Can humour help preserve Arabic among native speakers? Guest post

It’s great to be back after a good break, Ramadhan, lots of writing (and thinking!) and of course the absolutely wonderful mind-boggling Paralympics sadly now over. A warm welcome to new readers and fellow WordPress bloggers, and apologies for late replies to comments and emails.  As promised in July, this is a short and to-the-point guest post by Lina al-Adnani about the sorry situation of Arabic language proficiency amongst its native speakers. The post is based on her current ongoing research about the role humour may play in highlighting that situation to Arabic speakers. She is an artist and creative person doing her MA in Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries at Central St. Martins. You can imagine my fascination at the creative link between issues of language shift or language change with the idea of humour. Her passion for the topic and her zeal for the project impressed me so much I asked her  to write a short blog post about her thoughts so far on the project and what she thinks is the reason behind the current situation of Arabic language, and how she thinks humour is one way to highlight these issues. So here it is, below without editing from myself and we have a video, so artistic of you Lina thanks!

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By speaking in English, are we hindering our Arabic development? And where does humor fall in all of this?

I recently googled the word Arabic and got some… results… they weren’t interesting, but they weren’t uninteresting either. The first results page (and lets face it, that is usually the only page we look at) was of websites for the learning and teaching of Arabic language, but I thought to myself that Arabic is so much more than just a language.  I wish there were other results that showed another aspect of this language we all know that languages are more than just words, they each stand for an ideology, one that connects to that specific culture and norms. One can argue that this language (Arabic) along with the culture it is connected to is on its way to disintegration. Why is that? Well I guess I can only refer to my own circumstances, experiences, and observations from my own country (Jordan) if I am to tell you why I feel this way. Arabic, in some circles in Amman is becoming an uninteresting and low level language, resulting in creating the hybrid known as Arabizi; it is not enough to only speak Arabic, we must integrate English to it so that it can live up to our “standards”. Speaking Arabizi reflects a certain air of sophistication, education and even marks of upper-class upbringing, this is how it has become.

I am an Arab, but my Arabic is horrible, so is my knowledge of Arabic history, culture, and politics. No, I did not grow up in London, Canada, or America… I grew up in Amman, Jordan- yes an Arabic speaking country. In my life I have read in all a total of only 5 maybe 6 books in Arabic! I can’t remember how many in English because they have obviously been numerous. I had not really thought deeply about this fact until a few months ago when I started to review who I was and what I wanted to focus on in the following months for my MA dissertation.  I then realized that I don’t really know who I am, and that I don’t really have a sense of belonging to Amman, nor to any place for that matter and I believed this was due to my poor Arabic. I wanted to investigate why that was… I then stumbled upon this vide which was unique in that the comedian criticized the usage of English over Arabic but through humor- I thought that was fascinating…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCA7O37362U

The video is intended to highlight the obsession young Arabs have in Amman with speaking English even where it is not required. The comedian picks out words like, “by the way”, “ewwww”, “attitude”, “hi”, “how are you”, “vulgar”, “I am not impressed” etc…. to show how young people speak and how by using these words in English they are neglecting their Arabic equivalents. In one part of the video, he acts like an addict needing another dose to calm himself down, and this relief in his sense comes when the speaker inserts an English word in the conversation even if it is out of context or mispronounced (which he refers to an “bad accent”).

The video and many others like it act a tools in helping me investigate why we are so adamant on speaking English when we have a perfectly fine language of our own; secondly how can humor, or the entertainment industries promote and encourage us to speak in Arabic? I think a video like the one above is one example of humor making us think about the way we use or under-use the Arabic language.

After much thought I think I have reached a conclusion (which might change in the next few months who knows?), that by speaking in English, we may be hindering our Arabic development and rather than actually creating our own modernity, we are trying to emulate the modernity of others, because we aren’t using our language. When we start to use our own language to it’s full capacity we will then be able to create a modernity that suits us and our ways and still keep us up to date with the rest of the world. What do you think?

After thought: Fatma asked me after sending her a few drafts, what I thought was left of the Arabic language? My answer is: I think that there is a lot left of Arabic, but not a lot is utilized. It isn’t that there are no words in Arabic, neither is it about Arabic being a weaker language… it’s merely a perception that is arguably false and misunderstood. The unfortunate truth is that there are large numbers of Arabs who are ignorant… and not just in the case of being clueless, but also in not knowing the facts. That may be what it comes down to, lack of education in Arabic countries that creates this false negative perception that Arabic is not a language of modernity and development- this I feel is an ideology that needs to change NOW before it’s too late. Thank you

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Thank you once again Lina for not only putting forward these ideas but also being generous with the readers by sharing deep personal thoughts about yourself as an Arabic speaker and your relationship with Arabic language- it brings to life the issues many speakers can identify with. Sorry to those of you who do not speak Arabic I know the video was all in Arabic, unfortunately there were no subtitled versions- but I hope from the descriptions the aim of the video was understood. I think the humour idea is great and sometimes one does not have to always be serious about the current situation of Arabic it gets boring and some people will ignore it. But humour is great because it makes people laugh not just at what the comedian is saying, but at themselves too….so maybe speakers will become aware of their communicative habits and analyse their language choices during conversation. Please feel free to comment on the post as always, thanks for reading.

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9 thoughts on “Can humour help preserve Arabic among native speakers? Guest post

  1. I think that you are doing great job as blogger here.Really appreciate your writing skills.Though the whole site is good but this article in particular have catchy title and the contents were good I think Lina made nice points well done

  2. Great blog and nice post- you are kind to allow people to write on your blog even though they are not so professional I don’t mean that Lina is not but I did not agree with all her points like saying people need more information. You need to love your language because it is your language not because you need more information on it if you get my drift. I like your points you always make that language is more than words it’s a whole life of a people and its death is their’s too- thanks please keep up the posts 🙂

    • I appreciate your comment Fredricke! My points aren’t necessarily facts, they are merely informed opinions that I have concluded through researching this topic. I agree that people need to love their language because it’s their language, but not everyone does, but, saying that people need to love their language because it’s their language is like saying they need more information to love their language. Neither may be correct…. We can never tell what people need, we can theorise, have our opinions and hash them out with people like right now! 🙂
      -Lina

      • Lina it’s great you made a comment…and yes it’s never about right or wrong, simply that right now this is the information I have and this is the opinion I have formed based on that information. We all change our minds after a while it’s what humans do when they become the wiser. Fredricke thanks for stopping by and commenting on the post I agree with both of you in that perhaps it’s a mixture of love for the language and information and that either alone is not enough to revitalise or save a language from shifting or eventual death. Thanks and keep reading!

  3. Superb stuff nice way of looking at language issues…I think humour is overlooked often thanks Fatma for inviting the guest writer to enlighten us. Have a nice day 🙂

  4. I totally agree with you that it’s the ‘extra-curricular’ things like comedy that makes a person know or not a language to the bone. I’ve spent my entire life in an Arab country and I learned Arabic at school (not an L1-er) and church, but my English has always been my strongest language (even though it’s not my native L) because I grew up obsessed with sitcoms. The only way that my Arabic grew outside of class was actually by reading the subtitles on English movies alongside hearing the English lines. It’s not the best way to develop a language but it worked for me to an extent. Dang I wish I knew some good MSA comedies to download that have this archaic Shakespearean vibe
    Btw, I’m loving your blog; what’s your area of expertise though as a doctorate? After going through your blog I get the feeling you’re into endangered language planning 😛

    • Hi Witchylisa,

      Thanks for stopping by, and sorry for the delayed response. You are not alone in learning Arabic in that way, there are many people who learn through the TV, it’s always refreshing when people share their journey of learning Arabic. I am also glad you are enjoying the blog, it’s my side project! I am sociolinguist and my area of focus is multilingualism (power and choice), identities and language socialisation. Endangered languages is my non-expert area but which I thoroughly enjoy….thanks again!

  5. I like this….nice way to think of the topic……humour mhhm nice. Thank you so much for the posting of this page.

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