Arabic language day- A Twitter perspective

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

After more than 200 tweets I decided to post something on the fact that  it is Arabic day today ON TWITTER, so I thought I’d share the news. Speakers of the Arabic language celebrate their language on this day [though I have not checked out the origins of the day yet] and they make it an issue to raise awareness about different issues surrounding the Arabic language.

The things people are doing today is, for example, all twitter users are writing only in Arabic and are apologising to their non-Arabic speaking followers for their use of Arabic only, for example- Dear Non-Arabic speakers/readers tweeps: Today is #ArabicDay so please tolerate the Arabic tweets for the day 🙂 .. Have a wonderful day 🙂

I think most people are tweeting in Classical Arabic only- which is great because you get to see people’s language skills. There are excellent quotes about Arabic as a language, as an item that defines a people, a people who are proud to be speakers of Arabic.  SO what happens now is that someone makes a cup of tea and tweets that in Classical Arabic with all the right grammar and diacritics I’ll paste it here for readers of Arabic-ما أجمل اللغة العربية , قمت باعداد كوباً من الشاى he writes here- how beautiful Arabic language is, I have made a cup of tea… and it’s all grammatically correct. Another example- في طريق العودة للمنزل #Arabicday— trans- on my way back home.. Which makes me wonder how would they have written it if they were not making an Arabic emphasis?  In English perhaps.

The issue of identity comes up in the tweets aswell اللغة هوية ….اللغة حضارة …. #ArabicDay trans– language is identity….language is civilization. It seems language is seen as a marker of identity by this speaker and as a  foundation of civilization and culture. An issue that is often discussed in Linguistics in how does language reflect identity and so on.  There are also other tweets that demand everything to be written in Arabic and not with English letters or what they call Franco-Arabic [which I think is what we refer to as Arabizi] they think that it spoils Arabic and English interesting.

The most interesting aspect of these  tweets and wall posts is not in the praise of Arabic language- no- it is actually in how the speakers are critical of their neglect of Arabic. They criticise themselves and how they are not using Arabic as much s they should be- but the nice bit is that it is all in Classical Arabic…which really emphasises their point.

The criticisms or points that people point out are the same ones we have discussed here on the blog. So I’ll try my best to sift the best ones, it’s hard when there are 93 tweets a minutes going up. Here is one from a Saudi tweeter; criticizing the choice of universities in not using Arabic as a language of instruction for Arab students, especially if it is a subject like Computing and he sees this as wasting the life of the student whilst his Arabic could have improved.

 #arabicday المناهج الجامعيه في كثير اصبحت بلغه غير لغتنا .. يضيع عمر الطالب في الجامعه يدرس الماده على انها لغه اضافيه وهي ماده كمبيوتر مثلا

Another critical one- يقول أحد المستشرقين : ليس على وجه الأرض لغة لها من الروعة والعظمة ماللغة العربية=#ArabicDay

ولكن ليس على وجه الأرض أمة تسعى بوعي أو بدون وعي لتدمير لغتها كالأمة العربية —he says ‘one of the Orientalists [someone who writes on Arabic issues but might not be an Arab themselves] says- There is not a language on the face of the earth with such beauty and greatness like Arabic, but there is not a nation on the face of the earth that consciously or unconsciously works to destroy its own language like the Arab nation’. WOW- it is a heavy statement to make and there are those who agree with him and others do not.  One can see the passion with which such tweets are delivered, he went out of his way to find and type up this quote…seriousness here.

I will not make this a very long post it was just something I thought I’d share for those interested and since it is in line with the blog’s topics. Generally, Arabic speakers feel that they are neglectful of their language and they feel that they have to do something about it.  I wonder if this will become a permanent day each year….

Source- Twitter [if you have an account you can go in and see]

Are we over anxious about the demise of Arabic? I think not

A Dictionary Of The English Language
Image by oemebamo via Flickr

It has been some time since I last posted, but thank you for all the emails and messages about the previous posts. Sometimes people feel that perhaps those who fear for the demise of Arabic are over anxious and as a result cause panic or insecurity in the people. You would think given the status and spread of English that those who speak English, or even speak for English would never feel that it was under threat. Well think again! I recently came across an article in the Independent newspaper written by Charles Crawford who was formerly the British ambassador to Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Warsaw- where he shares his fears about the neglect of language. Usually I choose a piece that concerns Arabic directly, but this article made me think about Arabic and how its speakers use it today. Below I have pasted the article without any editing, then I’ll discuss my thoughts on it- enjoy!


Charles Crawford: Language is a tool which must be kept well-honed to do its job

Language does not decay unless it ceases to be used for communication. It changes, sometimes other people’s usage (or mistakes) grate upon those who say it differently, but the language itself is not in any danger.

Language has existed for thousands of years, performing its function adequately, without any care or attention at all, and most have never been subject to it at any time in their history.

A rabid free-marketeer like myself can have little complaint if things indeed change, and millions of people don’t mind too much, if at all. Although I do object to my own language and identity changing because the state has effectively nationalised large parts of the teaching of English and simply can’t do it properly.

I can not shake off the thought that language is a tool. And tools if neglected can just get blunt, or wear out, or otherwise be less good at doing some vital jobs.

If we start to “lose” spellings and grammar as currently constituted, and therefore some of the innermost subtlety of expression which together have made English such a towering force for human advancement round the world, aren’t we all just poorer? We have fewer tools to do the mass of possible jobs with precision.

It’s as if Rembrandt had only 10 brushes of varying sizes, instead of (say) 16, after a thief steals six. Sure, he’ll manage to do a fine portrait. But it could have been even finer with those extra tools available. And he is diminished and demoralised if he knows that. The issue is all too evident in the quality of writing now being served up in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and across government by the nation’s top graduates. A non-trivial proportion of it is unusable and sent back for reworking: it is simply not precise enough. As a result, a product is produced which is less good and less clear and less authoritative than it could have been.

Sure, not much changes. But standards help keep us all on our toes. And if a general sense of unstoppable ‘declinism’ sets in for our language (and so our very thought) as for everything else, that looks and smells like decay to me.


Short, precise and really I think he makes many valid points. As I always say, the number of speakers of a given language means nothing if the language is not being used correctly and therefore becoming weaker. His worry about English language may be ridiculed since English is a major world language, to the point that others have suggested that English marginalises other languages and often kills them off!  But the worry and concern about his language, is real for him and is legal. In previous posts we saw how people thought that Arabic have millions of speakers why the worry that it will die?  Well I think Charles Crawford just answered that question for us.

His description of language and its life and development is correct, and his view that language is a tool is a view that many linguists including myself hold. It is a tool first and foremost of communication with other people, it allows one to express themselves and so on. But if the language through which you are supposed to express yourself goes unchecked and ‘mistakes’ ( I say mistakes with inverted commas since some linguists do not believe in mistakes as such, any language use for them is right as long as it is right for the speaker..mmm..not sure?) continue to be made by speakers then the language will decline. My quarrel is always that if one claims to speak a language and they think their identity is presented best through that language, well then why not perfect it? Why not learn it well and present yourself through it with confidence? For many Arabic speakers there is this struggle between speaking and identifying with Arabic as their mother tongue but then having no confidence or interest in improving their diction, syntax or grammar and between wanting to learn and perfect their English (which is problematic in itself) since they see that as the door and bridge to their financial success?!

 But I think that Crawford’s article is a lesson in foresight and true understanding of what it means to speak and own, yes own, a language through which you see the world and through which you communicate with the world. If your language declines you decline as a person, as a society and it is not an exaggeration to say as a civilization too! How can you contribute to humanity if you can’t communicate well in any of the languages you claim to know? Watching movies in English and reading a text you understand in English does not determine your level of spoken or written proficiency, mastering the language is another different world- one in which you need to consciously engage and learn by intent. Being born to a family that speaks language x does not give the speaker a guarantee in proficiency either- there has to be a degree of consciousness in both language acquisition and communication.

So are those who feel that Arabic is in danger of decay, decline or death (the triple‘d’) over anxious, unwise, and over exaggerating? I think not. Language is to be looked after like any other living organism; since it lives it can also die. Since it lives it needs care, attention and to often be checked ensuring that ‘standards’ don’t fall, because if that happens then decline of the language means cultural and intellectual death of its people. I rest my case.

  As usual I’ll be glad to discuss this further with any of the readers; I do appreciate your emails, feedback and notes of encouragement- thank you.



Furthr reading:

Skutnabb-Kangas, T (2000) Linguistic genocide in education or worldwide diversity and human rights? Mahwah :Lawrence Erblaum Associates inc.

Crystal, David (2000) Language Death. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Knowles-Berry, Susan. 1987. Linguistic decay in Chontal Mayan: the speech of semi-speakers. Anthropological Linguistics 29:332-341.

Dorian, Nancy C. (1978). Fate of morphological complexity in language death: Evidence from East Sutherland Gaelic. Language, 54 (3), 590-609.

Zuckermann, Ghil’ad (2009) “Aboriginal languages deserve revival”. The Australian Higher Education.

Aitchinson, Jean. (1991). Language change: progress or decay? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dalby, Andrew. (2003). Language in danger: The loss of linguistic diversity and the threat to our future. New York: Columbia University Pres

Al Qasmy: “Arabic is key to identity” the fight to revive Arabic in the UAE

Another post showing the importance the rulers in the UAE are putting into reviving Arabic language among their people. Below is a post about showing that, slightly different from the previous post about Jordan. —————————–

SHARJAH // Arab parents should encourage their children to express “joys, sadness, defeats and victories” in Arabic, or risk separating their young ones from a rich cultural heritage, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, the Ruler of Sharjah, said yesterday. Celebrating Arabic Language Day at the Cultural Palace in Sharjah, he said, “It is very important for Arabs to learn Arabic as it is part of their identity.”

A study by Zayed University last year showed 80 per cent of young Emiratis believed the Arabic language defines their identity. The study was conducted among 200 students at the university. However, it also revealed that 53 per cent of the respondents preferred to watch television shows in English. “Regrettably, focus on the Arabic language is waning despite being the major component of the Arab identity and the strong preserver of our heritage,” the state news agency WAM quoted Dr Sheikh Sultan as saying.

“Increasing care of the Arab communities about the foreign languages to communicate with the world should not eclipse our attention about our Arabic language”, he said, citing common Arabic language errors and frequent use of foreign languages among youth. “The language we use to express our joys, sadness, defeats and victories is inseparable part of our own selves.” The UAE was among several countries that celebrated their language as part of the global Mother Language Day, initiated by Unesco.

Dr Sheikh Sultan has written several books and plays aimed at protecting the Arabic language. He promised financial and moral support to help Arabic language projects in the emirate.As part of the celebration, the Sharjah Museum organised an exhibition, “Calligraphy as an Art”, in which tools used in Arabic calligraphy were displayed.

“The Arabic language with its distinguished linguistics holds the strength to promote nation building and strengthening cultural ties,” said Manal Ataya, director general of the department. “Arabic is also the language of the Holy Quran, the basis of our unity, and the mirror of our present and future.”————————————- END

The study at Sheikh Zayed university is interesting in that 80% of the students felt Arabic defined their identity and yet they preferred watching tv in English. It might be because there is no good tv in Arabic? That’s an uneducated statement with over 100 satellite channels can one really not find something to watch? Mind you maybe that’s the problem?!  It might be because the education system does not encourage or support them to use Arabic and instead rewards the use of English? All these factors play a role in determining how a person views their language in reference to other languages. At least Sultan al Qasmy is taking serious steps to address this problem that he and his fellow rulers find disturbing. So maybe in the future Arabic language will re-flourish once again in the Emirates…who knows? Thanks for reading!  


Jordan: Giving Arabic its rightful place?

Petra's Treasury (al-Khazneh) in southern Jordan.
Image via Wikipedia

The Jordan Times reported that the president of the University of Jordan, has urged lecturers to do their utmost to speak formal Arabic in the classrooms. This has been met with mixed feelings as some people agree whilst others are skeptical of the idea. Below, as usual I have pasted the article without editing…


Standard vs. colloquial Arabic debate surfaces on campus

By Thameen Kheetan

AMMAN – Several students at the University of Jordan (UJ) have criticised UJ President Khalid Karaki’s suggestion that standard Arabic be used in lectures, while many professors welcomed the idea. Last week, Karaki sent a letter to the university’s teaching staff asking them to “do their best to… refrain from utilising colloquial Arabic [amiyya] inside lecture halls,“ because he said amiyya usage affects the national Arabic identity.

“Using the colloquial in addressing each other, in addition to being lax on standard Arabic grammar… is an indication of bad taste and intellectual shallowness,” said the president, who is an Arabic language specialist. He noted that amiyya has become widespread at the expense of formal Arabic, and considered this a threat to the Arab world’s “cultural identity”.

Several students said they would not accept lectures in standard Arabic because they are not used to it in their daily lives and it could lead to difficulties in understanding the course material.

“It’s weird, students will laugh at each other when they speak classical Arabic in class,” 20-year-old Haneen Bisharat told The Jordan Times. The business major pointed out that standard Arabic could be used in language classes that are obligatory for all Jordanian students, as well as optional lectures and activities in order to preserve the classical language, which she admits is fading out.

“I do not agree with the president,” said history student Rami, 21, who added that although he understands the standard Arabic, “I would face difficulties since I am used to amiyya”. Second-year marketing student Zuhdi Abu Issa agreed with him.

“The colloquial dialect creates an atmosphere of fun and comfort,” he told The Jordan Times, and described standard Arabic as “strict, formal and depressing”. Saba Obeidat, who studies theatre, explained that the colloquial makes her feel closer to the professors “as if I am talking to someone in my daily life”.

But many lecturers were partial to Karaki’s proposal. Political science professor Omar Hadrami believes amiyya undermines the language and affects Arabic thought. “It has been taking the place of standard Arabic and the biggest danger is that English words like ‘hi’ and ‘hello’ are being introduced to amiyya,” he told The Jordan Times.

Noting that the president’s suggestion is “very applicable”, he said, “I can feel this in my lectures, during which I always try to speak standard Arabic.” Geophysics and seismology professor Najib Abou Karaki also lauded the idea, but said it would take time to be totally applied on campus.”The main goal should be to make the student understand… it’s OK to adopt classical Arabic as a general trend,” he said, adding that it should be applied in a “flexible” manner so that the language used in lecture halls is also acceptable to students coming from different Arab countries, “who don’t have to master the Jordanian dialect”.

Abeer Dababneh, an assistant professor in the faculty of law noted that many lecturers employ a mixture of standard and colloquial Arabic.She said the implementation of standard Arabic would be difficult in the beginning, but over time, “people will get used to it and won’t find it strange”.”In an academic frame, there should be a formal atmosphere because we are not talking about personal issues,” she told The Jordan Times.

Not all students, however, are averse to the idea.Among them is Obada Shahwan, who studies Sharia (Islamic studies).”Of course I agree… the Koran came in classical Arabic and we should protect our language,” the 22-year-old pointed out.


The most positive aspect about this article is that at least the difference of opinion is in which type of Arabic to use, not the fear that Arabic is not used- something I have not shown for a long time. As far as I know the Jordanian education system emphasises the use of Arabic as a medium of instruction making their students strong and proficient users of their language. They excel in literature, science, and in learning English, and their English is very good which reminds me of a theory in second language acquisition (L2) that states- one’s proficiency in their mother tongue (L1)  will determine their level of proficiency in the second language (L2). So could it be that their English language is so good, often better than those in other Arab states who learn English from nursery, because they were well grounded in Arabic?  Anyway that’s a whole different topic, maybe we can discuss it next time.

 Due to the fact that their Arabic language is so good many of the Arabic teachers in the Gulf schools and universities are Jordanian (and Syrian, Yemeni and Egyptian which gives one an idea of the place Arabic takes in their education system and yet they too worry about the demise of Arabic!) and their early Arabic instruction allows them to be able to teach Arabic at advanced levels.  Both sides acknowledge the importance of Arabic and yet have good arguments for their point of view, I hope that these types of discussions can continue because at least Arabic has been put on centre stage and is not fighting to reclaim its rightful place in an Arabic speaking country.


Source: (The Jordan Times)

Now the writing too?

It’s been a while since I wrote about the linguistic situation of Arabic language! I came across this post and I thought I’d share it with everyone- this is quite serious actually because as the writer points translations are wrong and even the spelling is wrong. I’m just thinking would that happen in England?   I am sure that when we all travel to non-English speaking countries we always find  the English signs amusing because of the wrong spelling or because of the semantic implications of the English (quite comical actually)! But that’s pardonable because English is not their native language that they would know how to correctly translate and respect the semantic parameters right?  But if the officials are not worried about correctness in the use of Arabic language in the public sphere how do we then expect their people to respect the language? If the linguistic landscape is not in accordance with grammar I would say that is a reflection of the linguistic situation among the population. Therefore,  all the language revival efforts/festivals can be put on, all the passionate speeches and articles can be written but for what? What’s the incentive? It’s all confusion, on the one hand to know your language is part of your identity but in practice you can’t even read a menu in Arabic! When will you be confident in using Arabic language?  Once again I am not suggesting that this is true in all Arabic speaking countries, it is not, but it is the true in some  as the post below will illustrate- enjoy!

————————————— extract pasted without editing:


  The Arabic language is in danger, as a member in the English Sabla forum pointed out. Everywhere we go in an Arab country, whether in Oman or outside Oman, we find some signs with incorrect Arabic spelling, incorrect Arabic grammar, mistranslation from English to Arabic and finally some signs with a bit of Arabicization of the English language.

For example, this member from English Sabla took a picture of the menu of The Crepé Café in Muscat City Center. The menu in Arabic looks seriously messed up. I don’t really get it. Isn’t there anyone from the municipality whom is supposed to check those signs, menus and whatever before publishing them? It’s obvious that those signs are done by people whose first language is not Arabic. Maybe they don’t even know a bit of Arabic, but they still get the work of translation and writing those signs in Arabic, and since they know nothing about the Arabic language, they end up messing the signs upside down. But what’s really pathetic is that there is nobody with Arabic origins who double-checks those signs before getting published.

The Arabic language is indeed in danger.

P.S: I know that I’ve had more than one similar post before about Arabic signs in Oman which make no sense, but my point here is till when are we going to see such signs with incorrect Arabic? I can’t believe that nobody from the municipality is taking actions over this… or even noticing it?

[Picture by lost from English Sabla]

——————————————————–end of post

It seems everyone everywhere is worried about the linguistic situation of the Arabic language- and rightly so! Not sure if you see the menu clearly (you can go to the original source to see it closer) but I myself don’t know how they got away with such a huge mistake?! Finally, two questions that will not go away for me: Is there no one who checks these signs/menus?  Do we take this as evidence of the extent to which Arabic language is neglected at least in this country? Still thinking……


Omani Arabizi? Is no one immune to this?

Oman castle


 A wonderful day, great weather and lovely people around me, what more could one ask for whilst taking it easy? I was reading around and as usual I came across this news article in the Oman Observer (dated 2nd June 2010) in which the writer describes his surprise at the spread of Arabizi in Oman.    

I have put it here in full without alteration or editing: ———————————-    

“Arabizi” has found way into my house through junior and his sister. Although we come from the same clan of eastern part of this country where my grandparents were born and brought up, the two have subscribed to a new one. This new clan of theirs speaks a language that is strange to me. But because I am the chief of the house, I am trying very hard to learn it. You know as the saying goes, ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. For those who don’t know, ‘Arabizi’ is a hybrid fusion of Arabic and English. This clan also exists in Spain but there they speak ‘spanglish’ a good combination of Spanish and English.
My effort to learn ‘Arabizi’ is bearing some fruits and in the near future you will realise that I will be using words from that clan including using ‘tsabahing’ for bathing and ‘darabing’ to mean training. Very soon I will start writing in that language of ‘Arabizi’. Right now I have dedicated time to learn how to speak it. These days if somebody starts making up things i.e. being deceptive; I say to him/her “you are kharafing” I learnt that from my teachers, Junior and his sister. They tell me that it is unfashionable for anybody to speak in one language especially for those coming from biangular schools and that is the reason why ‘Arabizi’ was discovered. But I know one reason these children including other teenagers’ use this language is to hide words from their parents particularly when it is used in reference to them. Like the other day when I had overlooked the fact that junior’s sister got unsatisfactory results in her class. I heard her telling junior “Abui is very tayyib these days; I heeb him very much, this term I irisbti but he didn’t nazae me” to which her brother replied ‘stop kharafing and don’t adhab me”
My knowledge of ‘Arabizi’ told me that junior’s sister was saying that I am the best chap in the whole world because I did not put her off after she had brought unsatisfactory results in school.
Globalisation has changed my home so much so that junior and his sister along with their mother and their father (that is me the son of the soil) do not just speak Arabic or just English but a combination of both. This reminds me of one old friend of mine who said “ my grandfather smokes like a chimney and my father drinks like a fish and I am a good combination of both”
Anyway the problem here is that neither proper Arabic nor English are being used. ‘Arabizi’ is now common with teenagers. They use it in verbal and even written communication. The danger is that purity of both Arabic and English language is never maintained.
The father of junior is willing to learn any kind of language at any cost. But there is a limit to how far I can go. For example, I completely refuse to understand the kind of language that is spoken by some spoilt people in this city. These types have a habit of coming to me saying “father of junior, my best friend — the bank has blocked my account and this month I didn’t get any salary. Even some remaining change will help” Another would come saying “father of junior, my saviour — I paid all this month’s salary at my children’s school so much so that I have nothing left”
These types of clans will keep on talking about things you don’t want to hear and in a manner that cannot be said to be interesting. I refuse to understand their kind of language because if I did, I would be forced to wide open my wallet.    


What I found interesting about this article is that it’s personal. The author is living this Arabizi experience and he shows that although he doesn’t like it, he cannot resist it- a fact about language and change. In order to effectively communicate with and understand his children he has to learn this new language and way of being. His small examples of codeswitching/mixing is a natural phenomenon (according to linguists) that almost all bilinguals do when speaking. So when I am in conversation (with people who share my languages) I might switch between up to three languages at a time, it just adds something to the conversation. We can say all those switched words in English, but when we switch the exchanges become more interesting, there is a shared sense of meaning when we codeswitch. This reminds me of something I read about a New York Italian card club, where once a week men of Italian descent would meet and play cards and eat Italian food. What the researcher found was that to feel important, the young 3rd generation American-Italians, were switching into Italian even though they spoke very little Italian if any! How interesting?!    

 Having said that, I think that the writer here makes an important point that it’s not so much the switching that saddens him, but that none of the languages are learned correctly or fully for that matter. And I think that is what I agree with, Arabic is not in danger because of English per se, but ultimately because there is a hurry to learn English before establishing Arabic as a mother tongue.  There is a belief in linguistics, in which we claim that bilinguals have very high IQs because their brains process more than one language at a time and so they are very intelligent at problem solving etc… Recently, this blanket term of ‘bilingual’ has been looked at closely, and what is emerging is that in order for this intelligence to be attributed, the speaker has to be fluent, well accomplished and very confident in their first language, before learning a second language (consecutive bilingual).  Or that they learn two languages at the same time, with the same input and are able to articulate both languages at the same level of proficiency (simultaneous bilingual). This is where true codeswitching becomes so easy because many of us grew up speaking more than two languages. But if you have a child who barely knows one language and then begins to learn another language and even that language they do not perfect- there is a problem. May be this is a linguist’s paranoia but I think a language needs to be understood really well, because language is more than just words.  Each language is a world view, a way of thinking, being, and seeing others and a speaker appreciates this the more they know the language. It is the most effective tool by which we communicate, get that wrong, everything else will go too. I usually sit and think what is the frame of mind of these speakers who do not master any language, but mix and  mesh? Interesting! I would love to read on that topic, I hope someone somewhere is doing the research and we’ll benefit from the outcome soon.  Notice how he refuses to ‘understand’ Arabizi, he claims if he acknowledges it, he will be obliged to give them money. Another evidence that language is more than just words,(see Steven Pinker’s book here) it induces action, emotions and obligations upon the hearer.  Once again as I always say I am keeping my eyes open to see the developments of Arabizi in the next few years and into the next decade. I wonder if there will be a generation of Arabizi only speakers, fancy that?!       

Oman dunes 2008



Suggested readings:    

Auer,J.P.C (1984) ‘Bilingual Conversation’ Amsterdam: John Benjamins    

Li Wei (2000) ‘The bilingualism reader’ London: SAGE    

Hamers, J and Blanc, M (2000) ‘Bilingualism and Bilinguality’ 2nd edition. Cambridge: CUP    

Romaine, S (2000) ‘Language in Society: an introduction in sociolinguistics’. Oxford, OUP

Arab culture and language in danger: Qatar and the UAE

Yet another posting on this interesting issue, Arabic as a language seems to be neglected in both the UAE and Qatar. I quote a recent article, which is short and yet to the point. The author makes it clear that Arabic is in real danger because there is no encouragement for the speakers to use it in all spheres of their lives, even the education system cannot ensure Arabic (or English for that matter) is learned and taught correctly.


Arabic’s Uncertain Future Has Troubling Cultural Implications

by Sarah Amandolare

Arabic is being replaced by English in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, prompting concerns about the preservation of national identity and culture.

Fallout of the Shift to English

According to Tom Hundley in a piece for Global Post, Arabic has fallen behind English and Hindu to become only “the third most-spoken language in the United Arab Emirates.” Although this is “hardly surprising” since most of the population consists of foreign workers, the loss of Arabic would also mean a loss of “their sense of national identity,” writes Hundley.

There are “more than 300 million native speakers” of Arabic around the world, so the language will likely “survive as one of the world’s major languages.” However, in specific places, including UAE and Qatar, Arabic has become “endangered,” experts tell Hundley. In some cities, such as Dubai, children have adopted “a kind of pidgin Arabic” from their caretakers, often nannies from Pakistan or the Philippines.

Higher Education in the Gulf region is also rapidly shifting to English as universities from the U.S., Britain and Australia set up campuses. However, sources tell Hundley that the issue begins in primary school, where students are being taught a combination of English and Arabic, but failing to perfect either one.

Demand for Arabic speakers

While Arabic has become less desirable in some parts of the Middle East, the U.S. is sorely in need of Arabic speakers to fill foreign service positions. The need for U.S. Foreign Service officers in the Middle East “has skyrocketed” since 9/11, explained Josh Kurlantzick in a 2007 piece for The New Republic. With that, the U.S. government faces the added pressure of training “a new generation of Arabic, Farsi and Chinese speakers,” he writes.

Background: Languages in danger

In April 2009, the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger showed more than 200 languages had become extinct. The United States is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, but it also has one of the largest numbers of endangered languages. India, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico are all countries with similar linguistic situations as the United States— many spoken tongues, but also many endangered or extinct languages. Of the some 6000 languages spoken worldwide, it is thought that nearly half of them are endangered.

In a 2007 TED talk focused on cultures at the far edges of the world, National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis explained that nearly half of the languages spoken on Earth are no longer taught to children, making these languages essentially obsolete. Davis cited a statistic that a language dies off almost every two weeks, and went on to describe how languages shape the way we think, and can represent a complete history of a people.


It is quite ironic really that those outside the Middle Eastern countries are working hard to learn Arabic language, and yet those who have Arabic as a first language are losing it, for many reasons (as we have discussed in previous postings). So on the one hand we have those who will lose the language and the culture and all that relates to Arabic, and we will have those who selectively learn the language (without the cultural implications of course) for their own purposes.  As I have said before, this region is one to watch over the coming decade, if Arabic as a language survives at all levels of society (not just governmental or in classrooms) then Arabic has a future. Otherwise it may be that one day when reading about these countries in an atlas or Encarta, we might read an entry like: COUNTRY (UAE or Qatar) languages spoken, English, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic…. (in order of number of speakers). Did I exaggerate? Some linguists might argue that a decade is too long, since for some language conservationists look at languages on a day-to-day or week to week basis. Whatever the truth of the matter (I have presented in this blog many discussions about this topic and many have research evidence) there needs to be a quick investigation into the issue and it must be resolved for the sake of the people in the region. Many Arabs perhaps feel that their language can never die, but I say that a language lives as long as its speakers have faith that through it they can express themselves and through it they can feel like any other people speaking their language and feel a sense of belonging. Without faith in a language, the language dies and so do the values, histories, and stories of that language.


See also:   (Unesco’s world languages in danger)

Original article in the Global Post: