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: