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.
(The Jordan Times)