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

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

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

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

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A multilingual nation, where Arabic is not the victim

Christopher Morrow——–Jan 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——–End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Call to make Arabic language of instruction: The struggle continues

Classroom Chairs

I am putting below an article published today in the Gulf Times, as usual without editing from myself. It is not the first time I am discussing this topic on the blog, but since it has come up again and this time discussed seriously in a meeting, it deserves discussion again. I think there will always be a struggle between English and Arabic unless and until the education system can come up with a solution so that young people will be at ease to use both languages to serve their needs and at the same time maintain their culture. The main person quoted in the article is Professor Fatima Badry an expert from the American University of Sharjah, passionate about Arabic, and worried about its future. What I like about this article is that all claims made are based on her research and knowledge of the situation of Arabic as it really is, it is not influenced by baseless emotions of nationalism or Arabism this is as real as it gets… something has to be done and soon. At least here one solution is being suggested we just have to wait and see what will happen in the next few years, something I intend to follow closely.

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“Educational institutes must maintain mother tongue as a primary language to help retain its place, professor says”. By Iman Sherif, Staff Reporter- Published: 00:00 October 4, 2011

Abu Dhabi: The dominance of English language on almost every aspect is non debatable. It has become the international communication language for commerce, banking, internet, travel and politics.

The widespread use of English, however, introduces a cultural challenge — how to propel the UAE as a leader in the global market, and at the same time, retain the Arabic identity when the majority of the younger generation refuses to communicate in their mother tongue.

“English is the language of globalisation and international communication. Therefore, we need to have our students reach proficiency,” said Fatima Badry, professor at the American University of Sharjah.

So, schools educate in English, and parents speak with their children in English to help them prepare for a competitive world. Arabic is reserved for traditional studies such Arabic literature or Islamic studies. In doing so, “we are downgrading Arabic in the eyes of our children who become apprehensive of using it and focus instead on the language that will help them integrate in the workplace or society,” she added.

“Should this trend continue for a couple more decades, Arabic will be a language with limited use,” said Fatima. The problem is not unique to the UAE. English is the most common second language worldwide. However, there are ways to help reduce the risk of making it extinct. Looking at Europe, nations retain strong heritage bonds while they integrate in a global arena. The mother tongue is what people use when they communicate with other natives, but English is usually the second language used when people are communicating with non natives.

One of the ways to achieve both objectives is to ensure that Arabic maintains equality in schools, as an instruction/teaching language, parallel to English.

“We must maintain Arabic and English as languages of instruction; even if we have to appoint two teachers for a class,” she said. She said the best teacher to teach in a bilingual situation is a bilingual teacher. She said: “We can achieve dual education reaching proficiency in English Language without downgrading the prestigious value of the Arabic language.”

“By making Arabic the language of instruction in class, we are enforcing it as a primary language,” said Fatima. Conversely, if we fail to do so, we are telling the students that it is a language of authenticity and heritage, but not of science and internationalism; and by doing so, devaluing the language and limiting its use,” she added.

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The points made are important and realistic because Professor Fatima is on the ground and witnesses the degeneration of Arabic language in the UAE. When a country calls for their mother tongue to be a language of instruction, it not only shocks but leads one to wonder, how and why did you get here in the first place? Arabic is not the only language to be going through this, as mentioned above, it is a global problem as a result of globalization. It is sad but true and even more worrying if a major language like Arabic with millions of speakers is suffering the same fate as other languages with less speakers.

To achieve a well-balanced, effective and successful bi-lingual education system is a true challenge. It needs commitment, clearly defined goals, people to believe in its importance and both students and teachers to work consciously towards it. Is the UAE ready for that? Are the teachers and more importantly parents ready for that? The students will go with whatever the system tells them to do, but if teachers are not convinced and parents not aware it is difficult to meet the desired objectives.

Having two teachers in the same class is a desperate measure and shows how dire the situation really is. I cannot imagine having two teachers at once in the same classroom giving me instructions in two very different languages!

Why all the fuss? You might be thinking. English is the language of industry, business, education and so Arabic should just adapt right? Wrong! Arabic can adapt but not at the expense of its language, culture and consequently identity of speakers. France, Germany, or Switzerland, for example, are all at the forefront of education and industry yet their citizens are fluent in their respective mother tongues and are brilliant in English too. How? Well sorry to make it sound so simple.. by working very hard and very seriously in the field of education and language policy. Clear, do-able, and having committed teachers and education department.

Do not misread this as an attack on the UAE, rather it is an observation made. Can the UAE do it? Yes of course they can and the fact that this subject is brought up again and again is an indication that they are serious in doing something about this. It might not be fair to compare such a young country like the UAE to a more established one like France, but at least hopefully the UAE can take countries like this as role-models. With some adjustments to suit Arab lifestyle and culture the same can be achieved, Arabic language can re-gain its rightful place among its native speakers. The Chinese model is a good one, I know personally from my friends that they learn English much later in their lives, but that their mother tongue is the medium of instruction rather than English. One only has to look at the intelligence and contribution the Chinese play in today’s world to know that learning about the world in one’s mother tongue is not a bad idea. They use English as and when they need to, their culture is in tact and plays a major role in the lives of Chinese speakers, nothing lost but much gained.

The UAE and others can do the same, the future seems bright and let’s hope we will all be witnesses to that success. Thanks for reading, comments most definitely welcome.

Source: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/education/call-to-make-arabic-language-of-instruction-1.884445

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Arabs are killing Arabic

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

By Muna Ahmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————end of article

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

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

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

 

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

TEDxDubai: English language threatens Arabic!

I was away in Scotland this weekend and read this article in the Gulf News (whilst it rained for the whole day and night, you know what I was wishing for some Gulf sun!) and now that I am back I thought it is important to share this with my readers. What a claim, what a title and I can hear both supporter and critics screaming for and against these 4 words! What type of threat and why? Who says so and how? I’d like to hear what the readers think about this claim.

I am hoping to have some ‘free’ time in the next few weeks and post up a specific study of the situation of Arabic in the UAE. On that note, a while back I mentioned that I was writing a book chapter, well it’s out (this month)  and you can see the contents page & the introduction to the book here.  I discuss the sociolinguistic situation of Arabic in the Gulf countries based on experiences and opinions of Gulf students themselves. I also discuss some of the problems and reasons why Arabic language is seen to be under threat and I offer some solutions. I will not spoil the rest for you, if you do get the chance then get the book and read my chapter and those written by others in the book. This topic of Arabic being lost is a topic that intrigues many and causes concern for some, it is difficult to predict precisely what the fate of the Arabic language amongst its speakers will be. In this Gulf News article, the person making the claim has hands-on experience with what the state of Arabic is in the Middle East through her 30 years of teaching. 

I have pasted it below here, for you to read without editing: ————–

Dubai: English is taking over the world, says English teacher Patricia Ryan Abu Wardeh. And its status as a global language comes at the expense of other languages, she argues.After 30 years of teaching her native language in the Gulf, Abu Wardeh has come to the conclusion that while English is an important language, its status as a global language is overshadowing other languages, including Arabic.

These sentiments have built up over the years she has been teaching, but she has never made them public until given the opportunity by Technology, Entertainment, Design’s, (TED) Dubai affiliate, TEDxDubai.Abu Wardeh, who works at a university in the UAE, presented her ideas at a Dubai TEDx event. Her presentation is one of the few such talks in Dubai that has been posted on the global TED website.Her views gave way to a debate. Most people welcomed them but there was some strong opposition.

“The idea evolved over several years of teaching English and doing specialised assessments. I’ve seen so much change in that it has become an absolute must to have a high standard of general English to be able to enter any decent university,” she said.As she cited in her talk, the number of languages in the world is expected to fall from 6,000 today to 600 in 90 years. She attributes this to the dominant status of English.

Testing programme

She singled out English testing programmes for denying students from non-English speaking backgrounds the opportunity to study at the best universities in the world, which happen to be in English-speaking countries.”Who am I to say to this [non-English speaker]: thou shalt not continue on this path. Go back and try again,” she said, adding that she once worked for such a testing programme but decided to quit for ethical reasons.

It horrifies her that English teachers are allowed to make doctor-like decisions that can determine the fate of a student’s career. “It’s ridiculous,” she says.A system in which an English teacher can have the authority to turn down a “potentially brilliant” physicist, is deeply flawed, she notes. “It’s a very expensive process anyway, so you already dismiss two-thirds of the world’s population.”

While the testing entities say they are non-profit-making, Abu Wardeh claims language testing is nevertheless an industry.”They are making a lot of money for a lot of people,” she said. A global language that everyone can speak would be nice, she says, but the language is likely to be that of dominant powers and cultures, and will come at the expense of some of the endangered languages of the world.

This trend towards English at the expense of native languages is particularly worrying in the UAE. Abu Wardeh says she regularly asks her Emirati students what language they speak at home, and is often surprised to learn that it is English.”These people will speak to their own children in English. It only takes one generation [to lose a language],” she says.

No real gain

In other instances, she has found English teachers telling parents to speak to their children in English at home. Some of those parents are therefore forced to speak to their children in the broken English they know, resulting in a loss in Arabic skills and no real gain in English skills.

Dubai is exceptional in terms of the weakening status of Arabic in homes, she says, attributing the trend to the demographic make-up of the city.She places some of the responsibility on government authorities too. Most of the higher education institutions in the UAE use English as a language of instruction, which has led some to complain about the disappearance of Arabic from higher education.

“It’s purely pragmatic [to switch to English in the region] because they want to get on in the world and be global; I see that, but you shouldn’t lose what you’ve got,” she said.Abu Wardeh is one of the few people who spoke in Dubai and is featured on the TED website.

Others include her son Jameel, who brought the Axis of Evil comedy tour to Middle Eastern television screens, and Naif Al Mutawa, the Kuwaiti creator of the Islamic inspired The 99 comic book series that has now developed into an animated television series. Both Al Mutawa and the younger Abu Wardeh debuted with TED talks in Dubai.

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It is a natural course for languages to change and gain new vocabularies and concepts as the world advances. But to lose a language is so very sad, and as discussed previously on this blog there are efforts in place to document these dying languages. Abu Wardeh makes many good points in her speech and I think language planners and researchers into Arabic language need to take note of what she says, and perhaps it might be an idea to read more on her claims because here they are brief.

source: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/education/english-language-threatens-arabic-1.810984

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]

Are we over anxious about the demise of Arabic? I think not

A Dictionary Of The English Language

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It has been some time since I last posted, but thank you for all the emails and messages about the previous posts. Sometimes people feel that perhaps those who fear for the demise of Arabic are over anxious and as a result cause panic or insecurity in the people. You would think given the status and spread of English that those who speak English, or even speak for English would never feel that it was under threat. Well think again! I recently came across an article in the Independent newspaper written by Charles Crawford who was formerly the British ambassador to Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Warsaw- where he shares his fears about the neglect of language. Usually I choose a piece that concerns Arabic directly, but this article made me think about Arabic and how its speakers use it today. Below I have pasted the article without any editing, then I’ll discuss my thoughts on it- enjoy!

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Charles Crawford: Language is a tool which must be kept well-honed to do its job

Language does not decay unless it ceases to be used for communication. It changes, sometimes other people’s usage (or mistakes) grate upon those who say it differently, but the language itself is not in any danger.

Language has existed for thousands of years, performing its function adequately, without any care or attention at all, and most have never been subject to it at any time in their history.

A rabid free-marketeer like myself can have little complaint if things indeed change, and millions of people don’t mind too much, if at all. Although I do object to my own language and identity changing because the state has effectively nationalised large parts of the teaching of English and simply can’t do it properly.

I can not shake off the thought that language is a tool. And tools if neglected can just get blunt, or wear out, or otherwise be less good at doing some vital jobs.

If we start to “lose” spellings and grammar as currently constituted, and therefore some of the innermost subtlety of expression which together have made English such a towering force for human advancement round the world, aren’t we all just poorer? We have fewer tools to do the mass of possible jobs with precision.

It’s as if Rembrandt had only 10 brushes of varying sizes, instead of (say) 16, after a thief steals six. Sure, he’ll manage to do a fine portrait. But it could have been even finer with those extra tools available. And he is diminished and demoralised if he knows that. The issue is all too evident in the quality of writing now being served up in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and across government by the nation’s top graduates. A non-trivial proportion of it is unusable and sent back for reworking: it is simply not precise enough. As a result, a product is produced which is less good and less clear and less authoritative than it could have been.

Sure, not much changes. But standards help keep us all on our toes. And if a general sense of unstoppable ‘declinism’ sets in for our language (and so our very thought) as for everything else, that looks and smells like decay to me.

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Short, precise and really I think he makes many valid points. As I always say, the number of speakers of a given language means nothing if the language is not being used correctly and therefore becoming weaker. His worry about English language may be ridiculed since English is a major world language, to the point that others have suggested that English marginalises other languages and often kills them off!  But the worry and concern about his language, is real for him and is legal. In previous posts we saw how people thought that Arabic have millions of speakers why the worry that it will die?  Well I think Charles Crawford just answered that question for us.

His description of language and its life and development is correct, and his view that language is a tool is a view that many linguists including myself hold. It is a tool first and foremost of communication with other people, it allows one to express themselves and so on. But if the language through which you are supposed to express yourself goes unchecked and ‘mistakes’ ( I say mistakes with inverted commas since some linguists do not believe in mistakes as such, any language use for them is right as long as it is right for the speaker..mmm..not sure?) continue to be made by speakers then the language will decline. My quarrel is always that if one claims to speak a language and they think their identity is presented best through that language, well then why not perfect it? Why not learn it well and present yourself through it with confidence? For many Arabic speakers there is this struggle between speaking and identifying with Arabic as their mother tongue but then having no confidence or interest in improving their diction, syntax or grammar and between wanting to learn and perfect their English (which is problematic in itself) since they see that as the door and bridge to their financial success?!

 But I think that Crawford’s article is a lesson in foresight and true understanding of what it means to speak and own, yes own, a language through which you see the world and through which you communicate with the world. If your language declines you decline as a person, as a society and it is not an exaggeration to say as a civilization too! How can you contribute to humanity if you can’t communicate well in any of the languages you claim to know? Watching movies in English and reading a text you understand in English does not determine your level of spoken or written proficiency, mastering the language is another different world- one in which you need to consciously engage and learn by intent. Being born to a family that speaks language x does not give the speaker a guarantee in proficiency either- there has to be a degree of consciousness in both language acquisition and communication.

So are those who feel that Arabic is in danger of decay, decline or death (the triple‘d’) over anxious, unwise, and over exaggerating? I think not. Language is to be looked after like any other living organism; since it lives it can also die. Since it lives it needs care, attention and to often be checked ensuring that ‘standards’ don’t fall, because if that happens then decline of the language means cultural and intellectual death of its people. I rest my case.

  As usual I’ll be glad to discuss this further with any of the readers; I do appreciate your emails, feedback and notes of encouragement- thank you.

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Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/charles-crawford-language-is-a-tool-which-must-be-kept-wellhoned-to-do-its-job-1892290.html

Furthr reading:

Skutnabb-Kangas, T (2000) Linguistic genocide in education or worldwide diversity and human rights? Mahwah :Lawrence Erblaum Associates inc.

Crystal, David (2000) Language Death. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Knowles-Berry, Susan. 1987. Linguistic decay in Chontal Mayan: the speech of semi-speakers. Anthropological Linguistics 29:332-341.

Dorian, Nancy C. (1978). Fate of morphological complexity in language death: Evidence from East Sutherland Gaelic. Language, 54 (3), 590-609.

Zuckermann, Ghil’ad (2009) “Aboriginal languages deserve revival”. The Australian Higher Education.

Aitchinson, Jean. (1991). Language change: progress or decay? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dalby, Andrew. (2003). Language in danger: The loss of linguistic diversity and the threat to our future. New York: Columbia University Pres