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Speaking last month (Feb 21st 2010) at the Society for the Protection of Arabic Language based in Sharjah, UAE Sultan Al Qasmy the ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah, called for new important and necessary steps to restore Arabic as the rightful language of the natives.

Celebrating the UNESCO Mother Language Day 2010(www.unesco.org/en/languages-and-multilingualism/) Al Qasmy gave a speech about the central  importance of Arabic language to those who consider it their mother tongue. However, in the same breath he went on to express his sadness and disappointment in the deterioration of the language among its speakers. This is especially because, in his opinion, it is the most important marker of a speaker’s identity. Additionally he added that it is only through the Arabic language that culture and customs can be preserved and their symbolic meanings understood by speakers today and ultimately those in the future.  He also emphasised that Arabic language if learned and used correctly could act as a bridge-builder between all speakers of Arabic despite their dialects. Often Arabs from different countries are sometimes forced to speak a foreign language (such as English or French) in order to communicate because their dialects are unintelligible to one another (a topic for another post!).

He further emphasised that: “…the increasing interest our Arab society has for foreign languages because of the need to communicate with the world for reasons of education, culture and humanitarian benefits should not mean that we feel less pride or disregard our Arabic language”. He went on to describe what he has noticed among the young, that they use Arabic incorrectly and make basic mistakes whilst speaking. And there is also their consistent use of English in everyday conversation not out of a communicative need but out of style and habit.  This final observation echoes the statements that Sheikha Mouza, first lady of Qatar made this month (see previous post of Sheikha Mouza here on Arabizi) about the danger Arabic language faces because of its over-mixing with English.  As you can see I am quoting two high-profile figures in the Middle East airing concern about the current state of Arabic. These are the people on the ground and due to their positions we can say that they meet many people across the Arab world and so are better suited to make such candid statements and comments. What is the solution to all this? There are people at grass-root levels also complaining about the state of Arabic language and its future (see any blog discussing this) and now there are individuals at the top echoing the same fear. If everybody feels this way surely there can be no doubt that Arabic is under threat and action needs to be taken.

This is the second time this month I am posting something on the worry over the current use of Arabic and anxiety over its future.  This cannot be considered as an unfounded fear or panic without evidence, it seems that everyone who makes this claim has evidence. So what is happening to Arabic and why? It has so many speakers and yet all this fear- what is the reality?

Sultan Al Qasmy continues passionately: “Arabic language is the only way we can express our happiness, sorrows, sadness, and victories; it is a part that cannot be separated from our beings and we cannot leave it or allow it to weaken for by that we allow ourselves to be weakened”.  To show his seriousness and to qualify this statement he went on to say that there is now a heavy and important responsibility on those in leadership positions, positions of responsibility; and most notably those in the education and teaching sector and anybody who felt strongly about Arabic language and grammar. Proposing a possible  solution Al Qasmy went on to suggest that one effective way would be for teachers and educators to find new ways of making Arabic fun and attractive to children in a bid to plant the love of Arabic in the hearts of children and young people. He said teachers and educators should move away from traditional, often boring, methods of instruction and use modern more attractive teaching formats; and move away from making the subject one in which students expect to fail and cannot connect it to their everyday life.

I will translate the rest of the speech in the next post.  Taken and translated from the original Arabic to English from: http://ae.2lex.org/2010/02/22