culture, and politics. No, I did not grow up in London, Canada, or America… I grew up in Amman, Jordan- yes an Arabic speaking country. In my life I have read in all a total of only 5 maybe 6 books in Arabic! I can’t remember how many in English because they have obviously been numerous. I had not really thought deeply about this fact until a few months ago when I started to review who I was and what I wanted to focus on in the following months for my MA dissertation.  I then realized that I don’t really know who I am, and that I don’t really have a sense of belonging to Amman, nor to any place for that matter and I believed this was due to my poor Arabic. I wanted to investigate why that was… I then stumbled upon this vide which was unique in that the comedian criticized the usage of English over Arabic but through humor- I thought that was fascinating…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCA7O37362U

The video is intended to highlight the obsession young Arabs have in Amman with speaking English even where it is not required. The comedian picks out words like, “by the way”, “ewwww”, “attitude”, “hi”, “how are you”, “vulgar”, “I am not impressed” etc…. to show how young people speak and how by using these words in English they are neglecting their Arabic equivalents. In one part of the video, he acts like an addict needing another dose to calm himself down, and this relief in his sense comes when the speaker inserts an English word in the conversation even if it is out of context or mispronounced (which he refers to an “bad accent”).

The video and many others like it act a tools in helping me investigate why we are so adamant on speaking English when we have a perfectly fine language of our own; secondly how can humor, or the entertainment industries promote and encourage us to speak in Arabic? I think a video like the one above is one example of humor making us think about the way we use or under-use the Arabic language.

After much thought I think I have reached a conclusion (which might change in the next few months who knows?), that by speaking in English, we may be hindering our Arabic development and rather than actually creating our own modernity, we are trying to emulate the modernity of others, because we aren’t using our language. When we start to use our own language to it’s full capacity we will then be able to create a modernity that suits us and our ways and still keep us up to date with the rest of the world. What do you think?

After thought: Fatma asked me after sending her a few drafts, what I thought was left of the Arabic language? My answer is: I think that there is a lot left of Arabic, but not a lot is utilized. It isn’t that there are no words in Arabic, neither is it about Arabic being a weaker language… it’s merely a perception that is arguably false and misunderstood. The unfortunate truth is that there are large numbers of Arabs who are ignorant… and not just in the case of being clueless, but also in not knowing the facts. That may be what it comes down to, lack of education in Arabic countries that creates this false negative perception that Arabic is not a language of modernity and development- this I feel is an ideology that needs to change NOW before it’s too late. Thank you

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Thank you once again Lina for not only putting forward these ideas but also being generous with the readers by sharing deep personal thoughts about yourself as an Arabic speaker and your relationship with Arabic language- it brings to life the issues many speakers can identify with. Sorry to those of you who do not speak Arabic I know the video was all in Arabic, unfortunately there were no subtitled versions- but I hope from the descriptions the aim of the video was understood. I think the humour idea is great and sometimes one does not have to always be serious about the current situation of Arabic it gets boring and some people will ignore it. But humour is great because it makes people laugh not just at what the comedian is saying, but at themselves too….so maybe speakers will become aware of their communicative habits and analyse their language choices during conversation. Please feel free to comment on the post as always, thanks for reading.