New year…but how the same old issues still affect Arabic

A belated happy new year to everyone wishing you all a prosperous 2012 where all dreams will be realised with determination and where the world will hopefully move towards peace and stability. It has been a while since I last blogged in November last year (oh my that’s a while back!) and it’s hight time I add something now after hectic work and of course a break. A huge welcome to new readers/subscribers as always I hope Arabizi will be good reading for you and not a waste of time, bear with me if I do not blog as often, my excuse is the crazy thesis and other writing commitments I have currently. Thank you to all those who commented on my posts although I did not reply to each one, I appreciate them and thank you for stopping by and having the time to write a few lines- these really encourage me to keep writing. I know so many comments and emails have come asking for me to recommend sites for learning Arabic and or culture, I agree it would be nice however it would need a lot of time to go and look for the sites and then list the best ones. I would not just do a google search I would prefer to know who was behind the site etc… so until I can go through the sites myself I am afraid you will have to wait.

Over the weeks I did not blog I came across many articles on the situation of Arabic in the Gulf, namely the UAE and how different quarters are addressing Arabic’s linguistic status within the country. The National newspaper is brilliant in that it presents really important linguistic issues (at least I think so!) affecting the UAE and does so with boldness and some criticism albeit at times not as precise as we linguists would like it to be. Although, I do not agree with everything that is presented, I think the points made are important and the fact that we can debate about them shows the strength of the articles. Other newspapers in other parts of the Arab world do not focus on linguistic issues, as often or as in depth as the ones the National presents. This by extension does not mean that the level of Arabic in other countries is not being affected, it just means no one is talking about it as much as they perhaps should, in a world where Arabic is under threat everyday (even in the slightest manner). If not under threat from extinction then at least from other languages due to the media, social networking or globalization, and at times the language that threatens Arabic is not necessarily English!

The article I paste today is about multilingualism in the UAE, have a read and then browse over my thoughts at the bottom, enjoy! As usual no editing from me,

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A multilingual nation, where Arabic is not the victim

Christopher Morrow——–Jan 9, 2012

Casual onlookers may have failed to notice that some recent National Day displays featured English greetings more prominently than Arabic messages. In many ways that’s not surprising. We are getting used to the idea that the UAE is bilingual, and that English is the lingua franca that unites us to a much greater extent than Arabic does.

The rise of English in health care, business and education has been astounding. But at times, colleges and schools are sacrificing content mastery in different topics so that instruction can be conducted in English, even in situations where students and teachers don’t have the necessary language proficiency or interest in language instruction.

Education administrators want to maximise the number of opportunities that students have to develop their English, but Arabic proficiency is suffering as a result.

There is an upside: English is spoken today more than ever. Secondary students in Abu Dhabi take English for two periods per day. And of course, many expatriates are pleased with these developments and feel more at home in a place where English is so widely used.

However, this trend also has a downside: Arabic is playing an increasingly smaller role in social, cultural, economic and political communication. In truth, while English-only speakers are eligible to lead major companies and institutions in the UAE, Arabic monolinguals risk being stereotyped as uneducated. Which would you rather be?

The incessant but uneven spread of English as a second language was accurately described last year in a report by Education First, called the English Proficiency Index. The Education First company offered free online tests to more than 2 million adults worldwide and used those results to calculate a score for the overall level of English proficiency.

Not surprisingly, the countries that have had the greatest success in English have been those with high levels of development, education and business. In particular, the countries between Holland and Finland stood out because they attained superior English skills without losing their competence in native or regional languages.

Saudi Arabia was the only Arab country which had a sufficient number of adults volunteering to take the test. While such sampling methods are inherently not very scientific, valuable data can gleaned.

As a whole, Saudi Arabia achieved a rating of “Low Proficiency” but their overall score put them level with Taiwan, Spain and Italy. English has gained a secure foothold in Saudi Arabia but it hasn’t threatened the use of Arabic as it has here. When I visited Saudi Arabia two years ago, I actually felt that my limited Arabic was a disadvantage, something I’ve never experienced in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

The Education First report wisely noted that policy changes in education take decades to bear fruit in general social discourse, and starting English in first grade is not a guarantee of high levels of ultimate achievement. Local educators may be tempted to take credit for gradual improvements in the level of English here, but global trends might be equally responsible.

In the end, embracing bilingualism requires more inclusive policies than we currently find in local institutions. If trends continue, Arabic could become endangered in this corner of the Arabian Peninsula, despite its enviable distinction as being one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Many nations have learned to celebrate their multilingualism in ways that affirm native tongues rather than suppress them. Unfortunately, our eagerness to boost English locally has created systems and networks which have devalued Arabic in ways that could have serious long-term consequences for linguistic and cultural diversity.

The role of Arabic in social discourse deserves to be secured before the forces of globalisation threaten it further. Without more support, Arabic could become merely a language of religion, history and folklore.

Europe’s lessons in multilingualism prove that two or three national languages can be supported without disadvantaging those who would rather not use the lingua franca.

——–End

Well! Excellent highlighting of key issues facing Arabic in the UAE, some parts were hopeful others hit the reader in the face with helplessness. This particular post is written by an academic so you can see the careful almost precise comments made about data and what it might mean! The title of the article gave the impression that Arabic language was on par with English (and other languages) but that seems not to be the case. Rather, the increase in English language teaching means a decrease in Arabic language proficiency, and the de-Arabizing of work places, business centres and health care centres,  means English takes top spot- without a fight. There are still some countries (and very successful ones at that) where businesses must train their staff in the basic language (and customs) before they travel to work there. They have to hire translators and after many years of working in those countries they learn the language proficiently. This type of set up values the locals and their language, offers the locals important native language related posts (interpreters, trainers in culture and conduct) and they as locals get exposed to how westerners do business. That’s great each side learns from the other. But in the UAE it is different the locals must adapt to the businesses (as they tell me and as the article above described) and the language of the expats, here of course we mean the English language (not Hindi, Bengali or the other 10+ languages spoken) in the UAE.  English, was important for the country to reach its current situation of prosperity and high living standards, it is the language of knowledge and science etc… without knowledge of English I do not know where the UAE would be. But the question many ask is-  is it still important to teach in English at all levels of the education stages? Even when the teacher’s proficiency is questionable, even when the students are not learning English?  Is it? Who decides and how? Why? Based on what?

The UAE celebrated its 40th anniversary last month and for over a month before that all tv stations, billboards and posters were showing the achievements of the country from barren deserts to modern metropolis and business hubs, tallest buildings 7* hotels and so on. When I was there recently in November I saw the pride in the people, and yes they should be proud and encouraged for having achieved in 40 years what some continents have not achieved in 100’s of years- but at what price? At the price of losing their language? Whenever a development happens a loss of some type takes place that’s the rule in life, but surely these s-called losses can be controlled.

All Arab countries pride themselves with maintaining Arab culture, well cultural preservation is attached to linguistic preservation. Lose a language, lose a culture. After 40 years of hard work (and of course out of humility and true intentions they mean to continue working harder for an even better UAE) it is high time that Arabic language took its place in the country. THe article above warns of the demise of Arabic if the current trend continues….what a sad day that will be….it would have destroyed all the hard work of Arab publishers, writers and hope of future generations who, as Arabs, have the linguistic right to speak Arabic with proficiency. It’s not too late but something needs to be done, right now… I dread the day I’ll sit here and say that Arabic in the UAE is now a minority language… hopefully 2012 will mark a change in language policy and implementation in the UAE. Do not misunderstand me, English is a necessity (and it is a fact that English is the language of education) but so is Arabic, in an Arabic speaking country :)—-  I will end with this quotation about what it means to lose a language.

 “What we lose is essentially an enormous cultural heritage, the way of expressing the relationship with nature, with the world, between themselves in the framework of their families, their kin people,” says Mr Hagege. “It’s also the way they express their humour, their love, their life. It is a testimony of human communities which is extremely precious, because it expresses what other communities than ours in the modern industrialized world are able to express.” For linguists like Claude Hagege, languages are not simply a collection of words. They are living, breathing organisms holding the connections and associations that define a culture. When a language becomes extinct, the culture in which it lived is lost too”

(from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8311000/8311069.stm)

Comments are welcome as usual thank you for reading ……..the source for the article is: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/a-multilingual-nation-where-arabic-is-not-the-victim

http://seg.sharethis.com/getSegment.php?purl=http%3A%2F%2Farabizi.wordpress.com%2Fwp-admin%2Fpost-new.php&jsref=&rnd=1326297828132

“We Arabs are killing Arabic”: a view shared by many

Going to the Emirates is always fun especially during the fasting month; aside from family and friends just the linguistic situation is so fascinating that as a linguist I always find it hard not to notice it. Every time I go to the Emirates I notice something new and I usually like to annoy my fellow colleagues at the universities over there by asking them what they think of new initiatives to teach or preserve Arabic both on part of the government and non-governmental organisations.  On this occasion I noticed two initiatives launching one in Dubai and one in Doha, Qatar and it was good because I was in Doha after I left Dubai and so got the chance to hear about both first hand. In this post I will discuss the Dubai initiative.

I was informed that some government departs were helping their employees (Emiratis and other Arabic speaking workers) to improve their Arabic.  They call the series ‘قل و لا تقل’ which roughly translates as ‘Say, and don’t say’ something like: say this….but do not say this because it is wrong. This title is popular and there is a TV series that has the same title, the format is that each show has a theme, each week the presenter shows examples of how people misuse words or phrases and then shows the correct usage. It is all in classical Arabic and aims to improve the use of words amongst native speakers who have along the way picked up bad habits in their language use. 

Coming back to the initiative in Dubai, employees will be presented with about 200 small ‘letters’/ ‘messages’ over a long period of time, in how to correctly use words or phrases that are misused these days. I think it’s good that this is happening and that there is an awareness that people are not using language as it should be used (I know descriptivists are shouting at me right now, I am not usually prescriptivist but I think that if meanings are distorted and eventually changed people need to be told ‘how to speak’ it’s all part of language preservation!). The initiative was an idea of one person and now it has taken off and many employees will have access to these, only time will tell how successful or not it has been.

As I always say, people need to feel that their language is worth learning how to speak. I call for a strong education system (in my recent publication) that promotes the good learning and teaching of the Arabic language to students in their young age.   Without language being made important in education how can anyone be expected to speak language correctly, everything around them is in English or broken English, or Urdu or Hindi – here of course it is specific to the Emirates. Language learning and mastering needs motivation and incentives, otherwise speakers will not see the importance of the language and that’s why we are where we are. The calls that Arabic is dying, being lost, marginalized, discarded and all this in a land where Arabic is the language even of the date palm and desert!

Below is an article (without editing) addressing this issue, slightly dated but I think not much has changed in Emirates. Maybe in another post I will write about the struggles Emiratis are having now as adults in reading Arabic texts and the measures they are taking to ensure their children do not suffer the same fate.  Language fascinates me and as a sociolinguistic the way people interact with their language on a social level will keep me intrigued forever.

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We Arabs are killing Arabic

The purity and originality of Arabic is at stake, especially when it comes to youngsters

By Muna Ahmed

“Lol, I don’t know how to read Arabic. Please write in English or use the (Maarab, Arabic in English app).

My mom is busy and she cannot translate what you are writing,” said my 13-year-old niece, when I started chatting with her on the Blackberry.

“Here, we don’t accept any document which is not typed in Arabic.

It is against the rules. Please go and get it typed in Arabic, only then I will be able to process it for you,” said an Emirati staff at the Dubai Traffic Prosecution who attended my call.

These are two opposite views of two girls whom I came in touch with in the past couple of days.

It was nice to hear the Traffic Prosecution staff stressing the importance of the Arabic language and that they don’t accept any other language other than Arabic, as per the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE’s Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

On the other hand, the sad part is that the new generation of Arabs are not very interested or keen to preserve their own language. The openness to the world has changed their lives to a very large extent. The majority of them today use the “Maarab” to communicate, and these are mainly those who go to private schools.

This will lead to a serious problem where the identity of the Arabic language will be lost.

This is a disaster as it will lead to the loss of purity and originality of Arabic, especially when it comes to youngsters who are in the process of learning their mother tongue.

I believe that Maarab was first created by those who did not have an Arabic application on their computer many years ago, and who did not know how to speak or write in English. Today, the majority of teenagers use Maarab to communicate.

They only know how to speak Arabic, and most of the time without correct grammar and usage. If this is the situation today, then I fear imagining how it will be 10 or 15 years from today?

And the shocking part is that many Arabs show off the fact that they don’t know how to read or write their own mother tongue. Parents of these children send them to a British or American Standard school, where English is the basic language for studies, and they also talk to them in English at home.

When I go out with my friends, they are surprised that my three-year-old son Saood doesn’t speak English. They try to persuade me to change this and start talking to him in English at a young age to strengthen his English.

They even go to the extent to say that Arabic is not important anymore and that I shouldn’t speak to my son in Arabic in front of others, as this means that I am not modernised.

It’s a pity. Arabic is the language of the Holy Quran, and I wonder how these children will grow to become true Muslims if they don’t know how to read the Holy Book which is the base of their religion? I don’t say that English is not important. It is very important, but it should not take the place of one’s mother tongue.

————end of article

It’s great that Muna speaks to her son in Arabic, though this is not the place to discuss bilingualism in-depth; I’ll say that his English will be better than those children who learn English first and not Arabic. That is true in this instance because for one’s English to be ‘perfect’ they should really learn it from a native, whereas here these people themselves have not mastered English! So Muna teaching her son Arabic is wonderful because his Arabic, even though its spoken, will give him a grounding in his mother tongue. After this grounding he will master English is school at the hands of natives, which is usually the case in the Emirates.  

Your views and thoughts are most welcome! In the next post I hope to discuss a new initiative started last month in Doha, Qatar to improve Arabic content on Twitter, how it started and its overall aims and progress so far.

Source: http://www.emirates247.com/columns/analysis/we-arabs-are-killing-arabic-2010-08-01-1.273429

 

Expatriates learn to talk Emirati with course in ‘Arabish’: A shift in the teaching of Arabic

View of Dubai just before sunset.

Image via Wikipedia

I think this is a step in the right direction though of course learning the standard or Classical Arabic is always important if the learner wants to become proficient in reading, wiring and other skills. I usually complain here on this blog about the lack of Arabic language classes most notably in the Gulf, but it seems that that is changing and the learning of Arabic is becoming a priority for many non-Arabic speakers. This is despite the fact that in the Emirates or in most Gulf countries one does not need to speak Arabic as English is the language used by all to communicate with one another in most public spaces.

Enjoy the following article it is without editing as usual—

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Amna Al Haddad
DUBAI //More than 40 expatriates can now converse in the local dialect after completing an Arabic class organised by an arts group.

“How to Speak Emirati”, a 12-week course of two-hour weekly classes, was conducted by Shaima Al Sayed and sponsored by Dubomedy Arts.

The course was the brainchild of Ms Al Sayed, who says expatriates often say they cannot speak to Emiratis and the “problem is that we have a lot of locals who are not comfortable speaking in English”.

“So, they don’t speak to you and you don’t speak Arabic, so that’s the wall,” she said. “Language becomes the barrier.”

The course was designed to teach students how to converse, rather than read or write, in Arabic.

“The idea was to create a personalised class, because the employee is different from the housewife and the teacher,” Ms Al Sayed said.

“The environment is different, so would be the words.” Ms Al Sayed asked students to send her material they would like to know about in English. Then she replied in Arabish – phonetic pronunciation in Arabic using Latin characters – so her students could read it.

“We use Arabish, chatting style, because it will help them as they want to talk, and not read and write at this stage. They want to communicate,” she said.

Ridade Bayik, 27, from Turkey, said the courses were helpful. Using Arabish, he wrote: “Law ana drst aktar, ana brmis Emirati eshal.”

Translation: “If I studied more, I would be able to speak Emirati more easily.”

Mr Bayik has lived in the UAE for 11 and a half years. He said learning the language of the country he lived in was invaluable.

“I use Arabic socially with friends who are very impressed with what I have achieved so far,” he said. “The language gives so much insight into the culture, customs and traditions of the country.”

Ms Al Sayed said expatriates often learnt other Arabic dialects but she thought it was important to learn the Emirati dialect.

She said she found expatriate Arabs would often correct the Arabic of others. “For example, one of my students said ‘ish-haluk’ [How are you?], but one Jordanian told one of my students ‘ish-haluk’ is wrong and it’s ‘shlonak’.

“I said, that’s Jordanian. That’s why I teach them how to say ‘Kaif el hal’ because it’s universal, but specify ‘ish-halik’ and ‘ish-halich’ is Emirati.”

Sohan D’Souza, 30, from India, said the course was hands-on and focused on conversational Arabic useful in daily situations.

“I think I gained a nominal level of competence and, just as important, a nominal level of comfort,” said Mr D’Souza, who has lived in the UAE for 24 years.

The course also proved beneficial to Emiratis, especially those who lived abroad or studied in private schools.

Ali Fikree, 34, an Emirati, said he had only a fair level of Arabic due to a lack of emphasis on the language in the private schools he attended.

Mr Fikree said the course could also help to erase some misconceptions about locals.

“It’s always interesting to hear about what other people think about us and it’s always fun to try and dispel the myths and folklore,” he said. “Personally, I think more expats should try this course out as it can truly bridge the preconceived gap that most expats have about Emiratis.”

Ms Al Sayed said the course also allowed students to ask questions about the culture.

“If we keep them in the dark, they create their own opinions and it might be something they don’t understand properly about our culture,” she said.

“If you don’t answer them, foreigners will go back to whatever picture they had and it may be negative.”

Ms Al Sayed will be taking part in a cultural festival at Dubai Mall, where she will be available to teach Emirati. The festival ends tomorrow.
——————-END
Source:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/expatriates-learn-to-talk-emirati-with-course-in-arabish

Arabic teaching methods need to be upgraded

Books

Image by Rodrigo Galindez via Flickr

I am putting something here about the work one person is doing to promote the teaching of Arabic to children outside the Arab world. Here is the piece below, without editing as usual- enjoy.

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Jinanne Tabra is promoting Arabic learning among children living outside the Arab region .Doha-May 25, 2011: It is time to upgrade Arabic learning approaches among children as the current ones are “outdated” and “lacking fun elements” which can attract children to learn the language, said Jinanne Tabra, entrepreneur and founder of ARABOH.com.

Tabra, who used to find learning Arabic an “awful burden” during her school days, has started an internationally acclaimed project to help make Arabic easier and more interesting for children, particularly those living outside the Arab region.

“I believe that we do need to look for more effective methods for Arabic teaching in which fun should be a key element,” she said to students at her former school, Qatar Academy, a member of Qatar Foundation.

While still a business student at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar – also a part of Qatar Foundation – Jinanne Tabra realized that Arabs living outside the Middle East had very few options for buying Arab language literature. So shortly after graduation, she founded Araboh.com, one of the first, and most successful, online bookstores dedicated to the Arabic language.

A graduate of business from Carnegie Mellon University‘s Qatar Foundation campus in 2008, CEO Middle East magazine named her as one of the “Top 30 under 30” and her company has become a vital resource for Arabs around the world.The online bookstore – which has sold thousands of books around the world and grown by 200% during the past three years – is now in the process of establishing a branch of her company in the US as part of an expansion plan for the company.

“I believe there is a need for the very best Arabic educational tools to be made available for every family living in non-Arab countries. I believe our children should feel proud to be Arabs and promote the true message of Arab peace throughout the world. I believe this has never been as important as it is today,” Tabra explained. Araboh.com is now visiting schools in Qatar and UAE and hosting Arabic language festivals to promote the language among children.

“We have high standards for books we are selling. They must be fun and attractive,” she said, describing the online bookstore that now delivers books to young Arabic learners in 50 countries around the world. Tabra describes her constant surprise at the achievement her bookstore has become, especially considering her dislike of learning and Arabic.

Born in the UK to a Scottish mother and Iraqi father, Tabra had very few resources for Arabic learning while growing up. She spent ten years in Scotland before her family moved to the Gulf.

“During these years I was struggling to learn Arabic with other Arab children, but the books were very boring and difficult to understand. I hated Arabic so much. The text books were boring and I was a slow reader,” Jinanne told the Qatar Academy grade five students. Jinanne, who maintains that studying at Qatar FoundationQatar Foundation has armed her with the attitude, knowledge and skills needed to achieve great things, stressed that she was not financially driven when she started her business.

“It was passion rather than business which led me to start this project. I was looking for a meaningful thing and seeking for a goal to pursue. And I found that Arabic was a worthwhile goal. I want to promote it to be the first language in the world,” she said.

—— end

Brilliant achievement and I think she has realised something we all realised as young students learning Arabic- the resources were not so great. Filling this gap might actually help students better their Arabic language proficiency and perhaps even love the Arabic language. If one loves a language they then move on to do great things with that language like writing high quality books (and not just translations, no offence to translators they do an absolutely marvellous job) in all areas of reading not just literature. There is a real need to write self-help book in Arabic language by someone who understands the Arab lifestyle and way of being, translations are good but a book that uses examples the readers relate to in reality are always better.  I think she has begun something great and that the next 50 years are bright for Arabic publishing as the demand for good high quality works will ensure this.  I also think that the Arabic teachers in the Arab countries can also take tips on how to improve their resources, although here the intention was to make books for students outside the Arab world I think the region itself is in as much need of those much improved books too (and a renewed teaching style but that’s another topic for another day). There needs to be a change in the resources and in how the students are taught that way students all over the world can learn Arabic in a way that keeps them motivated. It’s all good…slowly but surely.

Source: http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidZAWYA20110525122613

The need for more books in Arabic- not just translations of foreign novels

Legs up and reading a book

Image by Gael Martin via Flickr

Good morning everybody, hoping everybody has a nice weekend the weather seems to be getting nicer, I hope it stays that way so on the Race for Life day it can be pleasant. There is one dilemma that exists for Arab speakers and that is uninteresting material to read, and then people end up not reading at all. I found an article in The National addressing the issue of the availability of reading material in Arabic. There is a plethora of translations of all our classics such as Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austin and even George Orwell. It’s always my habit that when I go on holiday I like to visit the main bookstores and over the years as I have visited the Middle East I noticed the book stores are more apparent and there are more of them which is a good thing and maybe an indicator that someone somewhere is reading! Of course until you go in then you can tell the contents and usually the materials they sell are; post cards, key rings, factual books about the country in question, magazines (plenty of them on everything from cooking, furniture, make-up to computers mainly in Arabic but some in English too) self- help books (many are translations from English), and novels in English, their translations and other wonderful Arabic novels. There is of course the canonical works of Arabic grammar, literature, and Islam that are always available and some of the printing is beautiful with their wonderful calligraphy-pressed covers and exquisite borders in the inside pages; you have to hold yourself otherwise you might end up buying the same book three times! Children’s books are mainly in English and the ones in Arabic are in Classical Arabic which most kids can’t read. I know that whilst doing my degree many of my colleagues would buy kid’s books in Arabic to revise grammar and help themselves learn Arabic- that shows the level of Arabic (children’s books in Arabic are so fun you don’t need to be a kid to read them!). This article below is the story of a mother who struggled to buy suitable reading books for her kids…. have a read to see what she had to do (no editing was done)

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Why are so few reading Arabic books? Tahira Yaqoob and Shadiah Abdullah (Writer) 

Last Updated: Apr 23, 2011

As an Arabic-speaking mother of three, Abir Ballan was eager that her children be familiar with their mother tongue. Yet when the 35-year-old public health worker scoured libraries and bookshops in search of entertaining children’s books in Arabic for her oldest son, Zein, then seven, she came up against an unexpected stumbling block: although plenty of translations of adult English literature filled the shelves, there was very little in the way of original, engaging fiction for young inquiring minds.

Undeterred, Ballan, who is originally from Beirut but lives in Dubai, set about writing a children’s book herself, turning the “crazy stories I used to tell my children to make them laugh” into lively printed form. Today she has six hugely popular picture books in print, including Fie al Ittihad al Quwa (United We Stand), which tells the story of National Day in the Emirates through a child’s eyes, and Ahlum An Ankoun (I Wish I Were).

But while her success story has inspired other writers and created a fan base of youngsters hungry for more creative fiction in their mother tongue, the obstacles she was forced to overcome represent just a fraction of a widespread problem: why are so few people reading Arabic books?

The scale of the problem was spelt out in a recent survey on reading habits in the Middle East. Commissioned to mark World Book Day last month, it produced depressing results for any Arab writer or publisher: only one in five read on a regular basis and among those under 25 – nearly 65 per cent of the 3,667 questioned by Yahoo! Maktoob Research – about one in three seldom or never read a book for pleasure.

Broken down by country, the results make equally uncomfortable reading. In an Arab League table of readers by nation, the UAE comes fifth behind Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and Iraq. In the Emirates, just 22 per cent of people regard themselves as regular readers. Most of those were well into their 40s and older.

Behind the figures is a sense that Arabic, at least in written form, is in serious trouble. The causes are complex and much debated. A diaspora, particularly among young educated professionals, means many young Arabs educated and living abroad are more comfortable writing in English.

A general lack of educational opportunities, particularly among poorer Arabs, is also to blame. Research for the Arab League estimates that about 100 million people – almost one in three – struggle to read and write. A recent Unesco report found that in the UAE, one in 10 people is illiterate.

Then there is something more intangible but equally damaging: a culture based on globalisation that is increasingly dominated by foreign-language products. Films, magazines, TV programmes, the printed word – everything that is culturally shiny and enticing to young minds. Among young Emiratis, the most popular section at the Book World superstore in Dubai Mall is English translations of Japanese manga comics. One result is that, as Ballan found, there are simply not enough books being published in Arabic, particular for children and teenagers. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. The market is not big enough to make it worthwhile, so there are not enough people writing.

“The quality of Arabic books is not of the standard of English books, which are nicely illustrated and cater to children’s emotional needs,” she says.

“Arab culture does not promote reading. I do not think parents see the importance of reading to their children in Arabic unless they are learning the alphabet. They do not see that books need to be read for fun, too.”

———The article continues…..please feel free to read it at the link below.

It’s great that she did something about it. If there is no incentive to read or a culture (as is claimed here) that does not push for kids to read they will not read, not as kids and not as adults. As linguists like to say, it’s always the attitude a good and positive attitude promotes better language learning and so on. The attitude must change, and if it does not then they will always say that Arabic is in danger of dying! I can go on and on about the benefits of reading not just for social gains but psychologically, for intelligence purposes etc… but it’s not the place and most people know this anyway. I can’t imagine what the world would be like without books!? There are efforts to address this lack of Arabic books for children, many publishing houses are taking this seriously, I am hoping that in a few months time when I go, the bookstores will have a better variety in the kids’ section. It might be a few years until a shift takes place, and I am sure it will (how that will impact or change things is to be seen) so we’ll see how that goes.

sourcehttp://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/why-are-so-few-reading-arabic-books

The power of words: What the ‘revolution’ in Egypt illustrates

Cairo skyline in the morning

Image by StartAgain via Flickr

 It has been a while since I jotted something down for the blog, wishing you all a wonderful new year both Gregorian or Chinese and I pray that peace comes to all peoples of the earth and that we all live our lives happily. I have a few topics to write about over the next few weeks, today I am revisiting one of my favourite topics (still trying to understand it in its true meaning) the power of language or more precisely the power of words.

As a linguist there is always that need to understand the power of words or the power of how people use language in all spheres of their life, and inevitably the effect of those words. One of the topics I have discussed on this blog time and time again is the fact that language is more than mere words and that these words have far reaching meanings and implications this was done most notably through the ever recurring ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis’ posts. In looking at the current events in Egypt (that at times are hard to watch because of the unbelievable violence, and the hurt of looking at such a beautiful country fall apart) one thing is clear language clearly plays a major role.

Dubbed as a revolution, we know that all revolutions whether intentionally organised or spontaneously supported and joined by people, have or move on what is termed as ‘slogans’. Slogans have a few characteristics: they are usually short this ensures that remembering them will not be hard, and depending on the language of the so called slogans they might rhyme, a further aid in helping people remember them. They are words that are repeated again and again to reinforce the feelings and stance(s) of the ‘protesters’ (not sure if that’s the right word- words can be sensitive! If they are called protesters or revolutionists what are the implications??) Slogans were very prominent in the French, Grenadian, Chinese and Russian revolutions, simple words to move the emotions the simple people who wanted more justice in their lives as they saw it at the time (See: The Power of words- Literacy and Revolution in South China 1949-95, by Glen Peterson, 1997). There were three common Bolshevik slogans during the 1917 revolution: 1. Factories for the workers, land for the peasants. 2. All power to the soviets. 3. Bread, and freedom! Short and easy to remember and I am sure even in non-technology days, these words spread fast because of the power of words.

 In Egypt they have new simple slogans created at every step through this uprising of theirs, everyday new slogans appear and sometimes more than one in a day. What is amazing is that once it is uttered in Cairo, you find it is also uttered in Alexandria, Suez, Luxor, London, Washington, Indonesia, Malaysia, France, Belgium, Beirut, Amman (I could go on) and even Japan –all in the same Arabic words, in the same tune and vigour. Is that the power of words or what? When looking at these people outside Egypt chanting these slogans one can see their seriousness and earnestness in repeating those words, perhaps it’s the association they attach to the words?! This is something that has intrigued me for days and caused me to write this post, how the whole world has viewed the unfolding of events in Egypt in an unprecedented manner, and at the centre of it all language plays a major and central role (maybe for a linguist that’s the case and for a politics student it isn’t?). It’s almost as if those outside Egypt in their solidarity marches feel as the people feel in Cairo, any new slogan they repeat it, translate it and spread it. This reminds me of the basis of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) in which language, its repetition and what one associates with those words can help transform a person’s life for the better (maybe a topic for another post).

We cannot ignore the role of technology in all this, it is through the satellite TV stations that (live news coverage) people see the slogans or hear them chanted that they can then re-chant them. I do not think there has been anything like this in the history of popular uprising, revolutions or whatever one wishes to call them, where the words and aspirations of a people uttered in one corner of the earth are reiterated across the globe in the same tune, style and sincerity. I am not a historian (though history interests me) but I cannot remember of ever reading anywhere how the slogans of one group were reiterated and reverberated across the world in this way. In addition to the spoken slogans and the mimicking of those, there is also the power of the written words. Over the past fourteen days some pictures usually with a man or woman or child holding a banner with a message have become iconic in representing the events in Egypt. These same words are then take and re-written across the world by supporters of the people in Egypt, the power we are talking about here is doubly strong: speech and words. This was a short note on how I see language plays a major role or rather a powerful role in events such as these and that what is happening in Egypt is unprecedented on many fronts and one of those is the use of language (intentional or unintentional).

 I don’t know how things will end in Egypt (though tonight we are hearing different things?) but I hope that peace and security will be restored in Egypt and that the wonderful kind-hearted Egyptian people will be at peace soon- Allah yahmeeki ya Masr wa yahmee sha3b Masr (May God protect Egypt and its people). Please share your views on this post as always I look forward to them, I am open to suggestions or ideas, and if I have not replied to any recent messages I apologise will do so soon.

 Enjoy!

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Sources: Peterson, G (1997) ‘The Power of words- Literacy and Revolution in South China 1949-95’.

Wiki-answers: For Russian and French revolution information (slogans).

Arabic language day- A Twitter perspective

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

After more than 200 tweets I decided to post something on the fact that  it is Arabic day today ON TWITTER, so I thought I’d share the news. Speakers of the Arabic language celebrate their language on this day [though I have not checked out the origins of the day yet] and they make it an issue to raise awareness about different issues surrounding the Arabic language.

The things people are doing today is, for example, all twitter users are writing only in Arabic and are apologising to their non-Arabic speaking followers for their use of Arabic only, for example- Dear Non-Arabic speakers/readers tweeps: Today is #ArabicDay so please tolerate the Arabic tweets for the day 🙂 .. Have a wonderful day 🙂

I think most people are tweeting in Classical Arabic only- which is great because you get to see people’s language skills. There are excellent quotes about Arabic as a language, as an item that defines a people, a people who are proud to be speakers of Arabic.  SO what happens now is that someone makes a cup of tea and tweets that in Classical Arabic with all the right grammar and diacritics I’ll paste it here for readers of Arabic-ما أجمل اللغة العربية , قمت باعداد كوباً من الشاى he writes here- how beautiful Arabic language is, I have made a cup of tea… and it’s all grammatically correct. Another example- في طريق العودة للمنزل #Arabicday— trans- on my way back home.. Which makes me wonder how would they have written it if they were not making an Arabic emphasis?  In English perhaps.

The issue of identity comes up in the tweets aswell اللغة هوية ….اللغة حضارة …. #ArabicDay trans– language is identity….language is civilization. It seems language is seen as a marker of identity by this speaker and as a  foundation of civilization and culture. An issue that is often discussed in Linguistics in how does language reflect identity and so on.  There are also other tweets that demand everything to be written in Arabic and not with English letters or what they call Franco-Arabic [which I think is what we refer to as Arabizi] they think that it spoils Arabic and English interesting.

The most interesting aspect of these  tweets and wall posts is not in the praise of Arabic language- no- it is actually in how the speakers are critical of their neglect of Arabic. They criticise themselves and how they are not using Arabic as much s they should be- but the nice bit is that it is all in Classical Arabic…which really emphasises their point.

The criticisms or points that people point out are the same ones we have discussed here on the blog. So I’ll try my best to sift the best ones, it’s hard when there are 93 tweets a minutes going up. Here is one from a Saudi tweeter; criticizing the choice of universities in not using Arabic as a language of instruction for Arab students, especially if it is a subject like Computing and he sees this as wasting the life of the student whilst his Arabic could have improved.

 #arabicday المناهج الجامعيه في كثير اصبحت بلغه غير لغتنا .. يضيع عمر الطالب في الجامعه يدرس الماده على انها لغه اضافيه وهي ماده كمبيوتر مثلا

Another critical one- يقول أحد المستشرقين : ليس على وجه الأرض لغة لها من الروعة والعظمة ماللغة العربية=#ArabicDay

ولكن ليس على وجه الأرض أمة تسعى بوعي أو بدون وعي لتدمير لغتها كالأمة العربية —he says ‘one of the Orientalists [someone who writes on Arabic issues but might not be an Arab themselves] says- There is not a language on the face of the earth with such beauty and greatness like Arabic, but there is not a nation on the face of the earth that consciously or unconsciously works to destroy its own language like the Arab nation’. WOW- it is a heavy statement to make and there are those who agree with him and others do not.  One can see the passion with which such tweets are delivered, he went out of his way to find and type up this quote…seriousness here.

I will not make this a very long post it was just something I thought I’d share for those interested and since it is in line with the blog’s topics. Generally, Arabic speakers feel that they are neglectful of their language and they feel that they have to do something about it.  I wonder if this will become a permanent day each year….

Source- Twitter [if you have an account you can go in and see]