UAE steps up bid to preserve Arabic: a way forward?

Taken from Gulf News article May 2013

Taken from Gulf News article May 2013

It has been a while since I last wrote, first, I’d like to welcome to new readers (from Turkey and China) and secondly, thank everyone for sending in emails and messages.

The month of May saw the 2nd international conference on Arabic language in Dubai that took place from the 8th until the 10th of May, it attracted over 1,000 participants interested in the future of the Arabic language. the conference was titled, “Arabic Language in Danger: All Are Partners in Protection”. The theme was of course to explore the use of Arabic and its status in Arabic speaking countries (specifically the Gulf and UAE regions) and the overwhelming conclusion of that conference was that the Arabic language is in danger of attrition or loss because of the starling low levels of speaker proficiency among native Arabic speakers. There are many reasons why Arabic language seems to be in the situation it is in, and I have discussed these before for example, schooling standards, perception of the language by speakers and so on. The experts at the conference concluded that, something needs to be done about the current situation otherwise Arabic really will be lost.

The minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, said at the conference that, (taken from Bikyanews article)

“Our duty towards the language of the Holy Quran is to grant it the natural status it deserves in historic, social, cultural and educational spheres”.

Commenting on the theme of the conference, Sheikh Nahyan said the Arabic language is still a living one in our daily lives; from schools to mosques, media to businesses and laws. Sheikh Nahyan noted that the Arabic Language is still appealing to increasing numbers of non-Arabic learners at a time when more centres have been established across the world to teach and promote the language. “The Arabic Language is widely used but not up to the mark of expectations of enthusiasts and lovers. And here lies the motive behind the saying ”Arabic Language may be in danger’,” Sheikh Nahyan said.

”The danger is not targeting the language as a means of learning, scientific research, translation or publishing; rather, as I see it, it lies with keeping the language away from its natural place in schools, government offices, banks, factories, media and advanced sciences and technology,” he remarked.”The danger”, he went on to say, ”lies with raising a new generation commanding foreign languages and neglecting their mother tongue.” Sheikh Nahyan warned that globalization is another threat to the Arabic Language, citing the adverse impact of social networks on the language.

”The real danger is in turning a blind eye to the findings of research and studies recommending promotion of the language, and its role in the development and progress of the individual and groups. Adopting sterile curricula and learning methods are among many threats to our language,” Sheikh Nahyan explained.

Gulf News printed a similar account of the conference, as did Khaleej Times, interestingly there were differences in opinion as to whether the Arabic language was in danger or whether it’s speakers were in danger of losing it (is there a difference I wonder, since I understand that it’s through speakers that a languages thrives or declines) I have cited the differences below (from the gulf news 2013 article),

Dr Heyam Al Maamari, Associate Professor of the Arabic Language at Ajman University of Science and Technology, said that she does not think that the Arabic language is not in danger and there are no challenges facing the language itself, but the challenges face the speakers of the language.

“Some of the challenges they face, are the spread of foreign languages, especially English and its dominance in general interactions and communication; the different Arabic dialects that are popular around the different Arab countries and globalisation that is spreading like wildfire between our children.She added that an outdated school curriculum also adds to the problem.

“There are many challenges, but there is hope in overcoming them as much as possible — each person within his own capacity.”She said that she had organized an initiative called “My language my identity” in December last year, which included many activities to promote the Arabic language such as plays, lectures, exhibitions, brochures and posters.

Dr Amal Shafeeq Al Omari, Professor of Arabic language and grammar at the Middle East University — Jordan, said that Arabic language is in danger and is facing steep hurdles.

“We now exchange greetings on our special occasions in English through text messages or social medias, also passersby in our countries are shocked to see the English names of shops and restaurants with absence of the Arabic name… also each job seeker makes sure that his CV is in English as if it’s the country’s official language.” Amal said.A nation that gives up its language or disrespects it, gives up its soul and mind and loses what makes it different,” she said. “Defending and protecting the Arabic language and bringing it back to the lead, especially in our day-to-day interactions, has become a religious and national duty.”

So I think we need to decide is it in danger? If so how? Is it not in danger? If so why not? What research have we conducted to draw such conclusions? These are important questions and must be answered with evidence no doubt.

The National also ran a story of “Arabic losing ground among native speakers”, one writer noted that, “The danger lies not in the fact that English is the language of instruction, but in that it has become the language of off-campus communication between students and, in some cases, between them and their parents at home,” Al Suweihi wrote.While educators, students and parents have a shared responsibility, the problem is much bigger, he said.

“In fact, the issue is closely linked to the moral value of the language, a value that is derived from the political, scientific, economic, industrial, intellectual, artistic, cultural and social reality of its speakers,” the writer observed.”The younger generation of Arabs shuns Arabic because they feel inferior when they speak in that language. However, they associate English – the global language of science … computers and technology – with privilege, and with belonging to a civilised society.”

Swayed by this perceived sense of “belonging”, many Arab youth work hard to nurture their non-Arabic culture, by reading English-language books, watching English-language movies and listening to English music, according to the writer.

I agree that many times English is blamed but it is to do with more than just language instruction, it is also to do with the psychological motivation an Arabic speaker has for their language. I am always intrigued when such articles are written and such conferences take place because I get a sense that the problem is becoming more and more researched and hopefully a solution will be reached. The challenge is a difficult one, it’s a balancing act between modernisation and language preservation..not easy though not impossible. It cannot be imposed by a body, it must come from within the people. It seems the first steps towards addressing the problem are underway….. I have put all the links on these stories so you can read them in their entirety.
————-

links: http://bikyanews.com/88438/uae-culture-minister-globalization-threat-to-arabic-language/

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/is-arabic-in-danger-in-the-uae-1.1181550

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-article-display-1.asp?xfile=data/nationgeneral/2013/May/nationgeneral_May165.xml&section=nationgeneral

http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/arabic-language-is-losing-ground

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/new-approaches-to-teaching-arabic-language-1.1183832

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-article-display-1.asp?xfile=data/nationgeneral/2013/May/nationgeneral_May307.xml&section=nationgeneral

 

Can humour help preserve Arabic among native speakers? Guest post

It’s great to be back after a good break, Ramadhan, lots of writing (and thinking!) and of course the absolutely wonderful mind-boggling Paralympics sadly now over. A warm welcome to new readers and fellow WordPress bloggers, and apologies for late replies to comments and emails.  As promised in July, this is a short and to-the-point guest post by Lina al-Adnani about the sorry situation of Arabic language proficiency amongst its native speakers. The post is based on her current ongoing research about the role humour may play in highlighting that situation to Arabic speakers. She is an artist and creative person doing her MA in Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries at Central St. Martins. You can imagine my fascination at the creative link between issues of language shift or language change with the idea of humour. Her passion for the topic and her zeal for the project impressed me so much I asked her  to write a short blog post about her thoughts so far on the project and what she thinks is the reason behind the current situation of Arabic language, and how she thinks humour is one way to highlight these issues. So here it is, below without editing from myself and we have a video, so artistic of you Lina thanks!

————-

By speaking in English, are we hindering our Arabic development? And where does humor fall in all of this?

I recently googled the word Arabic and got some… results… they weren’t interesting, but they weren’t uninteresting either. The first results page (and lets face it, that is usually the only page we look at) was of websites for the learning and teaching of Arabic language, but I thought to myself that Arabic is so much more than just a language.  I wish there were other results that showed another aspect of this language we all know that languages are more than just words, they each stand for an ideology, one that connects to that specific culture and norms. One can argue that this language (Arabic) along with the culture it is connected to is on its way to disintegration. Why is that? Well I guess I can only refer to my own circumstances, experiences, and observations from my own country (Jordan) if I am to tell you why I feel this way. Arabic, in some circles in Amman is becoming an uninteresting and low level language, resulting in creating the hybrid known as Arabizi; it is not enough to only speak Arabic, we must integrate English to it so that it can live up to our “standards”. Speaking Arabizi reflects a certain air of sophistication, education and even marks of upper-class upbringing, this is how it has become.

I am an Arab, but my Arabic is horrible, so is my knowledge of Arabic history, culture, and politics. No, I did not grow up in London, Canada, or America… I grew up in Amman, Jordan- yes an Arabic speaking country. In my life I have read in all a total of only 5 maybe 6 books in Arabic! I can’t remember how many in English because they have obviously been numerous. I had not really thought deeply about this fact until a few months ago when I started to review who I was and what I wanted to focus on in the following months for my MA dissertation.  I then realized that I don’t really know who I am, and that I don’t really have a sense of belonging to Amman, nor to any place for that matter and I believed this was due to my poor Arabic. I wanted to investigate why that was… I then stumbled upon this vide which was unique in that the comedian criticized the usage of English over Arabic but through humor- I thought that was fascinating…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCA7O37362U

The video is intended to highlight the obsession young Arabs have in Amman with speaking English even where it is not required. The comedian picks out words like, “by the way”, “ewwww”, “attitude”, “hi”, “how are you”, “vulgar”, “I am not impressed” etc…. to show how young people speak and how by using these words in English they are neglecting their Arabic equivalents. In one part of the video, he acts like an addict needing another dose to calm himself down, and this relief in his sense comes when the speaker inserts an English word in the conversation even if it is out of context or mispronounced (which he refers to an “bad accent”).

The video and many others like it act a tools in helping me investigate why we are so adamant on speaking English when we have a perfectly fine language of our own; secondly how can humor, or the entertainment industries promote and encourage us to speak in Arabic? I think a video like the one above is one example of humor making us think about the way we use or under-use the Arabic language.

After much thought I think I have reached a conclusion (which might change in the next few months who knows?), that by speaking in English, we may be hindering our Arabic development and rather than actually creating our own modernity, we are trying to emulate the modernity of others, because we aren’t using our language. When we start to use our own language to it’s full capacity we will then be able to create a modernity that suits us and our ways and still keep us up to date with the rest of the world. What do you think?

After thought: Fatma asked me after sending her a few drafts, what I thought was left of the Arabic language? My answer is: I think that there is a lot left of Arabic, but not a lot is utilized. It isn’t that there are no words in Arabic, neither is it about Arabic being a weaker language… it’s merely a perception that is arguably false and misunderstood. The unfortunate truth is that there are large numbers of Arabs who are ignorant… and not just in the case of being clueless, but also in not knowing the facts. That may be what it comes down to, lack of education in Arabic countries that creates this false negative perception that Arabic is not a language of modernity and development- this I feel is an ideology that needs to change NOW before it’s too late. Thank you

—————

Thank you once again Lina for not only putting forward these ideas but also being generous with the readers by sharing deep personal thoughts about yourself as an Arabic speaker and your relationship with Arabic language- it brings to life the issues many speakers can identify with. Sorry to those of you who do not speak Arabic I know the video was all in Arabic, unfortunately there were no subtitled versions- but I hope from the descriptions the aim of the video was understood. I think the humour idea is great and sometimes one does not have to always be serious about the current situation of Arabic it gets boring and some people will ignore it. But humour is great because it makes people laugh not just at what the comedian is saying, but at themselves too….so maybe speakers will become aware of their communicative habits and analyse their language choices during conversation. Please feel free to comment on the post as always, thanks for reading.

That New York Times article, what I really meant & other updates

Many of you know that I participated in a New York Times article discussing the language of instruction in higher education in the Gulf with special interest on Qatar (which has now been copied, pasted, and quoted in many other forums, newspapers and blogs). To get to the point, some readers found it offensive that I blamed the Thai/Philippine accent on the demise or weakness of Arabic among Gulf speakers- I did not. I did not blame any accent and really to make a relationship between the two is nonsensical, immature and unheard of in linguistics. What readers must appreciate is, that the journalist will interview the participant for 15-20 minutes and then he’ll pick and choose which quotes look good where. He has to build his story, each writer has a focus and intention behind the questions they ask and how they want their readers to understand their story of interest. The other thing is that the journalist is not a linguist and so cannot be blamed for linguistic/language learning misconceptions misread in the article, the onus is on us linguists to deliver the correct information. I did explain this on Twitter but felt compelled to do so here in case the same was felt by other readers, this is not an apology – just a clarification. Why did I say that some children in the Gulf speak with a Thai of Philippine accent? Simply to illustrate to the writer the multicultural multilingual environment many children in the gulf grow up in. With domestic maids from the Far East many children’s initial exposure to English is through these maids and so if their parents speak no English (or very bad English) they can only learn from the maids hence the acquisition of the accent.  Thereafter, throughout their lives the linguistic landscape of young people growing up in the Gulf gets ever more complex and in the end everyone worries about the status of Arabic language and it’s future (not to mention the poor English standards as well) etc….something I’ve talked about before on this blog and at length in a book chapter I wrote last year (“Ahyaanan I text in English ‘ashaan it’s ashal: Language Crisis or Linguistic Development? The Case of How Gulf Arabs Perceive the Future of their Language, Culture, and Identity” a bit of a mouthful).  As always I am open to comments/ discussion on this if anyone wishes, just leave a comment on the blog and I’ll be happy to reply.

On a different note, Twitter is now available in Arabic!!! Which means that people who prefer to use the Arabic version can without any worries (simply choose Arabic under languages). There are adequate substitutes for retweet, favourite, direct message and we are still working to translate words so they make sense in Arabic properly (not half-baked translations). If you are on Twitter and wish to follow the progress of this development or wish to participate follow @taghreedat for more info. There are also efforts by the founders of Taghreedat to make the first collaborative online Arabic dictionary so far it’s going well and I’ll update you as more information comes through.

My next post will be on naming rights as an outcome of strong and cultured civilization and what language has to do with it all, it will be based on a video lecture which I will put up….I promise you it will be an interesting video to watch. That may well be the last post (I might also get a guest post on Arabic and humour :))  for a while and I’ll hopefully resume posting after September depending on my thesis writing/revision commitments at the time. Without intending to nag anyone, please avoid plagiarising from this blog, as I hate receiving emails from teachers and tutors about that, at the moment I have been advised to move the site to another platform…please stop copying simply refer to my sources or quote the blog URL (which I usually give permission for, after an email from the student).  Thank you for comments, emails, questions and welcome to new readers from Tunisia, Nicaragua and Poland!

“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

“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.

Writing & the revitalisation of Arabic through sci-fi: why the future of Arabic is bright? Part 2

The Qur'an was one of the first major works of...

In this second and final part of the interview, I focus the commentary on the situation of Arabic language and its use today and what it will be like in the future. Thank you for the emails and comments sent in about the post, I am glad some of you enjoyed the change in the blog. Below are the interview notes, and after that some commentary.

—–

6.Being that this is a new genre in Arabic literature, what struggles if any did you face during the writing stage? I had no point of reference when it came to writing fiction in Arabic. When I talk about Arab YA not finding it easy to read Arabic fiction, I am actually also including myself. I don’t feel comfortable reading Arabic fiction, it’s almost always about what goes on in the head of a character. The language, the style, so self-engaged and verbose. Sure, there are youths who like it; but more and more youths who are put off by it. It just doesn’t go anywhere, and in this age where movies and video games are so fast paced, who wants to spend time in the head of an insignificant character who is struggling with something inside of him and the story ends inside his head? It’s not even written for YA, it’s for adults.

My biggest challenge was how to start it – no Arabic creative writing workshop was available and certainly nothing for this genre. What were the Arabic words for the huge volume of terminology invented and well established by Anglo-American SF heavily used in books and movies? And the clincher was: if action words were the main tools of moving the plot forward, and I didn’t read much Arabic where there were a lot of action words, how do I do that in Arabic? Days were spent on taking pictures of things and sending them to friends to ask: what do you call this in MSA? One example was: “Hey, you know when you get scared, and your hand instantly goes to your throat? What’s that area called in Arabic?” After long debate, the verdict was: “na7r”. Another example: “How do you write “she clicked her tongue” in Arabic?” – that was more difficult. I ended up with: “a9darat 9owtan bifamiha yaddulu 3ala al2istiya2.” Yes, really! Such hurdles cost me days and weeks of writing.

7. The one question I really want to ask you is, did you make up new words? If so how?

Such opportunities kept cropping up from time to time. Ajwan (the main character) is an “Empath”. She has the awkward ability of being able to feel exactly what other people are feeling as if it is actually happening to her. I asked Ashraf Al Fagih, a Saudi author (Sci- Fi short stories) how he would translate it. He suggested “istish3ar” – that is not exactly an invention; but it is a new use of the Arabic word. I’ve struggled with traveling by space gates and worm holes, not to mention communication devices and other tools. Thankfully, there is a bit of that in subtitles of movies; but not nearly enough. In book 2 of “Ajwan”, I did get to finally “invent” a word. One character in the opening scene was using an anti-gravity bike (darajah meghnatisiyeh is what I could think of).. then I thought what an idiotic name.. so I mixed it up and came up with “meghrajah” (that is not to say it is ideal; but it’s a start). I am in chapter 2, so I am sure a new challenge will soon present itself.

8.Some people might say that your book promotes non-Arabic (traditionalist) ideas, is that a fair statement? (Given that this is a new genre, I presume you had no examples from Arabic books for young people).

Well, Ajwan is from another planet, and she breathes water too. Her name is Arab; but she isn’t. She comes from a peaceful, very conservative society; but is soon thrust into the reality of a huge universe which doesn’t live by the rules and traditions of her society. She has to live in the real world – something which our youth are finding out about now that our world has become a small village. They are taught a lot of ideals; but within a few years they discover that the rest of the world – the movers and shakers, don’t live by those ideals and this shocks them. It either turns them into extremists who want to impose these ideals on everyone else, or they become like everyone else and go with the flow. In both cases, they realize how naïve they were and perhaps even accuse their parents of being hypocrites. The reason why YA in the rest of the world love dystopian fiction is because it is real. It’s not the Little Mermaid or Snow White. They understand the world much more than we give them credit for, and trying to shelter them from all of it is not going to work beyond a certain age. It is the parents’ job to instill traditions in their children, so that when they grow up and read non-traditional material, they are already grounded and know what’s right and wrong and can enjoy the fiction, without other factors getting in the way.

 9.How do you ensure your book appeals to young Arabs? In reference to culture and language, but also in keeping up with trends in the English books they read?

This is a very important point for all authors of Arab YA fiction. Our youth live in a world where the Internet has given them access to just about anything we can think of, and beyond. They no longer wait at home for mommy and daddy to bring them books – they download them on their iPads. Language may have been a source of pride and identity for us; but to them it is a tool. Kids perceive tools as useful things which get them what they want. If the tool is broken or not up to date, they move on to another tool. They have no reverence towards old things the way we did. My expensive laptop is no longer working, buy me a new one, and then no one even knows where the old one was stowed away. Arabic and English are languages they use to get something else. Whatever gets them the most becomes their favorite “thing”. Once it no longer serves its uses, it is discarded like an old laptop. We have to constantly see what is grabbing their attention, and use that to provide them with the content we want them to see or read. If Arabic is becoming inaccessible, then we need to see how to make it more interesting. We can’t waste time crying over the loss of Arabic, our kids have moved on. We need to create content which competes with what is out there, so YA would deign to look at. I am trying to do that by writing in a genre which is almost non-existent in Arabic. That may grab their attention. It is in an easy form of Arabic – according to my 16-year-old daughters who told me: “this is not the Arabic they use in school. That one I don’t get at all!”

10.How do you see the future of Arabic in the UAE and the Gulf in general?

I think there is a consensus now that we’ve come to a point where enough is enough. Although the adults are all blaming the kids for their awful Arabic, they are also making the right noises which will force the Ministry of Education to look differently at the way it creates Arabic syllabus. Moreover, publishers are taking note and have started looking at YA as a huge segment completely different from children. I am also seeing more and more people finally realizing that at some point in the past Arabic was denied the right to evolve like other languages, and that linking it to sacred text (Qur’an) has harmed it considerably. So basically, it is a great time to be an author for Arabic YA fiction.

11. A personal question, how did you keep up your Arabic (I mean it’s no small feat to write a novel entirely in Arabic) and learn English proficiently at the same time? What can others learn from you?

Confession, my Arabic is not so great. It is enough to write for YA. Arab authors who have read Ajwan have commented on my simple style. However, I do owe it all to translation studies. If it were not for the fact that I studied under Dr. Basil Hatim at AUS in the early 2000s, I would not have been drawn back to Arabic, its beauty and its importance. It is never too late to start reading in Arabic – you automatically start acquiring new vocabulary and style. You can approach it like others have approached English. It’s a language, it has literature and that’s how you learn it. How else did I learn English?

12. My blog Arabizi© is about the situation of Arabic and how speakers use it, what would you say to those who say Arabic is dying amongst Arabic speakers today?

I am not sure why they say it is dying. There are 22 countries which produce Arabic books (and a stream of Arabic media every single day). Exactly how does one succeed in killing such a language, or dismissing that much content?! The important thing is that we do not sit on our laurels (?) and say here is Arabic, come and get it. The youth segment in the Arab world is huge and their attention span is miniscule; we need to continuously engage them with the right kind of stimuli so they love Arabic, protect it, contribute to its evolution, and pass it on to the next generation of shorter-attention span. Thank God that particular generation won’t be my problem!——–end

Interesting points raised here in the answers and this second part of the interview was my favourite because as Noura says I made “her think” about the process from a different perspective- a linguistic one. The issue of writing any type of literature is always governed by the audience for whom the text is being prepared for, and so issues of culture always come up. It would seem so far that Noura has dealt with these issues well and managed to produce a piece of writing that is novel yet in keeping with the readers’ cultural preferences.  Noura has in fact in the last week signed her contract with the publishers….congratulations Noura..now the world awaits!

The most interesting thing for me here is this creation/merging/coining of new words to express a new experience that the Arabic literature does not really contain. This is not  blaming the literature itself, for we all know that at different stages of the evolution of Arabic language and literature new words were made, even borrowed from other languages. But these new words represent whole new concepts that were until very recently absent in Arabic literature, typical sci-fi concepts and fantastic descriptions of other planets require a different type of vocabulary perhaps? It seems Noura is creating words because she is not satisfied with the current available expressions, this is both creative and exciting. If this picks up and these words are used by other authors in the future to write about sci-fi in Arabic, then it would be a great achievement and a huge step towards the revival of Arabic language (in the Gibran sense a process often referred to as neologism).

The second bit of the interview that caught my attention was the analysis of the situation of Arabic and the question of its death or demise. Noura maintains that the Arabic language is not being lost, not with the amount of material out there, or with the fact that 22 countries use it as their official (apparently) language. She does however acknowledge that something must be done to get the youth interested in the language (not in the communication sense but in the preservation sense) and that the education system and publishers are working hard to ensure Arabic becomes more practical for the youth to use. Good points raised and yet the same conclusion, something needs to be done if Arabic language is to enjoy an equal status with English (see previous post on bilingualism the UAE) because books of Arabic will always be there, we have books today in Arabic spanning 13 centuries but we can only access them with the right knowledge of Arabic. What will the Arab world look like in 50 years time if all the young people chose to read in English only? Knowledge of Arabic language will be the exception not the rule, and worse still in a hundred years it might be like what Latin is to English today. Yes…yes… yes I am quoting the worst case scenario, but you do not need to burn books to make people forget or lose their language (the Mongols did that in Damascus and Baghdad but that did not change anything because) as long as people know the importance of their language they will start over and even improve the way they use it. In specific reference to the UAE, I am sure the founding father and late leader Shaykh Zayed Al Nahyan would frown at the prospect that Arabic language is slowly being lost in his country when he was a champion of the Arabic. He encouraged people to learn their history and language and he would famously say that without those two (knowledge of a people’s language and history) a nation has no prosperous or meaningful future. He was no linguist but knew the value and symbolism of a person’s language, especially in today’s globalised world.

I agree with Noura that one of the reasons that Arabic language and/or literature has stagnated for a long time is this boxed in view that because Arabic is also the language of the Qur’an we are restricted in how we use it. What’s important is that the Qur’anic text itself is sacred, and the language is sacred, but it is also a language of a people. It therefore needs to be practical and easy to use, it should also be used in its highest forms in literature (which it was esp. in the 12/13th century and with superb results, new genres were created, new forms were made then it all stopped and many authors have just been in awe of the old, which is not all bad in a situation where the language is evolving well). Arabic must be ready to take on new concepts and new ideas in a new world with new problems and new challenges, the core will always remain the same but the language must be renewed in order for its speakers to have faith in using it to express their feelings, fears, aspirations, anger and hope.

Review of Ajwan: This is a very short section and highly speculative since I have only read two excerpts…I hope I will do the short sections some justice of course I will only comment on the language (since that was the whole idea of the interview).

The language I would say is easy not as complicated/complex as say Mahfouz (this is taking into consideration young people), the sentences flow easily and the whole picture comes together really well. The once thing I loved the most in the excerpts is the eye to detail Noura has, the description of small ants, sticks, posture of characters, of what something/someone looks like, the environment, the air, how Ajwan rests her head on a tree, how she takes a deep breath… you feel like you are there with her! There is also a description of the feelings of the characters, how they deal with certain events and the reader empathises with them. Action packed sections are fast paced though ironically descriptive and you move with the story and characters, and I think at times you are also surprised like they are at the outcome of certain events so perhaps that’s what brings the text to life?  Although Noura says she is not good at Arabic, I read it all understood it and got hooked on the book…so that to me was good. That’s all I can say for now…I hope the publishing goes well and I am sure many people are waiting for the book. Thanks to Noura once again and thanks for reading….my next post I hope will be a translation of an Arabic article discussing the current situation of Arabic and then I will post interview two with another author.

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