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

 

Advertisements

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.

———————end

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