“The Arabic Language: DNA of a Nation” yet the challenges are many

Herbs & Spices in Souk market in Amman

In this post, I continue with some of the themes from Al Marzouqi’s translation (which generated much interest and emails both positive and some negative, I think some Arabic speakers prefer to blame “outside forces” for the situation of Arabic…but that’s a topic for another post) on the challenges facing Arabic. I paste below an excerpt from a report by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies (Doha Institute) titled: “The Arabic language: DNA of a nation”, which was part of their first annual conference on the theme “language and identity”.

The author discusses some of the most challenging issues facing the Arabic language in Arabic speaking countries today. The major issue here is the existence of the very many spoken dialects (which are unwritten) against that of the standard written Arabic  (MSA) or Classical Arabic (however people classify it) and the expectation that children need to learn, master and be competent in both. It is a challenge and such a rich language dynamic should not endanger the language, rather it should make it unique, but the problem is that lack of a systematic system is what endangers the speakers to losing their language. In addition to this the language medium of education in Arab countries is English or French (Syria is the exception, Iraq was too once…I think that’s why most people will agree that the Arabic of the Syrians just outdoes everyone else’s) which for many language ecologists further hinders speakers from learning their mother tongue well. There are efforts to overcome these issues, for example Zayed university in the UAE and Qatar University in Qatar are working to introduce in certain subjects Arabic as the language of instruction. Perhaps in a decade or so we will be able to see the effectiveness of the programs at the respective universities through the Arabic proficiency of their graduates in other spheres of life like the workplace. Diglossia (triglossia or the existence of many dialects used for many different reason mainly official vs. non-official) does not have to be a problem it just has to be managed- that for now seems to be a challenge. The article is below without editing….

—————-29th March 2012

Non-native students of Arabic are often taken aback by just how much the standard, written form of Arabic differs from the various vernaculars; being frustrated in their attempts to learn the written form of the language, it’s usually quite difficult for them to appreciate how involved and emotional is the relationship between the written Arabic Language (“Modern Standard”) and Arabic speakers from Morocco to Bahrain. Sentimentality aside, however, there is a growing sense of urgency amongst Arab scholars about the need to bring standards of written Arabic in line with contemporary needs; this palpable feeling came out in force during the three days of the ACRPS annual conference on the social sciences and humanities.

Lacking any kind of effective centralized political or cultural authority, it seems a wonder that there is anything even approaching a common Arabic language to begin with. So the pressing economic, social and technological demands for constant standardization of the language and its styles take up a major part of the public discourse within Arab countries. The multiplicity of cursive writing forms and the vocalizations (or lack thereof) in many Arabic language manuscripts have an aesthetic value which raises them to an art form, but often prove impractical in digitized texts. Long before digital record-keeping was imagined, a proto-Arabic language emerged in the area to the south of the Arabian Peninsula. Making matters more complicated, a large part of the higher education in almost all Arab countries (Syria being a notable exception) is conducted in a “colonial language”, with English being the medium of instruction throughout most of the Middle East, and French taking prominence in the Arab Maghreb; a further obstacle to the formation of a cohesive Arab culture of the academy.

One of the speakers at the ACRPS meeting was the eminent Lebanese scholar and historian of the Arabic language, Ramzi Baalbaki. Baalbaki explained to his audience in Doha his position about the common origins of what are referred to as “Northern Arabian” (widely held to be the one reflected in present-day written language) and “Southern Arabian”, which was otherwise viewed to be closer to Amharic. According to Baalbaki, the importance of his theory of a common origin for the two forms is that it highlights the way in which trade routes tied together dispersed communities along the eastern coast of Arabia, centered, according to Baalbaki, around the village of Al Faw where the oldest Arabic inscriptions (dating back to the Fourth Century BC) have been found. In other words, the Arabic language became the “DNA of a nation”, becoming a repository of its common cultural lineage.

While an awareness of the central importance of the Arabic language to the future of a common Arab identity is widespread, use of Arabic is under constant attack in everyday life. The Palestinian hydrologist Abdulrahman Tamimi, whose intervention was focused mainly on political and economic themes in Palestine, took the time to explain how the education of the children of the economic elites in foreign-medium schools was leading to the social marginalization of the other sectors of society. Tying it to questions of the privatization of public utilities, Tamimi concluded that “what we need is not more economic re-structuring, but a reinvigoration of our national consciousness”.

Another speaker at the ACRPS event was Idriss Maqboul whose paper was provocatively titled “Educational Institutions:  Waging war on the Arabic language and identity”. According to Maqboul, profit-driven educational institutions which dominate the landscape within Arab countries and are also incredibly culturally influential, have promoted the use of foreign languages and even foreign syntactic styles at the expense of the Arabic language.

Many dialects, one language

Within the Arab Homeland, much of the scholarly output concerned with issues of language and identity is produced in three countries of the Arab Maghreb: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. This is-arguably-the result of the way in which the French colonial powers were ruthless in imposing a Francophone regime on those Arab countries which they occupied. In post-independence Algeria, which had technically been a one of the Department of France and not a colony, the newly freed country had found itself with a bureaucracy, military cadres and academics and educationalists who were far more comfortable in French than in Arabic. Alongside this was another French legacy of the promotion of minority languages and local nationalisms at the expense of single, homogenous national identities: Ironically, it was France, which had used blood and iron to impose a unified national consciousness on what had been a diverse community of dialects and localisms, had chosen to exacerbate localisms within the Arab countries which it dominated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that much of the discussion on the Arabic language within the ACRPS conference was led by scholars from Maghreb countries.

One of these was the Moroccan scholar Abdulkader Al Fassi Al Faheri, whose paper was titled “Politics and economics of linguistic identity and language of instruction: Case studies for the preservation of unity within diversity”. Al Fassi’s research depicts the situation of Morocco as one where the “national languages” of both Arabic and Amazigh (or “Berber”) are in conflict against the language of the former occupier, France. Al Fassi Al Faheri echoed some of the concerns of Abdulrahman Tamimi, stating in his paper that, since the drafting of the new constitution (in 2011):

“there are [efforts under way to] invest French …officially…as the language of the ruling elites, of powerful economic, political and cultural groups, and, conversely, to keep Arabic in its present position of being the language of the toilers, which would be simply to recognize the de-facto situation as it stands.”

In the view of Al Fassi Al Faheri, and countless others from, in particular, the Arab Maghreb, the problem began with the failure of the governments of Arab states to enact and enforce legislation which would protect the official status of the Arabic language*. Of course, one obvious observation would be to note that this in itself is a reflection of French influence on the way to solve these problems; France, with its Academe Nationale and its strict rules on translating foreign words which come into use within its territory, had done so much to undo the Arabic language in the territories it occupied Africa’s northern shore. Yet all of these issues begged a double question: What role was there for grassroots initiatives? What happened of previous efforts to promote the Arabic language within the educational institutions of other Arab countries?

For the polyglot country of Sudan has some very compelling reasons to promote the teaching of Arabic as the de-facto national language of education and bureaucracy. As detailed in the presentation of Kamel Al Khider from Sudan, who spoke at the ACRPS Annual Conference, Sudan’s efforts to integrate the Arabic language into public life came pre-date the country’s independence, and were first enunciated at a 1938 conference of Sudanese graduates, which demanded the end of the Egyptian-British Condominium which had ruled the country since the mid-nineteenth century.

It is also worth mentioning here a fact often overlooked by many when looking at the history of Sudan: It had never been conquered as part of the wave of Arab-Islamic conquests which fanned out from the Arabian Peninsula which fanned out from the Arabian Peninsula in the mid-seventh century. Instead, the Sudanese had adopted the Arabic language and come to identify as Arabs through a process of cultural osmosis. Despite this, Sudan became one of the first independent Arab states to Arabize its secondary school curricula, in 1965 as set out by Al Khider.

While efforts to Arabize the terminology and language of modern education and scholarship were to be found in a number of different countries and were motivated primarily by emotive considerations-at least on the individual level-self-criticism of these efforts and rational examination of the implementation has been a feature of Arabization efforts since the very beginning; Al Khider also cited in his paper the records of the deliberations between members of a committee set up to examine the hardships associated with creating Arabic language curricula for a variety of academic disciplines, including, most poignantly, the difficulty of preparing a competent cadre of teaching staff capable of teaching in Arabic.

Participants in the Conference convened in Doha from as far afield as Morocco, as far north as Syria and as far south as Sudan and Yemen, for three days of involved academic discussions about issues of language and identity, alongside the other topics. None reported having problems having difficulty understanding each other.

—-* For an example of such a discussion, see Mahmod Athawdi and “The Tunisian Revolution: whither the sovereignty of the Arabic language?” which was translated into English and published on the ACRPS website in July of 2011.—–end

Short but well explained and it does serve as an introduction to the subject as a whole for interested researchers. I thought it would make a good part for my post this time round….I hope you enjoyed reading it and comments are always welcome (the constructive kind). I am still waiting for my second author on the Pioneers of Arabic posts like the one I did for Noura Al Nouman…so please bear with me I have not forgotten.

Source: http://english.dohainstitute.org/Home/Details?entityID=f4c16d5a-893e-4b10-bce4-fda7bb6493c7&resourceId=eea8c65e-6193-445a-9928-4b14a438c859

Language of instruction: how Qatari ambition just does not stop!

English: Qatar University Logo

Image via Wikipedia

 

Hello readers! It has been a while since I last wrote and today I will post some interesting articles I have come across that discuss the topic of….Arabic language! This particular one below is great because Qatar has taken seriously the poor Arabic proficiency among its student population, and they intend to address it head on. The suggestion is that the medium of instruction at university (not all) should be Arabic for some subjects. In a situation where over-reaction takes place and emotions blur everything the suggestion might have been that all the subjects be taught in Arabic- as is the argument of many in the Arab countries who call for Arabization of education. But interestingly enough, the choice is to still teach some subejcts in English and only some in Arabic. The subjects of law, media studies, business administration and international affairs will be taught in Arabic, this excites me as a linguist because I would love to see the corpus/lexicon of words used. I already started thinking of the words, sentences, and how the syntax will be in Arabic, of course the instructors will need to have a high command of both Arabic and English, if they are to teach successfully.  Until now all these subjects were taught in English, most probably taught by people from non-Arabic speaking countries/cultures and without doubt they come with their personal experiences of how these abstract subjects relate to the world. Now that they will be taught in Arabic, I think that the subjects will have a different tone or rhythm to them, the subject matter and facts will remain the same, the pioneers will remain the same, but the style of teaching and reception will, I suspect be totally different. Language is a medium, as I always say, that communicates more than words. If successful, I hope it will be, it could be the reference by which all academic papers written in Arabic on these subjects refer back to. That will be an exciting time for the Arabic language as far as academia is concerned….enjoy the original article below

 

—— start (28th Jan 2012)

 

The Issue: Qatar University has been recently asked (the decision was announced this week) by education authorities to switch the medium of instruction from English to Arabic, for some crucial disciplines like law, media studies, business administration and international affairs.

 

The move has been welcomed by those who feel that one should learn a subject in one’s native language and simultaneously learn English to be prepared to pursue higher studies abroad. But what is being doubted is whether the university would be able to implement the change in the medium of instruction in such a short span of time. Spring holidays have begun and the university administration doesn’t really have much time to switch to the new medium of instruction, which calls for not only text books and other reading materials in Arabic for the above key streams but also able and experienced teachers who could impart quality education in these disciplines. Then, the question of what happens to the existing faculty members who have been giving instructions in the said streams in English, needs to be resolved amicably. The university administration should keep in mind that undue delays in implementing the change would make it vulnerable to widespread criticism in the local media from the students, their parents or guardians and the community as a whole. The decision-makers should also bear in mind that the students doing law, media, business and international affairs courses in the university which would now be taught in Arabic are able to compete in the job market. Studies suggest that students learning a subject in their native language tend to master the subject better provided they simultaneously learn the English language, than those whose mother tongue is not English but they are taught a subject in the English medium. Qatar University switching the medium of instruction for the key study streams is thus, laudatory, but the students would do better not to ignore learning English on the sidelines of their main studies. The move is also heartily welcomed because Qatari students, especially, those seeking admission to law, media studies, business administration or international affairs studies were until now required to have high scores (in secondary education) only to be enrolled for a ‘Foundation Program’ of a year’s duration. Only if they acquired a high grade point average (GPA) in this Programme were they admitted to one of the above courses. There were many who couldn’t even qualify the ‘Programme’ to be able to seek entry to the above disciplines.

 

Such students found the ‘Foundation Programme’ that focused on students acquiring basic skills in English, mathematics and computers, not only tough and unwanted but also a sheer waste of time.Many of them were, thus, forced to seek admission to universities in Sharjah or Jordan, among other countries, and ironically, they landed jobs here as well with ease, mainly in the government, once they returned with a graduate degree.

 

But a Qatari graduate, in order to have a graduate degree from Qatar University, had to undergo so much of ‘trouble’.

 

“Now, with the medium of instruction being Arabic for the four major disciplines, Qatar University graduates from these streams wouldn’t have to now waste a year of their life cycle,” a critic told this newspaper not wanting his name in print.

 

He said that there are examples worldwide, and in the neighbouring Saudi Arabia as well, that for a university to be of international acclaim and standard it need not compulsorily impart education in English.

 

“The focus on teaching should be on the content of a subject rather than being on English which is merely a medium of instruction,” said the critic.

 

He said that what had been happening at Qatar University in the above streams was that students were made to concentrate on the learning of English rather than the subject. “So we welcome the move but are suspicious if the university administration would be able to implement the decision in such a short span of time,” he said. The Peninsula

 

————–end

 

Source: http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/qatar/181279-arabic-vs-english.html

 

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,

—————— start:

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

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Another struggle: what happened to our Arabic? Just open a book to find out

A number of books written in Arabian language.

Image via Wikipedia

 In keeping with the theme of the last post, reading and publishing, I came across this article about (yes you guessed it) the situation of Arabic language in the publishing world. What’s nice about it is that, the writer is an author herself and so brings to the article experience and so much reality with regards to the struggle and challenges Arabic language faces, in addition to readers’ perceptions and preferences. I have just returned from the UAE after a conference and whilst I was there, I had the chance to attend the 30th Sharjah International Book Fair (it ends tomorrow). It was a wonderful experience and I could not choose what to buy and what to leave. Visitors were spoilt for choice, we had small seminars going on, workshops, book signings (which were so great because I got a chance to meet people I only read), cookery shows, open mic sessions and of course the activities they had for kids. The motto of the fair is “For the love of the written word” and the aim is to get people to love reading, I think it might just work, I was amazed to see so many children enjoying themselves around books, yes I know that’s normal, but these were Arabic books! There has always been this struggle on behalf of teachers and parents to get their children interested in reading Arabic books.  But after seeing the atmosphere in the book fair, I had the feeling that perhaps the attitudes towards reading books in Arabic were changing. And that younger children have a better relationship with Arabic books than their older counterparts maybe?! Without doubt, there is a boom in the Arabic language publishing industry as a whole, and more specifically within the UAE children’s books are flourishing and the demand is becoming ever higher as parents know that they can realise their dreams of their children becoming competent readers in both Arabic and English.  It was such a good atmosphere to be in, books from all over the world in English, Arabic, Hindi, German, French…etc..it seems that Sharjah has placed itself firmly on the map of culture and education, a place I suspect already becoming synonymous with advancement, something other cities only dream of.

In the article below, Rym Ghazal discusses the challenges facing Arabic language, in the sense that younger readers prefer to read in English rather than Arabic. She goes as far as saying that if her book had been published in Arabic (which it is by Kalimat Publishing House, UAE) and English- the young people would pick the English version. There are many reasons for this preference and many we have discussed on this blog in the past. However, I think one major reason is the education system and language of instruction. In reference to the UAE specifically, the majority of children attend private schools that teach either the American or British curriculum. Therefore, it makes sense to instruct in English, to use books in English and when it comes to reading books- well it’s done in English of course! How then do we expect students of those schools to easily pick up a book in Arabic and read it? It is a tall order and something unrealistic to say the least. 

 Even for those of us who can read Arabic competently and are confident to pick up books in Arabic in many genres; poetry, fact/fiction, short stories, novels and newspapers, still needed training to do it. We still needed to understand how to ‘understand’ written Arabic in its many forms. We needed to understand the meanings of one word in different situations, just like we were taught to do the same in English. The ability to read is taught, nurtured and consistent efforts are made to keep up the reading. It is not true that every literate individual is a reader, becoming a reader is a choice made by the individual (a topic for another post).

The writer does identify one issue that is problematic, and that is what type of Arabic to use when writing. Do we use Classical, Modern Standard (there are people who do not differentiate between the two) spoken Arabic? But which spoken Arabic? Egyptian, Levantine, Saudi, Yemeni, Omani, oh but even here which variety the urban or bedouin? You see the matter is somewhat complicated and can prove a challenge in the publishing world. I would personally say that Standard/ Classical Arabic is what should be used, and it always has been(though I am no publishing expert). But why now is there a problem? Simple, no one studies Classical/Standard Arabic as they used to, consequently they have no competence or confidence in doing so. Therefore those who can read English do so, those who cannot- do not read. This is of course in reference to some Arab countries and not all of them. There needs to be a direct relationship between the level of Arabic taught in schools the level of Arabic in the books written for children. Some of these books dubbed as ‘for children’ use such advanced Arabic, and their topics are not written with children in mind- so how can we expect children to read them? Having said that, I did see a change in this habit at the book fair, I skimmed through books that were fun, interesting and ‘child-centered’. In addition to it I saw books written with all vowel and case markings (this means that the Arabic letters are accompanied by small marks to tell the reader how to pronounce the letters), this helps the child in reading correctly whilst enjoying the story. I think that when this is achieved by all publishers, then children will not find it difficult to pick up a book in Arabic and read it with pleasure. This topic can go on and on, but I should stop….below is the article void of any editing on my part as usual- enjoy!  

——————-start

My Books

Image by Jennerally via Flickr

Rym Ghazal—- Nov 24, 2011 

On a typical lazy Friday afternoon, Fahd, Fares, Sami and Nour decide to investigate the rumours about a haunted palace just a 100 kilometres away from their homes.

Little did they know that this trip would change each of their lives forever as they came face to face with something far more frightening than a few mischievous jinn.

Inspired by my visit to a real “haunted” palace in UAE, this is a quick synopsis of my new book Maskoon, or Haunted, published in Arabic for Arab young people by Kalimat. It took me a few seconds to write up those sentences in English – and a whole day (because I refused to use Google Translate) to write the same synopsis in Arabic. It took so long, and I introduced so many grammatical errors, that a translator was assigned to help me.

I can’t describe the shame I felt, with a family tree filled with poets and writers, and even an ancestor whose eloquence and writing was famous in a royal court. How did it happen that I, who spent my childhood in strict Arabic-language Islamic schools in Saudi Arabia and wrote pages and pages of Arabic poetry and letters, cannot do it anymore and feel more comfortable writing and speaking in English?

Ironically, I only learnt English from movies, and spoke like the actor Humphrey Bogart for the longest time, before a college friend made fun of me. The reason I ventured into this project was because of something I overheard my younger brother and his friends, all teenagers, complain about: there are no books in Arabic that appeal to them

“Arabic books are boring, and hard to read. They are just too preachy,” was the consensus.

As a consequence, the young generation, and many others, just read English books and our Arabic has slowly deteriorated. Now my brother’s group speaks “bad Arabic” filled with grammatical errors and loan words from other languages.

One of the biggest issues I have noticed is that Arabs perceive the Arabic language as “sacred” because it is the language of the Holy Quran. Immediately after my “horror/ fantasy” book came out, my conservative friends slammed me for writing in this genre in Arabic. “This stuff should be written in English, not Arabic. I hope they release a fatwa against you and using Arabic to write horror!” one friend messaged me.

I sent her a copy, and asked her to first read it before condemning it just because it is based on imagination. But it exposed a very thorny issue that other authors of Arabic books have shared with me.

“How does one find a balance between using classical Arabic, and the Arabic that the young are now speaking, without compromising the integrity of the language itself?” asked a prominent Emirati author who also writes for young people.

It is a struggle finding the “right Arabic” that will reach our younger generations.

This was the greatest challenge in writing my book. I ran it by friends who have teenagers to see their reactions. I was surprised at just how basic their Arabic was, and even the most common words caused confusion and disrupted the flow of their imagination as they read. So we ended up changing entire paragraphs to make it as easier to read.

Coming from a mixed background, I told myself that because my mother is not Arab, maybe that was the reason why Arabic wasn’t fully maintained in our home. But I found the same weakening of the language in homes where both parents are Arabs.

This really is a serious problem. How will future Arabs understand the oldest and perhaps the most difficult text out there: the Quran?

More and more Arabs are losing their intellectual strength as they lose fluency of their own native language. The sad reality is that, given the choice, if an English version of my book is next to the Arabic one, it will be picked up first. I have done it myself numerous times when I felt I just didn’t have time to read an Arabic book. But it is just more than my book that is at stake.

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Childrens' booksGood points made here and there is much work to do in this field with regards to the Arabic language. There are opportunities, and there are some important publishing houses addressing many of her concerns. Arabic books will be much easier to read and own when we have more authors who understand the art of writing and their audiences needs. It is difficult but not impossible and I look forward to the day that I can write a post saying that these challenges have been overcome and that Arabic publishing, is strong with its unique Arabian character and readers old and young  are simply spoilt for choice on what to read :)….

Source: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/what-happened-to-our-arabic-just-open-a-book-to-find-out

Learning Arabic: Robert Lane Greene’s perspective

Arabic Books

It’s great to be back after a break, Ramadan is over, wishing everybody Eid mubarak (Happy Eid), a new academic year- so it’s back to the usual.  There are exciting things for me this year and for Arabizi too I hope. A warm welcome to the new readers, I hope that Arabizi will be a good resource for you and not rubbish in your inbox. And also thanks to all those who wrote emails and comments on the blog these are very much appreciated….. now to the post….

When I wrote the previous short post about Emarati Arabic being taught to expats in the UAE, it never occurred to me how a non-native speaker might feel about that. Nor did I ever know that as a result of one of the shortest posts I have ever written, that I would learn so much about the perceptions, feelings and frustrations of Arabic language learners. But that is exactly what happen in the form of a clear and constructive comment from Robert Lane Greene, journalist at the Economist and best-selling author of ‘You are what you speak- Grammar Grounches, Language Laws and the Politics of Identity’.  A keen language learner and enthusiast of Arabic language himself (the number of languages he knows would put any linguist to shame), saw the beneficial side of the teaching of Emarati to non-Arabic speakers. The points he raised made me think not only about the challenges non-speakers face, but it also allowed me to see what I deemed as negative in a new way.  What his comment made me do was realise that given the diglossic situation of Arabic with its complicated grammar (not a negative thing) and many dialects, that perhaps an effort such as the teaching of Emarati Arabic was to be appreciated. And maybe should be looked at as a step towards strengthening Arabic learning on part of the non-native speaker as it would give them access to ‘real- spoken’ Arabic as opposed to textbook examples of ‘how’ things should be said. Following that comment and subsequent conversations he kindly agreed to honour Arabizi and write a guest post for us :-).

It is candid, detailed to the point and describes Arabic from a non-native learner’s point of view which is rarely read about. Most learners complain at the complicated nature of the grammar, the rules and the impossibility to converse in Arabic. Most students will relate to the struggles and challenges he mentions and I am sure even the funny parts. I also hope that Arabic teachers can take note of how non-native speakers feel about the learning of Arabic language and hopefully work towards making it easier for the students. Yes, I know it is only one person’s experience but, it is a consistent, sincere and continuous one therefore lessons need to learned from it.

I have added it below without editing from myself- thank you Lane, a real treat for us at Arabizi. Comments are most welcome and I am sure Lane will not mind answering or adding to any points readers will make.

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Six years ago, I wrote a piece for Slate on learning Arabic. Since it’s still the second Google result for “learning Arabic”, people occasionally write me and ask me if I’ve made it past the problems I described there (with some attempt at humor, but no exaggeration). I’m happy to report that yes, I have made a lot of progress over the years, alhamdulillah.  I can read a newspaper with minor dictionary help, I can chat with cab drivers in Brooklyn who are usually amazed by the white American guy who speaks with them in decent colloquial, and I can follow, with some difficulty, a full-speed al-Jazeera broadcast on a familiar topic.  It’s been a long road, but fascinating.

When I started the journey, the hardest part was for me was the forbidding grammar of Modern Standard Arabic: ten verbal paradigms, reverse-gender agreement of numbers, the feminine singular for plural inanimate subjects, the litany of mind-bending quirks familiar to the student of the language. These are the things I focused on in that piece for Slate.

Since then, though, the single most frustrating thing about making progress is the polyglossia of the Arab world. Yes, we refer to diglossia most of the time, but that implies two varieties, high and low. For a journalist like me, who has followed the fascinating news from Libya to Tunisia to Egypt to Syria to the Gulf in the past year, the problem isn’t just learning just one “high” for reading and another “low” for speaking, but picking one of several colloquial Arabics, maybe picking a sub-colloquial among them, finding good teaching materials, and sticking with it.

My first Arabic teacher was a very nice Moroccan, and a very bad teacher. He began by teaching us the letters, having a hard time explaining the emphatic consonants to his puzzled students (to him the difference between daad and daal was just obvious). But worse, he began teaching us to speak in Moroccon colloquial, while never telling us that that was what he was doing.  I learned ish taakul, “what are you eating?” or “what will you have to eat?”, with no idea that this was Moroccan dialect. What can I say? The class was free. You get what you pay for. I quit.

My next class was at New York University’s continuing education school, with Karam, a Palestinian. He was also a very nice guy, and the quality of the class was much higher.  But once again, diglossia was a problem. Karam was a big believer in colloquial, and so taught it alongside MSA from the start.  We had a big book (a bad one, in my opinion: Ahlan wa Sahlan from Yale University Press) for MSA, and Karam’s home-made handouts for the Palestinian colloquial. He would teach us something in MSA, and then give the colloquial straight away. It was too much. I simply shut my ears at the colloquial parts, trying to remember only one version of everything. MSA was hard enough on its own. 

With my third teacher, things improved. Ahmed was an Egyptian, but taught no-nonsense MSA. He was pot-bellied, loud and funny, and it was hard not to enjoy just being in his classroom. The only Egyptian we got was in the form of songs, which he would occasionally teach, and positively insist we sing along. Looking back, I think it was a good pedagogical technique; it was painful for everyone, but so it was funny, and everyone relaxed as we got back into the MSA.  And I still remember one song:  Salma, ya salama, ruhna w giina b-salaama. I never learned any Egyptian colloquial beyond that, though I remember Ahmed’s typically Egyptian stress pattern:  al-qaa-HI-ra, not al-QAA-hi-ra.

After Ahmed, I was on my own, with no time for classes. I kept the much better books he used in his class, the Al-Kitaab series, and worked my way through them on my own. As I started putting fairly fine finishing touches on my knowledge of MSA, I began to want to learn a colloquial properly. I had met two Egyptians at a bar in South Africa who didn’t speak English, and the only thing I had been able to resort to was MSA, very weird for all of us.  I wanted to start speaking the way Arabs speak for real.

But which dialect?  My biggest interest was in the Levantine countries, I decided. So simple: I’ll learn “Levantine colloquial.” I was loth to have to pick one, but that’s what I chose, with silent apologies to the Iraqis, Saudis and Algerians. Only to discover, as I gathered materials, there were coursebooks on Syrian Arabic, on Lebanese Arabic, on Palestinian Arabic… and these were far more different from each other than I wanted them to be!  And this was Damascus, Beirut and Jerusalem Arabic.  Imagine my annoyance on learning that if I traveled to a small village in the Levant, much less talked to a Bedouin, I’d probably encounter yet another Arabic I couldn’t understand.

I flitted aimlessly between my three books. There really is such a thing as a Levantine continuum, and I understand that Syrians and Palestinians understand each other well. But there were all these choices I had to make, and didn’t want to: –kum or –kon for the 2ndperson plural attached pronoun?  Final taa-marbuta becomes –e, or no? (Hiyya or hiyye?)  In my own book, I write with joy about the messy real world of language. In learning Arabic, I wanted there to be one right variety, or by God, at least only two clear-cut varieties I had to learn.  But the universe didn’t offer me a simple solution.  Today I speak a sort of mishmash Levantine, probably mostly Palestinian.  (I re-hired Karam as a private tutor for a few hours of practice.)

 All of this has made me wonder about how Arabs feel about all this.  I have encountered opinions from 

– denial (“this isn’t an issue—everyone speaks one language, really”), to 

– scorn of the dialects (“the Bedouins are the only ones who speak real Arabic”—the belief that Bedouins basically speak Classical Arabic, but most children have to go to school to learn “real Arabic”), to 

– embrace of the dialects (“we speak the nicest Arabic in [my home country], which is incidentally closest to fusha”).  

Opinions seem as varied as the linguistic map itself.  

Pragmatically, it would be fabulous if the much-mooted “Middle Arabic”—combining the most common dialect features with a simplified MSA grammar—would appear as a kind of koine. But there is no one to bring it into existence.  So the result is many different “Middle Arabics” improvised by speakers from different regions trying to talk to each other, or by educated speakers on television trying to sound serious (classical) and real (dialect) at the same time by mixing elements of the two ad-hoc.

The situation is difficult enough for Arabs; it is harder still for the learner. But nobody promised it would be easy. I’m glad I’ve learned as much as I have, but I know that I’ll be adding piecemeal to that knowledge of Arabic—Arabics, really—for the rest of my life.

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.
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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.

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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