Sheikha Mouza: ‘The Arabic language is in danger because of “trendy English phrases” ‘ 23rd March 2010 reports on Sheikha Mouza’s trip to a Jeddah women’s college. She addressed the women about the importance of education for them as Gulf citizens and her firm belief that women deserve the same educational opportunity as their male counterparts. Qatar’s first lady is very popular among young Gulf women especially those in education or university students because she understands what it means to live in that part of the world and to be a woman. 

For any researcher this is excellent data, a type of reality of how Arabic is used on the ground, and a testimony by a speaker themselves not an outside researcher! 

 She spoke about education and its importance and in the same breath warned against the weakening of Arabic because of English phrases. It is very common for a televison/satellite channel presenter to begin speaking Arabic (Modern Standard or slang)  and then insert many English phrases in place of Arabic ones, even though the Arabic lexicon has words that can express the same meanings.  A lot of codeswitching takes place and some people do not see the use of it. For example they might say (excuse the non use of IPA characters still working on getting them on this blog:

Tayyib ya jama’ah naakhudh BREAK wa narja’  BYE

okay everyone let’s take a break and then come back bye

Both these English words are available in Arabic but the switching still took place. There are many other examples but I do not have them at hand.

The most frequent codeswitching I have seen is on shows that discuss fashion and beauty or movies.  All the information will be given in Arabic and then there are continuous insertions of English words, such as; lip gloss, style, hair, dryer, perm, colour, eyeshadow and many others etc..  Is Arabic that weak that it does not have these words available for its speakers? 

It is interseting that the first lady chose to speak about education and language threat at the same time! Do the two relate to eachother? If so how? Most of the higher education in the Gulf is in English and increasingly so is the medium of instruction in most secondary schools- so why the sudden warning? Is Arabic really under threat? This is what I asked in one of my initial postings. Do we blame English?  Part of the answer may lay in the symbolic meaning of English as a language in the Gulf. It may stand for sophistication,  a certain prestige or more precisely a status marker meaning that perhaps the speaker is educated. But seriously is English forced upon these speakers?

Is English to blame or are the speakers the reason? The so-called danger English poses to Arabic is a topic of great debate in the Middle East. Many different opinions and many different suggestions of how to overcome these fears are becoming increasingly popular. The situation is very complex and those in charge of the language planning and policy perhaps need to look closely at language use in Education and other spheres of interaction. If many people, both unknown and those of a high profile such as Sheikha Mouza say Arabic is in danger may be they have a point.  But the solution?