Omani Arabizi? Is no one immune to this?

Oman castle


 A wonderful day, great weather and lovely people around me, what more could one ask for whilst taking it easy? I was reading around and as usual I came across this news article in the Oman Observer (dated 2nd June 2010) in which the writer describes his surprise at the spread of Arabizi in Oman.    

I have put it here in full without alteration or editing: ———————————-    

“Arabizi” has found way into my house through junior and his sister. Although we come from the same clan of eastern part of this country where my grandparents were born and brought up, the two have subscribed to a new one. This new clan of theirs speaks a language that is strange to me. But because I am the chief of the house, I am trying very hard to learn it. You know as the saying goes, ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. For those who don’t know, ‘Arabizi’ is a hybrid fusion of Arabic and English. This clan also exists in Spain but there they speak ‘spanglish’ a good combination of Spanish and English.
My effort to learn ‘Arabizi’ is bearing some fruits and in the near future you will realise that I will be using words from that clan including using ‘tsabahing’ for bathing and ‘darabing’ to mean training. Very soon I will start writing in that language of ‘Arabizi’. Right now I have dedicated time to learn how to speak it. These days if somebody starts making up things i.e. being deceptive; I say to him/her “you are kharafing” I learnt that from my teachers, Junior and his sister. They tell me that it is unfashionable for anybody to speak in one language especially for those coming from biangular schools and that is the reason why ‘Arabizi’ was discovered. But I know one reason these children including other teenagers’ use this language is to hide words from their parents particularly when it is used in reference to them. Like the other day when I had overlooked the fact that junior’s sister got unsatisfactory results in her class. I heard her telling junior “Abui is very tayyib these days; I heeb him very much, this term I irisbti but he didn’t nazae me” to which her brother replied ‘stop kharafing and don’t adhab me”
My knowledge of ‘Arabizi’ told me that junior’s sister was saying that I am the best chap in the whole world because I did not put her off after she had brought unsatisfactory results in school.
Globalisation has changed my home so much so that junior and his sister along with their mother and their father (that is me the son of the soil) do not just speak Arabic or just English but a combination of both. This reminds me of one old friend of mine who said “ my grandfather smokes like a chimney and my father drinks like a fish and I am a good combination of both”
Anyway the problem here is that neither proper Arabic nor English are being used. ‘Arabizi’ is now common with teenagers. They use it in verbal and even written communication. The danger is that purity of both Arabic and English language is never maintained.
The father of junior is willing to learn any kind of language at any cost. But there is a limit to how far I can go. For example, I completely refuse to understand the kind of language that is spoken by some spoilt people in this city. These types have a habit of coming to me saying “father of junior, my best friend — the bank has blocked my account and this month I didn’t get any salary. Even some remaining change will help” Another would come saying “father of junior, my saviour — I paid all this month’s salary at my children’s school so much so that I have nothing left”
These types of clans will keep on talking about things you don’t want to hear and in a manner that cannot be said to be interesting. I refuse to understand their kind of language because if I did, I would be forced to wide open my wallet.    


What I found interesting about this article is that it’s personal. The author is living this Arabizi experience and he shows that although he doesn’t like it, he cannot resist it- a fact about language and change. In order to effectively communicate with and understand his children he has to learn this new language and way of being. His small examples of codeswitching/mixing is a natural phenomenon (according to linguists) that almost all bilinguals do when speaking. So when I am in conversation (with people who share my languages) I might switch between up to three languages at a time, it just adds something to the conversation. We can say all those switched words in English, but when we switch the exchanges become more interesting, there is a shared sense of meaning when we codeswitch. This reminds me of something I read about a New York Italian card club, where once a week men of Italian descent would meet and play cards and eat Italian food. What the researcher found was that to feel important, the young 3rd generation American-Italians, were switching into Italian even though they spoke very little Italian if any! How interesting?!    

 Having said that, I think that the writer here makes an important point that it’s not so much the switching that saddens him, but that none of the languages are learned correctly or fully for that matter. And I think that is what I agree with, Arabic is not in danger because of English per se, but ultimately because there is a hurry to learn English before establishing Arabic as a mother tongue.  There is a belief in linguistics, in which we claim that bilinguals have very high IQs because their brains process more than one language at a time and so they are very intelligent at problem solving etc… Recently, this blanket term of ‘bilingual’ has been looked at closely, and what is emerging is that in order for this intelligence to be attributed, the speaker has to be fluent, well accomplished and very confident in their first language, before learning a second language (consecutive bilingual).  Or that they learn two languages at the same time, with the same input and are able to articulate both languages at the same level of proficiency (simultaneous bilingual). This is where true codeswitching becomes so easy because many of us grew up speaking more than two languages. But if you have a child who barely knows one language and then begins to learn another language and even that language they do not perfect- there is a problem. May be this is a linguist’s paranoia but I think a language needs to be understood really well, because language is more than just words.  Each language is a world view, a way of thinking, being, and seeing others and a speaker appreciates this the more they know the language. It is the most effective tool by which we communicate, get that wrong, everything else will go too. I usually sit and think what is the frame of mind of these speakers who do not master any language, but mix and  mesh? Interesting! I would love to read on that topic, I hope someone somewhere is doing the research and we’ll benefit from the outcome soon.  Notice how he refuses to ‘understand’ Arabizi, he claims if he acknowledges it, he will be obliged to give them money. Another evidence that language is more than just words,(see Steven Pinker’s book here) it induces action, emotions and obligations upon the hearer.  Once again as I always say I am keeping my eyes open to see the developments of Arabizi in the next few years and into the next decade. I wonder if there will be a generation of Arabizi only speakers, fancy that?!       

Oman dunes 2008



Suggested readings:    

Auer,J.P.C (1984) ‘Bilingual Conversation’ Amsterdam: John Benjamins    

Li Wei (2000) ‘The bilingualism reader’ London: SAGE    

Hamers, J and Blanc, M (2000) ‘Bilingualism and Bilinguality’ 2nd edition. Cambridge: CUP    

Romaine, S (2000) ‘Language in Society: an introduction in sociolinguistics’. Oxford, OUP