The need to move away from Arabizi: A Riyadh perspective

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

———Translated text of article

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

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

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

—————-end of translation

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

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



“Arabic: a window to the Arabian soul” according to the Saudi Gazette

Elaborate Window

Image by sheilaellen via Flickr

What a fascinating title, ‘Arabic: a window  into the Arabian soul’! A direct reminder of the relativity theory of language, that I often bring up time and again- is language a reflection of who we are? This article caught my attention a while ago and I am posting it here for you to enjoy it, it was quite long and so I have selected the most relevant parts; but as always you can click on the link that will take you back to the original. The writer specifically focuses in the linguistic disadvantage of the expatriates living in Arab speaking countries and yet do not speak Arabic. In his view they are missing something great, a world view only seen through the Arab eyes and linguistic brain. It is not so linguistic as it is a documentation of the social-linguistic situation in Saudi Arabia and how Arabic language is under-taught. Here is the article:


Arabic: a window to the Arabian soul

Amal Al-Sibai

Marhaban: Greetings. Shukran: Thank you.
You already know what these two words mean. The Arabic vocabulary of the majority of expatriates living and working in the Kingdom is limited to only a handful of words. Isn’t it odd that so many people live here for 10-plus years without learning the Arabic language?
It is embarrassing to walk into a small, local restaurant and not be able to order because the men there speak Arabic only. It is frustrating to drive around and try to reach your destination where street sign posts are written in Arabic only. Although a plethora of institutes exist in Jeddah that teach English to adult males, there is only one place besides Berlitz that offers Arabic classes.
A group of proactive men saw the need for expats to be introduced to the Saudi culture, go on tours of historical sites in Jeddah, and to learn the Arabic language. And they decided to feed that growing need. As a result, Jeddah Cultural Exchange Center was founded.
The Administration Manager, Christopher John Malvar, elaborated on why it is becoming increasingly important to learn Arabic. He said, “Companies are encouraging their employees to learn Arabic to facilitate their businesses here. Our students learn to read and write memos in Arabic, send e-mails, take notes at meetings, and communicate with the locals. By learning Arabic, they get ahead in their professional careers. Our students are able to read restaurant menus, road signs, and newspapers, make hotel reservations, and communicate with hospital staff. The skills they gain at CEC builds their confidence and breaks the barrier that alienates them from the local community. If you want to learn about a culture, you need to learn the language.”
The group at CEC conducted some research to find other Arabic teaching institutes in Jeddah and found none. Dialing 905 and requesting an Arabic language institute is equally futile. One survey showed that, worldwide, Arabic is one of the top most sought after languages. Since more than 50% of Jeddah’s population are expats, the city should provide more centers to teach Arabic to this large mass of people.


At least there are calls for language centres to cater for non-Arabic speakers, as I always say there are some linguistic environments that baffle me, and this is one of them. Usually linguists study what encourages people to learn a language, or the rate at which a language is learned, I think here someone needs to study how a language may not be learned!  I am sure we will see and hear more about topics such as these…. I better go back to my writing the word document is calling me…have a nice weekend all and I’ll post soon.


Arabic language day: Qatari style

The 'dad' arabic letter : Emblem of arabic lan...

Image via Wikipedia

It seems the winter is going slowly and it’s time for those beautiful long walks again, and for those of us who love a challenging walk this is a good time. Though now I’m told the next time I am in Scotland to try the Munro walk, actually I call it a climb, apparently it’s not for the faint hearted so I’ll have a go and see- of course the best part are the breathtaking views.   I have three of four posts to put up, of course I could not resist looking at the speeches of Gaddafi and writing about them from a linguist’s point of view (they are quite interesting, and I hope the Libyan people will soon be saved from this situation our prayers are with them).The other one is a review of an unpublished book chapter that I was sent a while ago, and it addresses the effects of the English language on the  Arabic language in Gulf schools- anyone interested should read it, well-written, well researched. Thank you and welcome to the new subscribers to the blog, I hope you will get some nice posts in your inbox and that you won’t be disappointed; and thanks to the suggestion that I should blog more often. I will do my best, I can only think of one clichéd excuse ‘there is so much work to do’ and I hate to blog rubbish since I think my readers deserve good things.

Right back to our topic, one that is once again at the heart of Arabizi (Arabizi- How we use Arabic today©2011) the fascination and inquisitiveness into how Arabic native speakers use their language today. Is the suggestion, which often offends natives, that Arabic is dying or being lost by its speakers a true statement or one unfounded? Well to answer that you’ll need to carry out some research but here based on newspaper articles we make an analysis of the state of Arabic language right now, since newspapers reflect some type of reality. 

I came across the post below on a Qatari newspaper on the 4th of March 2011, titled: Qatar University holds Arabic language day’. Then it occurred to me that I never quite grasp why it’s important to celebrate one’s language and mark a special day for it, if one uses it every day in all communication?!  But then, thinking this idea over and in looking closely at the context, and my own personal experience in travelling extensively in the region- it dawned upon me:  the Arabic is never really spoken in public. It does not behave like the official languages in other parts of the world. Arabic in Qatar although the official language, in actual fact is only spoken by a minority, the majority speak English, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Indonesian and I think Thai (I don’t know the exact distributions). The schools do not cater to promote proficiency in the teaching of Arabic, and English is becoming ever more popular as a medium of instruction (I will discuss this in the next few posts when reviewing the book chapter I mentioned above). So the result is that the language is in danger of being lost or shifted or…whatever one wishes to label this process- but one fact is real that it is not as stable as a functioning official language should be, hence the worry. Hence the special language festivals and days to mark and reinforce the importance of the language, I cannot say that this is aimed at the non-native speakers for there is also an absence of well organised institutes that teach Arabic as a second language. And the factors go on and on, I will stop now and let you read the  short article pasted without editing and at the bottom some of my thoughts on it:

———————————————————– enjoy!

Qatar University holds Arabic Language Day 

DOHA: Qatar University (QU) College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) held its third Arabic Language Day celebration this week, under the theme ‘My Language and the Other.’

The programme included an exhibition of students’ work highlighting excerpts from Dr Al Bastian’s widely-acclaimed publications, poetry recitation, and discussions on issues of Arab and Islamic communities.

QU VP and Chief Academic Officer Dr Sheikha bint Jabor Al Thani gave the opening address in the presence of Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage H E Dr Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, guest and founder of the Abdul Aziz Al Babtain Prize for Poetic Creativity Dr Abdul Aziz Al Babtain, members of QU leadership, Supreme Council of Education representatives, CAS Dean and faculty, staff, and students.

Dr Al Thani stressed the importance of promoting and celebrating the Arabic language and highlighted QU’s role in doing so.

“This event encourages communication and interaction with other languages and cultures. Our language is deep-rooted in genuine values and sentiments and is the best channel to showcase our ancient and vibrant heritage. It is everyone’s responsibility to honour our language and we have to exert every effort to develop and preserve it,” she said.

She outlined the many programmes that QU offers especially the Arabic for Non-Native Speakers (ANNS) programme which attracts international students, promotes Arab and Islamic culture, and boosts social and cultural openness.

Minister Al Kuwari pointed out the role the ministry plays to promote Arabic and Islamic language and culture.

He thanked QU for its participation in the activities celebrating Doha as the Capital of Arab Culture 2010.

CAS Dean Dr Kassim Shaaban noted that Arabic Language Day was acknowledged by the Arabic Language, Education, Culture, and Science Organisation (ALECSO) to be celebrated throughout the Arab world. He referred to some of the current challenges the language faces in competition with other languages and dialects.

“This however had the effect of increased awareness and interest in the Arabic language in terms of culture, science, and religion,” he said.


I often talk of the nature of language being more than just words and that seems to be a strong motivation for holding these days/events. Language allows people to understand the culture of the other, for it holds the key to the belief, customs, culture and even way of thinking for the speakers. If the language is lost the culture is lost and it’s as simple as that, I think the more I come across these types of writings the more I am convinced of that fact: language is more than mere words.  At least the Qataris are trying to pre-empt the ‘death’ of their language and by default the death of their customs and culture. I am still on this journey of discovery and I hope one day I will understand the reality of language and its indispensible nature for the human being. Please share your views as always thanks for reading!



The power of words: What the ‘revolution’ in Egypt illustrates

Cairo skyline in the morning

Image by StartAgain via Flickr

 It has been a while since I jotted something down for the blog, wishing you all a wonderful new year both Gregorian or Chinese and I pray that peace comes to all peoples of the earth and that we all live our lives happily. I have a few topics to write about over the next few weeks, today I am revisiting one of my favourite topics (still trying to understand it in its true meaning) the power of language or more precisely the power of words.

As a linguist there is always that need to understand the power of words or the power of how people use language in all spheres of their life, and inevitably the effect of those words. One of the topics I have discussed on this blog time and time again is the fact that language is more than mere words and that these words have far reaching meanings and implications this was done most notably through the ever recurring ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis’ posts. In looking at the current events in Egypt (that at times are hard to watch because of the unbelievable violence, and the hurt of looking at such a beautiful country fall apart) one thing is clear language clearly plays a major role.

Dubbed as a revolution, we know that all revolutions whether intentionally organised or spontaneously supported and joined by people, have or move on what is termed as ‘slogans’. Slogans have a few characteristics: they are usually short this ensures that remembering them will not be hard, and depending on the language of the so called slogans they might rhyme, a further aid in helping people remember them. They are words that are repeated again and again to reinforce the feelings and stance(s) of the ‘protesters’ (not sure if that’s the right word- words can be sensitive! If they are called protesters or revolutionists what are the implications??) Slogans were very prominent in the French, Grenadian, Chinese and Russian revolutions, simple words to move the emotions the simple people who wanted more justice in their lives as they saw it at the time (See: The Power of words- Literacy and Revolution in South China 1949-95, by Glen Peterson, 1997). There were three common Bolshevik slogans during the 1917 revolution: 1. Factories for the workers, land for the peasants. 2. All power to the soviets. 3. Bread, and freedom! Short and easy to remember and I am sure even in non-technology days, these words spread fast because of the power of words.

 In Egypt they have new simple slogans created at every step through this uprising of theirs, everyday new slogans appear and sometimes more than one in a day. What is amazing is that once it is uttered in Cairo, you find it is also uttered in Alexandria, Suez, Luxor, London, Washington, Indonesia, Malaysia, France, Belgium, Beirut, Amman (I could go on) and even Japan –all in the same Arabic words, in the same tune and vigour. Is that the power of words or what? When looking at these people outside Egypt chanting these slogans one can see their seriousness and earnestness in repeating those words, perhaps it’s the association they attach to the words?! This is something that has intrigued me for days and caused me to write this post, how the whole world has viewed the unfolding of events in Egypt in an unprecedented manner, and at the centre of it all language plays a major and central role (maybe for a linguist that’s the case and for a politics student it isn’t?). It’s almost as if those outside Egypt in their solidarity marches feel as the people feel in Cairo, any new slogan they repeat it, translate it and spread it. This reminds me of the basis of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) in which language, its repetition and what one associates with those words can help transform a person’s life for the better (maybe a topic for another post).

We cannot ignore the role of technology in all this, it is through the satellite TV stations that (live news coverage) people see the slogans or hear them chanted that they can then re-chant them. I do not think there has been anything like this in the history of popular uprising, revolutions or whatever one wishes to call them, where the words and aspirations of a people uttered in one corner of the earth are reiterated across the globe in the same tune, style and sincerity. I am not a historian (though history interests me) but I cannot remember of ever reading anywhere how the slogans of one group were reiterated and reverberated across the world in this way. In addition to the spoken slogans and the mimicking of those, there is also the power of the written words. Over the past fourteen days some pictures usually with a man or woman or child holding a banner with a message have become iconic in representing the events in Egypt. These same words are then take and re-written across the world by supporters of the people in Egypt, the power we are talking about here is doubly strong: speech and words. This was a short note on how I see language plays a major role or rather a powerful role in events such as these and that what is happening in Egypt is unprecedented on many fronts and one of those is the use of language (intentional or unintentional).

 I don’t know how things will end in Egypt (though tonight we are hearing different things?) but I hope that peace and security will be restored in Egypt and that the wonderful kind-hearted Egyptian people will be at peace soon- Allah yahmeeki ya Masr wa yahmee sha3b Masr (May God protect Egypt and its people). Please share your views on this post as always I look forward to them, I am open to suggestions or ideas, and if I have not replied to any recent messages I apologise will do so soon.



Sources: Peterson, G (1997) ‘The Power of words- Literacy and Revolution in South China 1949-95’.

Wiki-answers: For Russian and French revolution information (slogans).

Does language shape thought? The results are in

A man of many language symbols

Image by Eyesplash via Flickr

A few posts ago I mentioned that The economist was running a live debate asking us, its readers to vote on whether we thought language shapes the way we think or not. After that over the next few days different scholars and linguists debated for or against the claim,  and we had the chance to agree or disagree with their view. Well now the results are in and all the arguments for both for and against are available to be read 🙂 so if you are interested please go ahead and read about it here:

Apologies for the short post I am away at the moment but someone just showed this to me and I thought I had to post it- happy break and I hope the new year will be good for everyone.


Does language shape your thought? Join the debate

The Economist

Image via Wikipedia

Once again the debate has resurfaced- does language shape thought? I think it will always be a question and each time both sides of the argument have some type of evidence. This time it is  The Economist who are currently running a live debate on this question. They allow for readers to vote on the website asking for people’s view on this somewhat complicated question. Two brilliant scholars represent each side, Dr. Lera Boroditsky [whom I have mentioned before on this blog] and she is for the motion that yes language does shape thought. In opposition is Prof. Mike Liberman a linguist at Pennsylvania, who sees that we shape language to a certain extent, and that language cannot shape the way we think.

I thought I’d share this with the readers as the voting ends tonight and the results will be announced on Thursday. If Linguistic Relativity interests you, this is where you need to go as there are recommendations on what to read, and a summary of the whole idea from both the linguistic and psychological perspectives.  Go and read and vote- enjoy.

The link-

The power of words- a lesson from Taylor Mali

Taylor Mali

The power of words? Yes, words have power, power to move our emotions, power to make us think differently, and even to shape the way we see the world {in the loose sense or if you like in the Linguistic Relativity sense}. All through? Yes, you got it, through language. Which begs the question, what would we lose if we had no language? Apart from culture, ways of doing things or seeing the world, we’ll lose the power to influence others {positively of course} in an easy and natural way.

I like poetry and one type that really fascinates me is spoken word, and one of my favourites is one by Taylor Mali called ‘what teachers make’. Recently, I came across a CNN clip that shows how through Taylor’s poetry, many people have become teachers [to be precise 499]. So the question that came to mind for me was, how did he do it? Did he describe the excellent financial reward of being a teacher? Or maybe the glorious praise and respect from students? NO, all he did was show the passion he had for being a teacher, and showed the true nature of how important teachers are even though society does not acknowledge it. All this was done through the use of words, through the use of language, he moved people to change their lives forever- the true power of words and it doesn’t get better than this. He in effect not only changed the life of those 499 individuals but the also the lives of their many thousand students, because these teachers have passion, and when you have that anything you do will be no less than excellent. Here is the CNN clip.

Once we acknowledge the power of words and hence the importance of language preservation then we will understand why language ecologists are running and working hard to save languages from extinction- without words and language we are quite literally- nothing. That’s why the proper use and learning of Arabic is very important because if future generations lose the ability to understand and use language, they cannot therefore be affected by its power or influence others through it. Without language we could not function, we could not make our points clear, you would not be reading this post and digesting its meaning, negotiations could not take place, peace talks could never happen…..and the list continues.  Arabic may not be dying but it might one day and if it does so much will go with it and so much will be lost without it, or any other language for that matter. Language is power- a power we underestimate.

 Below I have put the original poem Taylor read at the Def poetry for HBO- enjoy and your comments are always welcome.