2012 was a very good year…..for Arabic

Support Arabic Language

Support Arabic Language (Photo credit: Beshroffline)

Let’s hope it lasts beyond the Sinatra sense, and that actually 2012 will be remembered as the year Arabic language made great changes, hopefully significant advancements so that its speakers can have more access to it now, and in the future. I hope it will be remembered as the year in which Arabic language was used seriously by its users and explored and stretched to accommodate new words and ideas. This is a belated happy new year to all Arabizi readers, I wish I had posted earlier in the year, but due to writing and other commitments I was not able to. I wanted the first post of 2013 to be a summary of everything that had taken place the previous year,  based on my readings it would seem that many important initiatives were started or strengthened further in 2012 more than in previous years. I am sure readers have noticed that I tend to focus on the Gulf countries, not because in other countries there is not such effort for Arabic, but because the Gulf countries publically report on their efforts, both the good and those in progress or in need of improvement. In an overview style, and taking into account only the major events, we’ll start with:

1. The Taghreedat initiative born in Abu Dhabi and Doha in 2011 aimed to increase Arabic content on the internet, through the help and cooperation of volunteers all over the world who spoke Arabic. I have written about Taghreedat a number of times and I think their idea of arabizing online content is brilliant. So far Twitter has been Arabized and it is possible to use the entire site in Arabic instead of English see here. They are also in the process of arabizing, TED, The khan academy (this is taking place very fast!), Storify, and Wikimedia, and as of 2013 Taghreedat is in the process of arabizing Whatsapp! so any volunteers out there can read up more at Taghreedat’s website (you can follow them on Twitter @Taghreedat). Last month (Dec. 2013) they held important conferences in Abu Dhabi and Doha with Google, TED and Twitter and other internet giants to discuss a way forward because Taghreedat’s work in 2012 has proven innovative and very popular among Arabic speakers and users.

An ad/banner for Arabic Wikipedia containing t...

An ad/banner for Arabic Wikipedia containing the Wikipedia logo in it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Last month I wrote about ADEC (Abu Dhabi Education council)’s initiative to assist parents to understand their children’s Arabic curriculum which was a welcome publication by many parents. The UAE aims by 2021 to become the centre of excellence for Arabic! A huge ambition but they have started work since 2012 in a huge way to increase their chances of achieving their goal. Also Zayed university‘s Arabic language institute is working with the ministry of education to improve Arabic text books and material so that the acquisition of Arabic for children can be eased and made slightly more appealing than it already is. Of course they are also working hard to ensure teachers are well versed and proficient in Arabic as well as modern language teaching methods. There are many challenges in ensuring that this will be a successful initiative, remember it is also the enthusiasm and passion of the teacher, it is not enough to have a system in place. Dubai Women’s college has now stepped up efforts to improve the standards of Arabic language among its native speakers, which is welcome news to many students. Most students at the college, and based on my research, prefer to be proficient in both Standard Arabic and English rather than focus only on English. There are many other initiatives, but I don’t want this to read like an academic review! These examples give an idea of the work on the ground being done to improve Arabic language in the UAE in 2012.

On a slightly different note, a Palestinian mother living in Abu Dhabi decided to publish her own line of Arabic language resources in an effort to teach her children Arabic. She felt that they were not being motivated enough in school and named her collection Karam and Tamar after her children this is the website and this is her story!

3. The Arab Thought Foundation‘s (FIKR) 11th annual conference which took place in Dubai in November (amongst other issues discussed) introduced a new initiative to help promote the Arabic language. They call it “Let’s Rise with Our Language” through which they hope to make Arabic language more appealing to its native speakers. I do not have the complete details of the recommendations FIKR made as a result of a two-year research but you can read more about it here.

In 2013: Watch out for the Arabic language conference to take place in May in Dubai and I will try my best to post details about the conference if I go, or if I know someone going. It would be great to see their approach and their methods in meeting their goals for the promotion of Arabic language. In the meantime if there is anything significant I have missed that took place with regards to the Arabic language in 2012, please let me know!

Other final points, first, thank you again to all those who stopped by and made comments and a huge hello and welcome to the new readers, thanks for joining club Arabizi! It means a great deal to me if readers make constructive comments because it helps me improve the blog. Thanks also to everyone who emails with questions, queries or pointers to other sources on the stories/ideas/opinions I have written about. I hope 2013 will be a better and bigger year for Arabizi-how we use Arabic today©, there will be a few changes to the blog which you will see soon, and I am in the process of adding new pages/videos and so on- here’s to 2013 and Arabizi!

Advertisements

“Arabic language has not been developed since the fall of the Ottomans”! A translation

What a title?! I am sure it is making some people upset and others, skeptical and still others inquisitive. I promised at the end of Noura Al Noman’s interview in the last post that I would post a translation of an article I read last month, and so here it is. The translation is based on an article which appeared in the Sunday section of the online newspaper Emaratalyoum. I felt that many of the points raised were important in understanding or at least identifying some possible reasons why the Arabic language is somewhat stagnated amongst its native speakers. Another reason I wanted to translate the article is because of its authenticity in the sense that it is written by a native speaker living in a country where Arabic is the language of everyday use…it gives a different dimension to something written by someone a thousand miles away.

The quirky, witty, ironic, provocative, bold, often-smirky, well-written and self-assured style of the Arabic was so attractive I felt compelled to translate it into English and share it with readers on this site. I must thank in advance the original author Mohammed Al Mazrouqi for giving me permission to translate it into English, I also found out that he is writing a book on the situation of the Arabic language which is very exciting for any sociolinguist. The translation is broad as opposed to narrow and the title I use above is not the original, rather it is a statement taken from the second part of the article. Below I translate part 2 but summarize part 1,
In summary of part 1: Al Mazrouqi addresses the aspect of Arabization and the Arabic academies or rather the failure of such bodies in being coherent in their efforts to bring Arabic vocabulary “up-to-date”. He takes us through what has now become a joke among Arabic speakers, the story of how the academy worked so hard to arabize the English word “sandwich” into Arabic.  Their substitute was comical, but to make matters worse it became known that they did not in fact invent the word (or concept) it had already been introduced by a poet earlier on! So what were they doing one wonders? Such jokes and ridicule render these academies useless and non-functioning, I personally think that a body like this needs to be descriptive rather than prescriptive because language is a natural occurrence not dictated. The writer makes an interesting often-ignored point, that in fact the Quran contains many foreign words (non-Arabic from Hebrew, Hindi, Persian), mainly nouns, which were not arabized in order to qualify being a part of this sacred text, but rather used as part of the text until this day (his choice of the Quran is understandable since it is considered a representation of the (most) perfect form of Arabic, the logic is therefore simple, if the most revered Arabic text did not arabize, why do less important texts need to?). These words subsequently became Arabic words, something many Arabs are unaware of, it is only when studying Arabic grammar (or Lisan al Arab) or Tajweed (sciences of reciting the Quran, the student is required to know all non-Arabic words in the Quran before an exam…seriously) that one becomes aware of this fact. The point? The point (as far as I understood it) is that if the word is widespread it can be used (simply by taking the English/any other language’s word and using Arabic letters to transliterate it) without causing confusion, so why Arabize it when the original (in its non-Arabic form) can superbly describe/account for the intended meaning? His point makes me think that the whole “sandwich” escapade was a waste of time, and most of us use “san-da-wich” to mean “sandwich” anyway…wasted time on an unimportant aspect of reviving Arabic? Perhaps or maybe not who knows? But one thing is definite these academies are not making much of an impact on the way the Arabic language is evolving today right now in the age of computers, social networking and the domination of the English language the world over. There has to be some type of reconciliation between the “desired language” and the “real (used) language”, the work they are doing is commendable but it needs to be effective. See here from Mourad Diouri’s site a list of Arabic academies.
Translation: Part 2 (Arabiologia)– 
Despite the fact that [usually] I am not someone who likes to unburden people of their sorrows and sadness, this time however I will be that person [and make someone happy] in order to annoy the pessimists [because] each time a discussion about the predicament the Arabic language faces is brought up, I find myself compelled to say that [and that is how I begin this article], “be reassured masters of our language, the beautiful Arabic language is not in danger!”
A language scholar may stand up and point his stick or finger at me accusing me of being an enemy of the Arabic language, I would [simply] smile and reiterate to him that, “I do not think that the Arabic language is in danger or under threat of becoming extinct because there are so many channels through which it is maintained, suffice to say it is the official [standard] language of the fastest growing religion in the world (i.e. Islam).
All that it boils down to is the fact that in its native countries it [Arabic] faces ferocious competition from the much simpler English language; and this issue is not exclusive to Arabic alone. For example, French is facing similar challenges, not only on a global level [i.e. in French speaking countries around the world] but locally within France itself.
We can go on endlessly criticising the English language and praising our own, but that will not change in the slightest, the fact that – Arabic is regressing before the English language! Unlike the English language, Arabic has not undergone at least since the fall of the Ottoman empire any serious scientific (systematic) or academic attempts at rejuvenating or developing it so that it is equipped to deal with modern developments.
The [somewhat] backwardness of the Arabic language books used in schools are a testament to this. I would not be exaggerating if I said that the second worst and most complicated subject for students in school is Arabic language class (with the assumption that there will always be another subject to take first place).
It is true that a share of the blame for the students’ weakness in Arabic [language proficiency] lies on the current environment and on the students themselves, but a larger portion of the blame lies on these education curricula that wish [as if] to mummify [force down] the Arabic language onto iron templates [students] similar to [the process] used to bind the feet of small girls (in China) so as to stop their feet from growing larger in size. In the same way that a Chinese woman came to lose her balance as she grew up [her body grew in height and weight], whilst her feet remained the same small size that they were when they were forced into the template [iron shoes]. This too is exactly what happens with regards to the Arabic language and its grammar [a creative comparison by the author to equate the inappropriateness of forcing too many complex and often useless rules on young children which later become useless and ill-fitting when it comes to using language effectively].
Arabic syntax presents something of a challenge due to its complex and difficult rules, and is something that cannot be fathomed except by those specialised in it. For instance, the Iraqi writer, Khalid Al Qashteeni, who spent most of his 70 years striving to perfect the Arabic language says that despite all of that he can still never complete an essay without making a mistake somewhere.
For that reason we cannot rely [completely] on school curricula, if we believe that they were designed with the purpose of ensuring that students become [highly] competent in writing and speaking Arabic [this is because] in truth they have failed miserably due to their incongruent artificial over-complicating of the [simple] essence and nature of the Arabic language.
What we are calling for is, [first] the simplification of the Arabic language in the school curricula by taking out many of the difficult syntactic and grammatical rules; and its subject [components] that have become purely academic. Second, to ignore those who lament over the Arabic language at every opportunity afforded to them [in his original expression he likens their lamenting to a tent pitched for giving condolences where mourners gather to share their grief over the dead!]. Finally, and for the third time “the Arabic language is NOT in danger!”.
————end
The passion with which the argument and point of view is presented with can be seen through this highly exciting and somewhat sophisticated style the author employs in his writing and order of paragraphs. The use of metaphors, wild comparisons (that often offends certain people) and open criticism of the things he sees as obstacles to the Arabic language’s further development, are stated with a candid and confident style…you see why I had to translate it (if you can read the Arabic you’ll see what I mean)?
The issues he raises here (based on his opinions and experience) are ones we have discussed here on Arabizi in the past the academies, the education curriculum, and the current environment of the dominance of English language.
I feel like his focus on the curriculum is right, it is not the English language, the internet, or some outside conspiracy that is the reason behind the regression of Arabic and the over-taking of English language- it is the Arabic language education policies. It the often archaic, non-practical way the children are taught, his depiction is almost painful, illegal, useless like the squeezing of Chinese girls’ feet into iron shoes! This I know will offend many language teachers because they work so hard to teach young children the ‘correct Arabic language’ in the face of better English language teaching and resources. So they too find it so tough, and I think there needs to be some revision in how they teach, and like Al Mazrouqi suggests above, what they teach the unnecessary content needs to be taken out and the more practical and pragmatic aspects need to be taught well. I would say too that the language planners need to look closely at the literature on language teaching and acquisition and the research on effective second language teaching, to improve their teaching.
The claim that the Arabic language has not been modernised since at least the fall of the Ottoman empire is a huge one, and one that would make many upset. But perhaps it’s true, and the reason the Arabic language is in its current state? I highlighted it, and used it in my title because for me that was a learning, something I have never really considered before. However outrageous it may be, however unfounded we may feel it is, it calls for serious investigation into the matter, and perhaps within that finding, may lie the answer of how to get out of the current mess? Who knows?
Al Mazrouqi maintains that the Arabic language is not in danger because it is the official language of Islam and there are many millions of Muslims who would claim it because of its religious connection to the Quran. When I first read this I was not convinced and disagreed that such a claim can be used to argue the non-demise of the Arabic language, given the current situation. And his reasoning would have been one that language preservation experts would have challenged and perhaps ridiculed.  However, after having read it a few times now I think I agree with it in a different way, and I have arrived at a certain conclusion. If we agree that, the Arabic language may not be in decline the only other logical conclusion is that-  the Arabs are sure on their way to losing Arabic as a language of everyday use.  With that they will lose the essence and original meaning of important words and significant linguistic themes specific to Arabic language. The Arabs are the key to understanding texts, old poems, stories and historical documents, if they lose their ability to competently speak Arabic and understand it, then Arabic will be to its speakers what Latin is to English speakers! Language thrives and remains ‘in use’ for its speakers when it is spoken well and used in all arenas of life, in addition to being developed and used with confidence by its speakers.
Comments, suggestions and additions are welcome as always….wishing you all a productive week, London this week will be immersed in books and reading as I am sure many of us book lovers will be at the book fair over the next three days. I am working on the interview with the second author just in case you think I forgot, and as soon as that is ready I will put it up- thanks for reading. Just to point out, the picture above is of the Arabic academy in Old Damascus….I thought it was suitable.

The need to move away from Arabizi: A Riyadh perspective

This is a rough translation (or rather interpretation as I had to add stylistic expressions) of an article that appeared in the Riyadh newspaper (Arabic online) opinions section contributed by Aala Badr ad-Deen where she discusses the nature of Arabizi and why she thinks it’s bad for the Arabic language. As usual no editing, my own words are italicised and the source is provided below for Arabic readers. I have also posted up a poll today about the use of Arabizi, I would appreciate it if people could vote it’s only up for six days- thanks.

———Translated text of article

Arabizi by Aala Badr Ad-Deen
Over the last couple of years it has become very normal to hear Arabic terms merged with English words, or to read Arabic words witten in latin/English script amongst the young people or those of the higher more elite classes in society (it seems here she is referring to Saudi society). This type of Arabic has been named Arabizi, the reason I was pushed to look further into this phenomenon was because of the effect [I saw] it had on the Arabic language and its speakers. Language is not merely words repeated, rather it is how human beings communicate and it is the very vessel that carries culture therefore it is the only medium through which a culture of a society can truly and precisely be expressed.  And because each culture is different and unique it is also holds that the languages (words available) carry specific meanings for its speakers that non-speakers can never appreciate. For example in Arabic we say ‘I have warmed my heart’ and the Arabic listener would feel at ease and they understand that this means the speaker is about to announce some good news. Whereas, in other languages other expressions would be used instead, this shows that the choice of words is a reflection of the fact that our [cultural/linguistic] environments affect and influence our language and thought [something of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis here- yes I know one of my favourite topics] as well as feelings and judgements. So when there are countless English words being used by Arabic [native] speakers this shows if anything something of cultural subordination [a feeling of my language is not good enough and perhaps therefore my culture?]. The strange thing in all this is that there are neighbouring countries to Britain, like France for instance, who have preserved their language and went as far as passing a law  (especially for the media) prohibiting the use of English words where the French equivalent is available. Whilst at the same time some of the Arab countries have unfortunately moved to change their curricula from Arabic into English under the pretext of keeping up with the times. Experts from the UN have recently warned that 234 languages are dead already and that in the 21st century they expect a further 90 to disappear.

If we look closely around us we will see that there is much subordination in language use, the majority of people in the Arab countries speak to foreigners in English, and there is now an unprecedented use of shop/business signs in English [even if the name is Arabic in origin]. Even products made in Arab counties like medicine, food etc have their information/ingredients written in all languages except Arabic- despite the fact they are Arab made. I often wonder at the absence of laws [to protect Arabic] prohibiting shop signs to be in English and even laws to force the Arabization of non-Arabic words. One of the outcomes of this subordination is that many countries do not know Arabic language and even when Arabs travel on tourist tours there are no translators for the Arabic language. Whereas, you will find translators for most of the world’s languages, even if that language is spoken by only one country like Japanese [what about a language spoken by more than 20 countries?]. Even when I surf the internet I don’t see many websites offering Arabic translation right away, but languages such as French and German can easily be translated into.

I am not asking for us to wage war against the English language, it’s important knowledge for us to have knowledge of it and understand the world. But no one can deny that having control over one’s language allows for creativity and innovation; and also any nation that prides itself with its language will rise up and move forward. I hope that we can realise and acknowledge the importance of our language, we will otherwise lose the chance to advance in civilization and our own history is testimony to my words.

—————-end of translation

This is a post dating back to 2007, so to be fair some of the issues about internet and translators have improved somewhat since then. But it is clear to see the emotions stirred up in someone who not only loves their mother tongue, but takes pride in it and believes that the current situation of her people can be alleviated through empowerment of their language. There is a feeling of disgust and disbelief at the level of Arabizi being used but could you imagine her writing that now with Arabizi in its more advanced stage? There is a hint at the effects of globalization and how language is suffering as a result of that, she alludes to that through her insitence on ‘subordination’. There is also the feeling that things need to be Arabized for the Arabic speakers and that Arabs in their countries should not have to accommodate English or any other language in its use of signs etc…

This is of course coming from a person who sees this phenomenon take place everyday around her and not from a removed perspective. Like I say all the time, Arabizi is not bad per se (linguistic creativity is natural and healthy], as long as the original language is still in use and the speakers can understand it. The problem is when Arabizi replaces Arabic and the speakers now communicate in English, as the previous post here on Arabizi showed that. If there is an incentive and if the education system supports the language, if the media uses it well then the people will use their language well…and that seems to be another topic for another post. Thanks for reading, any comments are welcome and thanks for the emails – apologies for the late replies I have had too much writing lately!  

——

Source: http://www.alriyadh.com/2007/04/05/article238906.html