“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.

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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

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.

Naming rights: Why star names will always be in Arabic

I have finally found some time to write-up this post that I have been thinking about for a while now since being shown a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium discussing something I had never given much thought to. Something that he calls “naming rights” the idea of who has the right to name something, in their language and more importantly to name it first? Why do they have that right? And how does language fit into all of that? It is a loaded idea both politically and linguistically but it is something that illustrates the ubiquitous and ever-important nature that language carries more than just simple communicative messages (like the ball is green for example). By simply naming something in one language and not in another and by virtue of people using that same name to refer to it regardless of their language is an indicator of how human civilisation works and is built and again more importantly how language is an indicator of the power of knowledge and discovery. As DeGrasse says, “if you get there first you get to name it first” and others have to accommodate themselves, he gives two simple examples: first, the internet and that it was the Americans who exploited its use first and so they get to have the  default web address of .com but all other countries are forced to use other endings such as,  .co.uk/ .ae/ .fr/ .au/ and so on. Secondly, he  says that because the British were the first to make the postage stamp we until today are the only country who do not have to say where the stamp originates from, whereas all others must indicate country of origin. That’s naming rights, it’s about getting there first and doing it well so that it stands the test of time, and no one can take that away from its original creators.

DeGrasse mentions in the clip that almost 2/3 of all star names are in fact in Arabic! The numbers we use today (in English and most languages) are referred to as “Arabic numerals” and there is whole host of English words that originated from Arabicto not only English but many other world languages! How? and Why? That is the question. DeGrasse points out important reasons of why not only Arab scholars but more importantly why Arabic language was once a language of inquiry, reasoning, genius and innovation and also offers his explanation of why it no longer is.

At the beginning of the video he correctly reminds the audience that there are many cultures in the world that excelled and superseded other nations in one subject or another, but that there comes a time when they reach a peak and then sometimes it drops off and other times they manage to hang on. But what he is interested in is what allows for that to take place? Of course I will not transcribe the whole video but I think the reasons are important to dwell over. He points out that between 800AD and 1100 AD Baghdad was the centre of knowledge and learning because it opened its doors up to all people, Christians, Jews, doubters (atheists/agnostics) and everybody was allowed to excel regardless of their background and this according to him is what made that time so unique, fertile and we still feel the effects of that success today. For example the discovery of the zero, algebra, algorithm, establishment of advanced hospitals (where some were diseases specific something unprecedented at the time) and many other contributions (see http://www.1001inventions.com/ or videos on that here).

Why am I talking about this on Arabizi? Simple really because many Arab scholars of today are not sure how to get Arabic language to be one of advancement, education, knowledge or simply to be one of practical use by its speakers. Which is something I discuss a lot here on Arabizi, is it diglossia, it is the English language, is it the dialects, or is it poor education that has put the Arabic language in this situation? In that 300 year period in Baghdad they questioned everything with a curious mind and welcomed everyone –perhaps that is the solution? Use both English and Arabic in education (which some Gulf universities are implementing right now which is exciting) that way Arabic can be used academically and use English because it is undoubtedly the language of knowledge today, allow people regardless of their background to have access to all the appropriate facilities and maybe, just maybe we might see something changing in the current path that the Arabic language is taking. It will never be like Baghdad because we live in different times and different political and social environments but Arabic still has the ability to be a language of real inquiry and research in its own right. Naming rights are only for those languages whose speakers have excelled and benefitted humans in knowledge that’s it…you offer something your language is not only used but preserved…… what do you think? I will not spoil it by telling you what caused this so-called “golden-age” to end you’ll have to watch the video for that I’m afraid…but it was disastrous, completely uncalled for and detrimental to the Arabic and Islamic societies the world over and I dare say it has impeded and disabled these societies from looking at the pursuit of knowledge (for the benefit of human beings and even religious knowledge [which has its own crazy issues]) the way they once did in great Baghdad…….enjoy

If you have any comments to add please do so, it is controversial and some people may not like what he is saying but being open- minded is the first step to solving so-called problems right?  I’ll be posting next in September (guest post on humour and Arabic I have a treat in store for you)….Ramadhan (month of fasting) is round the corner please feel free to read my Ramadhan and Arabizi post here in the archives since its relevant right now…..thanks for reading.

That New York Times article, what I really meant & other updates

Many of you know that I participated in a New York Times article discussing the language of instruction in higher education in the Gulf with special interest on Qatar (which has now been copied, pasted, and quoted in many other forums, newspapers and blogs). To get to the point, some readers found it offensive that I blamed the Thai/Philippine accent on the demise or weakness of Arabic among Gulf speakers- I did not. I did not blame any accent and really to make a relationship between the two is nonsensical, immature and unheard of in linguistics. What readers must appreciate is, that the journalist will interview the participant for 15-20 minutes and then he’ll pick and choose which quotes look good where. He has to build his story, each writer has a focus and intention behind the questions they ask and how they want their readers to understand their story of interest. The other thing is that the journalist is not a linguist and so cannot be blamed for linguistic/language learning misconceptions misread in the article, the onus is on us linguists to deliver the correct information. I did explain this on Twitter but felt compelled to do so here in case the same was felt by other readers, this is not an apology – just a clarification. Why did I say that some children in the Gulf speak with a Thai of Philippine accent? Simply to illustrate to the writer the multicultural multilingual environment many children in the gulf grow up in. With domestic maids from the Far East many children’s initial exposure to English is through these maids and so if their parents speak no English (or very bad English) they can only learn from the maids hence the acquisition of the accent.  Thereafter, throughout their lives the linguistic landscape of young people growing up in the Gulf gets ever more complex and in the end everyone worries about the status of Arabic language and it’s future (not to mention the poor English standards as well) etc….something I’ve talked about before on this blog and at length in a book chapter I wrote last year (“Ahyaanan I text in English ‘ashaan it’s ashal: Language Crisis or Linguistic Development? The Case of How Gulf Arabs Perceive the Future of their Language, Culture, and Identity” a bit of a mouthful).  As always I am open to comments/ discussion on this if anyone wishes, just leave a comment on the blog and I’ll be happy to reply.

On a different note, Twitter is now available in Arabic!!! Which means that people who prefer to use the Arabic version can without any worries (simply choose Arabic under languages). There are adequate substitutes for retweet, favourite, direct message and we are still working to translate words so they make sense in Arabic properly (not half-baked translations). If you are on Twitter and wish to follow the progress of this development or wish to participate follow @taghreedat for more info. There are also efforts by the founders of Taghreedat to make the first collaborative online Arabic dictionary so far it’s going well and I’ll update you as more information comes through.

My next post will be on naming rights as an outcome of strong and cultured civilization and what language has to do with it all, it will be based on a video lecture which I will put up….I promise you it will be an interesting video to watch. That may well be the last post (I might also get a guest post on Arabic and humour :))  for a while and I’ll hopefully resume posting after September depending on my thesis writing/revision commitments at the time. Without intending to nag anyone, please avoid plagiarising from this blog, as I hate receiving emails from teachers and tutors about that, at the moment I have been advised to move the site to another platform…please stop copying simply refer to my sources or quote the blog URL (which I usually give permission for, after an email from the student).  Thank you for comments, emails, questions and welcome to new readers from Tunisia, Nicaragua and Poland!

Arab Linguistic Imperialism and the Decline of Arabic: Does anyone speak Arabic? Part 1

In trying to understand the sociolinguistic situation of Arabic all avenues and opinions must be considered, I have pasted below an article/paper by Franck Salameh a professor at Boston College, with interest in Arabic, nationalism and in particular Lebanese politics and history.  He is concerned with presenting a clear picture of what Arabic language means to Arabic speakers and considers issues not from a panic-stricken premise but from a thoughtful stance informed by facts, history, experience and research. He connects language with important social variables like Arabism, identity, and what it means to speak Arabic, which is ideal if one is trying to understand a linguistic situation of language said to be in decline.  He questions and provokes the reader in general, and the Arab linguist in particular his ideas are important in any debate on the future of Arabic language. I have broken the article into two separate posts, I enjoyed reading it and thought to share it with everyone even though I did not agree with everything he wrote (the map above shows the countries in which Arabic is the official language).

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Does Anyone Speak Arabic?

Middle East Quarterly
 Fall 2011

In August 2010, Associated Press staffer Zeina Karam wrote an article, picked up by The Washington Post and other news outlets, that tackled a cultural, and arguably political, issue that had been making headlines for quite some time in the Middle East: the question of multilingualism and the decline of the Arabic language in polyglot, multiethnic Middle Eastern societies.[1] Lebanon was Karam’s case study: an Eastern Mediterranean nation that had for the past century been the testing grounds for iconoclastic ideas and libertine tendencies muzzled and curbed elsewhere in the Arab world.[2] However, by inquiring into what is ailing the Arabic language—the nimbus and supreme symbol of “Arabness”—the author aimed straight at the heart of Arab nationalism and the strict, linguistic orthodoxy that it mandated, putting in question its most basic tenet: Who is an Arab?

Arabic and Arabism

For most of the twentieth century, Arabs, Arab nationalists, and their Western devotees tended to substitute Arab for Middle Eastern history, as if the narratives, storylines, and paradigms of other groups mattered little or were the byproduct of alien sources far removed from the authentic, well-ordered, harmonious universe of the “Arab world.”[3] As such, they held most Middle Easterners to be Arab even if only remotely associated with the Arabs and even if alien to the experiences, language, or cultural proclivities of Arabs. In the words of Sati al-Husri (1880-1967), a Syrian writer and the spiritual father of linguistic Arab nationalism: Every person who speaks Arabic is an Arab. Every individual associated with an Arabic-speaker or with an Arabic-speaking people is an Arab. If he does not recognize [his Arabness] … we must look for the reasons that have made him take this stand … But under no circumstances should we say: “As long as he does not wish to be an Arab, and as long as he is disdainful of his Arabness, then he is not an Arab.” He is an Arab regardless of his own wishes, whether ignorant, indifferent, recalcitrant, or disloyal; he is an Arab, but an Arab without consciousness or feelings, and perhaps even without conscience.[4] This ominous admonition to embrace a domineering Arabism is one constructed on an assumed linguistic unity of the Arab peoples; a unity that a priori presumes the Arabic language itself to be a unified, coherent verbal medium, used by all members of Husri’s proposed nation. Yet Arabic is not a single, uniform language. It is, on the one hand, a codified, written standard that is never spoken natively and that is accessible only to those who have had rigorous training in it. On the other hand, Arabic is also a multitude of speech forms, contemptuously referred to as “dialects,” differing from each other and from the standard language itself to the same extent that French is different from other Romance languages and from Latin. Still, Husri’s dictum, “You’re an Arab if I say so!” became an article of faith for Arab nationalists. It also condensed the chilling finality with which its author and his acolytes foisted their blanket Arab label on the mosaic of peoples, ethnicities, and languages that had defined the Middle East for millennia prior to the advent of twentieth-century Arab nationalism.[5] But if Husri had been intimidating in his advocacy for a forced Arabization, his disciple Michel Aflaq (1910-89), founder of the Baath Party, promoted outright violence and cruelty against those users of the Arabic language who refused to conform to his prescribed, overarching, Arab identity. Arab nationalists must be ruthless with those members of the nation who have gone astray from Arabism, wrote Aflaq, “…they must be imbued with a hatred unto death, toward any individuals who embody an idea contrary to Arab nationalism. Arab nationalists must never dismiss opponents of Arabism as mere individuals … An idea that is opposed to ours does not emerge out of nothing! It is the incarnation of individuals who must be exterminated, so that their idea might in turn be also exterminated. Indeed, the presence in our midst of a living opponent of the Arab national idea vivifies it and stirs the blood within us. And any action we might take [against those who have rejected Arabism] that does not arouse in us living emotions, that does not make us feel the orgasmic shudders of love, that does not spark in us quivers of hate, and that does not send the blood coursing in our veins and make our pulse beat faster is, ultimately, a sterile action.”[6] Therein lay the foundational tenets of Arab nationalism and the Arabist narrative of Middle Eastern history as preached by Husri, Aflaq, and their cohorts: hostility, rejection, negation, and brazen calls for the annihilation of the non-Arab “other.” Yet despite the dominance of such disturbing Arabist and Arab nationalist readings, the Middle East in both its modern and ancient incarnations remains a patchwork of varied cultures, ethnicities, and languages that cannot be tailored into a pure and neat Arab essence without distorting and misinforming. Other models of Middle Eastern identities exist, and a spirited Middle Eastern, intellectual tradition that challenges the monistic orthodoxies of Arab nationalism endures and deserves recognition and validation.

The Arabic Language Debate

Take for instance one of the AP article’s interviewees who lamented the waning of the Arabic language in Lebanese society and the rise in the numbers of Francophone and Anglophone Lebanese, suggesting “the absence of a common language between individuals of the same country mean[s] losing [one’s] common identity”—as if places like Switzerland and India, each with respectively four and twenty-three official, national—often mutually incomprehensible—speech forms, were lesser countries or suffered more acute identity crises than ostensibly cohesive, monolingual societies. In fact, the opposite is often true: Monolingualism is no more a precondition or motivation for cultural and ethnic cohesiveness than multilingualism constitutes grounds for national incoherence and loss of a common identity. Irishmen, Scotsmen, Welsh, and Jamaicans are all native English-speakers but not Englishmen. The AP could have acknowledged that glaring reality, which has been a hallmark of the polyglot multiethnic Middle East for millennia. This, of course, is beside the fact that for many Lebanese—albeit mainly Christians—multilingualism and the appeal of Western languages is simply a way of heeding history and adhering to the country’s hybrid ethnic and linguistic heritage. Cultural anthropologist Selim Abou argued that notwithstanding Lebanon’s millenarian history and the various and often contradictory interpretations of that history, the country’s endogenous and congenital multilingualism—and by extension that of the entire Levantine littoral —remains indisputable. He wrote: From the very early dawn of history up to the conquests of Alexander the Great, and from the times of Alexander until the dawning of the first Arab Empire, and finally, from the coming of the Arabs up until modern times, the territory we now call Lebanon—and this is based on the current state of archaeological and historical discoveries—has always practiced some form of bilingualism and polyglossia; one of the finest incarnations of intercultural dialogue and coexistence.[7] So much, then, for linguistic chauvinism and language protectionism. The Arabic language will survive the onslaught of multilingualism but only if its users will it to survive by speaking it rather than by hallowing it and by refraining from creating conservation societies that build hedges around it to shield it from desuetude. Even avid practitioners of multilingualism in Lebanon, who were never necessarily talented or devoted Arabophones, have traditionally been supportive of the idea of preserving Arabic in the roster of Lebanese languages—albeit not guarding and fixing it by way of mummification, cultural dirigisme, or rigid linguistic planning. Though opposed in principle to Arab nationalism’s calls for the insulation of linguistically libertine Lebanon “in the solitude of a troubled and spiteful nationalism … [and] linguistic totalitarianism,” Lebanese thinker Michel Chiha (1891-1954) still maintained that: “Arabic is a wonderful language … the language of millions of men. We wouldn’t be who we are today if we, the Lebanese of the twentieth century, were to forgo the prospect of becoming [Arabic’s] most accomplished masters to the same extent that we had been its masters some one hundred years ago … But how can one not heed the reality that a country such as ours would be literally decapitated if prevented from being bilingual (or even trilingual if possible)? … [We must] retain this lesson if we are intent on protecting ourselves from self-inflicted deafness, which would in turn lead us into mutism.?”[8] Another fallacy reiterated in the AP article was the claim that “Arabic is believed to be spoken as a first language by more than 280 million people.”[9] Even if relying solely on the field of Arabic linguistics—which seldom bothers with the trivialities of precise cognomens denoting varieties of language, preferring instead the overarching and reductive lahja (dialect/accent) and fusha (Modern Standard Arabic, MSA) dichotomy to, say, the French classifications of langue, langage, parler, dialecte, langue vérnaculaire, créole, argot, patois, etc.—Zeina Karam’s arithmetic still remains in the sphere of folklore and fairy tale, not concrete, objective fact. Indeed, no serious linguist can claim the existence of a real community of “280 million people” who speak Arabic at any level of native proficiency, let alone a community that can speak Arabic “as a first language.”

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Part two will follow next week, I think many of the points raised are quite controversial and I din’t agree with everything he writes. But such provocations are needed if any real debate of Arabic will take place and if any real solution to the current situation of Arabic can be agreed on.  Some of the people he quotes were analysing the situation of Arabic over a decade ago, and some of their insights are applicable today and some are not, so Arabic sociolinguists need to step up and continue where those scholars left off. Technology, travel, politics and media play major roles in how languages survive, thrive or begin a decline, and Arabic is no different-real authentic research is needed and soon.

I did promise that I would be interviewing a second author for the Pioneers Of Arabic series, unfortunately it seems the author is very busy and has not been able to follow through with the interview which is unfortunate. Therefore in the meantime I am on the search for a new author and as soon as I find one I will post the interview here, thanks for recent comments and welcome to new readers in Malaysia- salamat detung :)!!


Footnotes
:

Franck Salameh is assistant professor of Near Eastern studies at Boston College and author of Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East: The Case for Lebanon (Lexington Books, 2010). He thanks research assistant Iulia Padeanu for her valuable contributions to this essay.

[1] Zeina Karam, “Lebanon Tries to Retain Arabic in Polyglot Culture,” The Washington Post, Aug. 16, 2010. For more on Arabic language decline, see Mahmoud al-Batal, “Identity and Language Tension in Lebanon: The Arabic of Local News at LBCI,” in Aleya Rouchdy, ed., Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic: Variations on a Sociolinguistic Theme (London: Curzon Arabic Linguistics Series, 2002);Al-Ittijah al-Mu’akis, Al-Jazeera TV (Doha), Aug. 1, 2000, Aug. 28, 2001; Zeina Hashem Beck, “Is the Arabic Language ‘Perfect’ or ‘Backwards’?” The Daily Star (Beirut), Jan. 7, 2005; Hashem Saleh, “Tajrubat al-Ittihad al-‘Urubby… hal Tanjah ‘Arabiyan?” Asharq al-Awsat (London), June 21, 2005.

[2] Fouad Ajami, “The Autumn of the Autocrats,” Foreign Affairs, May-June, 2005.

[3] Elie Kedourie, “Not So Grand Illusions,” The New York Review of Books, Nov. 23, 1967.

[4] Abu Khaldun Sati Al-Husri, Abhath Mukhtara fi-l-Qawmiyya al-‘Arabiya (Beirut: Markaz Dirasat al-Wihda al-‘Arabiya, 1985), p. 80.

[5] Franck Salameh, Language Memory and Identity in the Middle East: The Case for Lebanon (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2010), pp. 9-10.

[6] Michel Aflaq, Fi Sabil al-Ba’ath (Beirut: Dar at-Tali’a, 1959), pp. 40-1.

[7] Selim Abou, Le bilinguisme Arabe-Français au Liban (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1962), pp. 157-8.

[8] Michel Chiha, Visage et Présence du Liban (Beirut: Editions du Trident, 1984), p. 49-52, 164.

[9] Karam, “Lebanon Tries to Retain Arabic.”

Source: http://www.meforum.org/3066/does-anyonespeak-arabic