World Arabic Language Day: Challenges and opportunities

arabic1So Wednesday 18th December was World Arabic Language Day as set out and proposed by the UN, because Arabic is one of its official languages. It is the first time ever that I have seen on Twitter such excitement and preparation for this day, tweets started circulating since last Tuesday. One of the ideas to create an awareness for the day, was to tweet in Arabic using the hashtag #بالعربي (meaning in Arabic) with the intention that by the 18th of December the hashtag would be trending on Twitter. It is also the first time that the day has received open official backing, in the case of Dubai the Mohammad bin Rashid al Maktoum Foundation supported the  #بالعربي (bil- Arabi) initiative on Twitter among other initiatives in place to celebrate the importance of Arabic on the day.

Many parts of the Arab world were excited about the day, in Egypt the Supreme Council of Culture  commemorated the day, whilst in Dubai free Arabic classes have been offered (among other activities) to non-Arabic speakers since the 15th of December until today the 19th and anybody can enrol. Dubai is also opening a new centre for Arabic language to coincide with the Arabic Language Day, this is in keeping with the recent programs and plans in the emirate to promote the learning of Arabic for native speakersSaudi Arabia marked the day at it’s Riyadh book fair, and the day was celebrated as far away as India. And I could write forever about the fun and joy of the day, how children were treated to cakes in Arabic alphabet shapes, sweets and colouring books or if they were lucky enough they read a book in Arabic at school and listened to lovely poems and songs about the Arabic language- and I am sure it was that fun.

But in reading about the preparations for the day, receiving emails from various organisations about their plans for the day, and in reading about how different people celebrated the day, I wondered what the opportunities and challenges (if any) a day like World Arabic Day presented to policy makers and native Arabic speakers? I am sure you know that on Arabizi we are constantly trying to understand the current situation of the Arabic language based on how it is used by its speakers and the ever-problematic question of diglossia and the future of the language in its native lands. So a day to celebrate the Arabic language almost always get my mind working and thinking.

Is the 18th of December all about celebrating Arabic on that one day 1 every year? Reading poems, or indeed tweeting or posting them up on Facebook, and forgetting about it the next day? Is it about following the trend on that day (by tweeting, reading an Arabic book, writing about how much the Arabic language means/meant to humanity and civilisation) and showing everyone that Arabic is the best language? Is it about reminding the Arabic speakers that Arabic is the language of the Qur’an? I saw some good tweets, whilst I thought others were slightly over the top in their exaggeration of the uniqueness of Arabic compared to other languages (I don’t deny that its unique, but I don’t compare it to other languages with the intention of claiming its superiority). It was also fascinating to see that in their bid to demonstrate the superiority of Arabic language over other languages, some writers misspelled words and messed the grammar around, and the worst irony in all this, was that they didn’t even realise their mistakes!

The day offers many great opportunities for Arabic language speakers, especially native speakers, it reminds them that their language is good enough to (re)learn and use in everyday communication. By openly celebrating the day, people who perhaps felt judged at their insistence for the use of Arabic language in everyday communication feel rewarded and will maybe revamp their efforts with a new energy. I know that the Arabic language protection societies took the opportunity to prescriptively instruct people about the importance of ‘correct’ Arabic, ‘pure’ Arabic and their responsibility towards their mother-tongue the Arabic language. For some native Arabic speakers this is stifling and does not interest them in Arabic further, which is counter-productive if the aim was to encourage people to rekindle their relationship with their language.

arabic 2

Non-native speakers also have the opportunity to experience Arabic from a linguistic perspective (usually it’s food, dancing and some history for an Arabic themed day) and not just from a cultural perspective. During my masters I was an Arabic teacher and each year the school would put on an Arabic language day. For the entire week before that day, students would prepare small 10 minute presentations about Arabic language facts and present for the rest of the school during the morning assembly. In the end, even students who were not taking Arabic as a modern language, learned a few words and some facts about the language. So I would say for non-native speakers the day is a brilliant opportunity for them to learn about the Arabic language, or indeed the language itself.

However, in all this, I think that there are challenges that must be addressed and must be overcome, and I do acknowledge that there are efforts in process to overcome these challenges. Although, a day to celebrate Arabic presents opportunities, I think that it mainly presents for its native speakers and policy makers many challenges. First, the language policy in education needs to be addressed urgently. Children go through education and are confused about their languages and the roles those languages (should) play in their lives. I have numerous times discussed here on Arabizi. So a day celebrating Arabic raises many questions for native speakers,and in the last week I have received emails from people wishing that the situation really could be a reason to celebrate. They want to be at peace with their language, and still be modern and still be educated to the highest levels they can reach-all without losing their language. They have nothing against English or any other language.

The second (and final) challenge is keeping up the momentum and zeal for the language throughout the year, when all the balloons and grand elaborate calligraphy-inspired banners have all been put away. How can children and even adult native speakers feel encouraged to use their mother tongue for everyday use at work and in educational settings? What mechanisms are in place that will ensure that? And the age-old question of diglossia and standard vs. non-standard Arabic needs to be addressed. Does Arabic language not deserve to be a language of the future? A language capable of communicating information and knowledge? It’s a great idea to have such a day, but the work begins the day after the poetry lines stop appearing on our timelines and the newspaper articles no longer discuss the events of World Arabic day. A true and serious dialogue is needed, and practical steps must be taken to address any issues each Arabic country has with regards to Arabic (because different countries have different challenges). I will also be keeping an eye on the progress of the initiatives set up this year to improve the Arabic language situation to see the differences they will be making. Please share your comments and thoughts on the post. How did you celebrate the day? What challenges do you think exist?

Finally, I should also say that I have started another blog (an extension to Arabizi) to review Arabic linguistic books/papers and articles (arabizibooks.wordpress,com), please visit it to learn more about it. Thanks for reading, the next post will be about Arabic and globalization.

 

Advertisements

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]