Globalisation- a problem or solution for Arabic?

Globalisation Last month I posted a comment written by SLC with regards to the similarities between the Arabic and Greek diglossic situations, today I post the third and final part of our discussion below. This part delves into the role globalisation may play in the current situation (confusion, uncertainty) of the Arabic language, and it is in response to a point I made……

———-

Now on to your next point, about whether globalisation is to blame for the current problems of Arabic:

“One may argue that globalisation has nothing to do with it, you just have to look at China, Russia, Germany and all the other very modern, very successful countries who have maintained their mother tongues …”

Yes, I agree, and I’d like to add Japan to your list of examples. Japan has been fully engaged with globalisation for several generations now, including an American military occupation with enough cultural influence to make baseball and American football into popular sports with a mass audience. Japanese has also adopted thousands of loanwords from English. Yet if you are Japanese you can describe yourself as a “sarariman” with a “modan-na gaarufurendo” (a salary-man with a modern girlfriend) without feeling your language is under threat at all. Indeed more than half of the Japanese vocabulary already consists of loanwords from Chinese, but even over many centuries the Japanese have never seemed in any danger of being culturally overwhelmed by China. The Japanese language has simply evolved structures that enable loanwords to fit comfortably into a Japanese sentence. (The “-na” in my example is one of these. It gives the loanword “modan” that distinctive halfway-to-being-a-verb quality that Japanese adjectives have, and works equally well with loanwords from any language.) The Japanese language is in no danger at all despite military disaster, occupation, globalisation, and tens of thousands of loanwords.

So, for example, the Japanese took ‘pocket’ and ‘monster’, adapted them to Japanese phonology as ‘poketto’ and ‘monsutaa’, abbreviated them to ‘poke-mon’, and sent them back to us as the global Pokemon franchise. This is how language exchange should be: playful and relaxed, both sides gain, and both languages are enriched. Language exchange is definitely not a zero-sum game, where a gain for one is by definition a loss for the other.

The same thing applies to the rest of culture in general. The Japanese took Western comic books and cartoon films, gave them a uniquely Japanese flavour and sent them back to us as manga and anime, now global in their turn. This is what a healthy linguistic culture is like; it doesn’t cower away from foreign influences, blaming them for everything that goes wrong in the country. Instead it embraces those cultural imports, improves them and sends them right back out again.

The often cited ‘globalisation fact’ that “Computer manuals are all in English” is not too much of a problem for the Japanese either, since their language has already assimilated all the technical vocabulary as loanwords. The Japanese for “error log” is “eraa rogu”. So when a Japanese computer engineer reads an English manual, he is already familiar with all the technical terms. Together with some basic English grammar remembered from school, this is usually enough to get by. Notice how much more difficult all this would have been if some purist National Language Academy had enforced the use of invented words based on Japanese roots for things like “error log”.

So the Japanese language, full of loanwords though it is, still feels completely Japanese, and one of the things that gives it that quality is its uniquely rich system of registers, or politeness levels. (This is where I come back to the idea of registers …) I won’t describe any of the details here, just point to the Wikipedia article on Keigo. But the important thing is that wherever you are on the politeness spectrum, from barking a reprimand to a military subordinate at the bottom, up to formally congratulating the Emperor at the top, the basic sentence structure doesn’t change. As you go up the scale the vocabulary changes (often in several steps, and even for quite basic words like “I” and “do”), and the phrasing grows longer and more flowery, but there is never a step-change in the grammar like a different way of expressing “not”, or the sudden introduction of a new set of inflections (as there would be in switching up from ECA to MSA). This means that you have quite a fine-grained control of politeness level; whatever nuance of social position you want to assert, there will be suitable language available.

When you’ve seen the way Japanese handles such an elaborate system of levels so smoothly, you realise that code-switching in Arabic is doing something linguistically quite different (although of course with the same social purpose); it is mixing two different languages, with nothing in between (or at best embedding chunks of one language in sentences of the other). There’s a simple way to demonstrate this. In Japanese, about halfway up the politeness spectrum, there is a ‘Neutral Polite’ style. This is the one that foreigners always learn first; everyone will understand you, you won’t offend anyone, and native-speakers won’t feel awkward replying to you at the same level (this is the only level I personally can use with any competence). Of course all languages with registers have a neutral polite level like this; it’s just particularly well-defined in Japanese.

But is there anything similar in, say, Egypt? A well-defined language level that foreigners can learn, and everyone can use, half-way between the formality of CA and the alleged street-slang of ECA? Well, if the ‘official’ position were true, and CA and ECA were simply different registers of a single all-embracing fuSHa, there would be. But there isn’t. A foreigner like Haeri (or me) has to learn CA and ECA as two different languages, and then learn how to mix them.

Again, I can think of only one parallel for this situation, and it is 1880s Greece, when even the most talented writers like Roidis and Xenopoulos struggled in vain to find a usable formality-level in between katharevousa and demotic. It’s not coincidence that Roidis was driven to coin the word ‘diglossia’ in 1885 to describe this unusual – and in his opinion, thoroughly unsatisfactory – split between the two forms of his language.

Right then, that’s the end of my digression on the register-spectrum vs separate-languages question. Now back to globalisation!

Despite the wealth of counter-examples provided by other countries, I know that some people do still claim that globalisation is the threat. Here’s one from bikyanews.com on 8th May 2013:

“DUBAI: United Arab Emirates Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan said on Thursday that the greatest threat to the Arabic language, as well as Islam, was the rising influence of globalization and the shrinking of the world.”

If I’d been invited to the conference he was opening (on the theme “Arabic Language in Danger: All Are Partners in Protection”) I would have asked: “Other countries have been much more exposed to globalisation than the Arab world, until recently at least, without their languages being weakened. Indeed some of them (like Japanese) thrive on it. The influence of English is the same for everybody. So if globalisation really is the threat, what makes Arabic so much more vulnerable to it than all the other languages?”

I’d then have presented the best counter-example of all: the Arabic and Muslim culture of the Abbasid Golden Age itself, when Islam and especially the institution of the Hajj promoted international links, which shrank the world, facilitated trade, and allowed Islam in turn to spread along the trade routes. Islam, Arabic, trade, and the globalisation of the Old World all reinforced each other with a kind of cultural feedback. How else did Islam reach Indonesia, and Zanzibar, and Xinjiang? They were far beyond the reach of Umar’s armies.

And the Arabs of the Golden Age did exactly what the Japanese do today: they took the best of foreign culture, improved it, and sent it back out again. They took chess and decimal numerals from India and sent them on to Europe; they took mathematics and astronomy from Greece, added algebra and hundreds of star-names and technical terms, and sent them all back out again. It was a “healthy linguistic culture”, as I said of Japan a few paragraphs ago, and all sides gained. So surely globalisation was always an integral part of Arabic culture at its strongest and best? Whatever is wrong with the Arabic language, it’s not going to be globalisation.

I’m actually very puzzled by the whole tone of the Minister’s statement (at least as reported by bikyanews.com), and especially by the slogan “Partners in Protection”. He sounds as if he is speaking for a tiny Amazonian tribe under threat from global logging and mining companies. For a small tribe whose safety has always depended mainly on isolation and keeping out of sight, then yes, the shrinking of the world would indeed bring threats. They would need “protection”, probably in the form of reinforced and managed isolation.

But what on earth does this have to do with Islam, which always used to be so outward-looking? Surely long-distance trade and pilgrimage were a way of life for the very first Muslims, even before Umar’s conquests? Why should Arabic and Islam (please note that it’s the Minister who is bracketing them together, not me) suddenly need isolation and “protection” now, when for so many centuries they didn’t?

Anyway, that’s enough about globalisation. And I’ll leave the question of whether a “threat to the Arabic language” is the same thing as a “threat to Islam” (as implied by the Minister’s statement) for another occasion.

In the next post I’ll get back to the parallel with Greek.

SLC

————–

globalisation and language

Thank you SLC once again for a detailed response and a wonderfully-informed discussion on the topic. I will not make the response long, So I will address your response in a point-by-point format so that I address the issues I think may help us understand how similar or different to one another Arabic and Greek are in their diglossic natures, and the role of globalisation:

1. You are right, globalisation usually receives much negative press mainly due to the role it has played in the “killing off” of minority languages around the world. Hence, it becomes a charged word and cannot be viewed for its benefits (if any) and it that carries the connotations of taking away but not of giving positively. Your example of Japanese is perhaps one of the positive effects globalisation may have in certain situations. The way the Japanese have embraced English (and before that Chinese) is not only practical, but may even be seen by some as a revolt against English. How? Well, instead of speaking English, they bend, change, transform and manipulate English words into their own language and grammar so that they remain authentically Japanese. But by embracing and using English in this way, they modernise themselves and are able to then discuss and express ideas about modern-day phenomena in their own tongue. Arabic did that with Persian, Hebrew & Abyssinian words (some of which are in fact in the Qur’an itself), and English did the same with Arabic, French, Latin and Spanish words and so on because it is a consequence of language contact. This way children, and new learners of Japanese still have to learn the strict grammar regardless of whether the word has English or Chinese or indeed origins from any other language. Arabic speakers still have to decide how they will embrace English words, they have, and the process is being done, but I don’t think to the level of how Japanese has done it.

2. You are right again, and I have said this before- that during that time of the Arabian Golden Age Arabic thrived in a multilingual, multicultural and definitely a globalised environment. It did take what it saw as beneficial and good from other cultures and languages and adapted it to suit its own needs. There are also other historical, cultural and political aspects of language and religion that we do not have the space to go into, that also contributed to this strong fearless linguistic tradition. The situation of Arabic today, is most definitely not that of the Golden Age, and neither do today’s speakers possess the same view held by those at the time. We must also remember that the power has now shifted and those Arabs of the Golden Age were (in today’s terms) advanced and part of the first world, they were the trendsetters. Arabic language for the modern Arab world is more than just words, more than just Classic or spoken forms- it’s an identity, a culture, a history that for many cannot be forgotten. They fight for the Classic because it defines their history and cultural heritage, and they fight for the Spoken because it is the most authentic way in which to express themselves. As the notable Egyptian writer Naguib mahfouz said in a letter he wrote to luwis Awad: “Language duality is not a problem but an innate ability. It is an accurate reflection of a duality that exists in all of us, a duality between our mundane daily life and our spiritual one” (taken from Reem Bassiouney, 2009, Arabic Linguistics, p.28). So you see the struggle and reality! (I know you’ve read the book). Many Arabic speakers think that any new introductions will only contribute to the destruction of Arabic, that mind and view obviously needs to change.

3. As for the tone of panic for the loss of Arabic and it’s need for protection as if “it’s an Amazonian” tribe (your words!) is perhaps because the minister has had first hand experience of young Arab children not being proficient in their mother tongue. I think for a long time many policy makers were under the impression that as long as children learned to read the Qur’an and as long as they had Arabic speaking parents, then their children would obviously learn Arabic. They did not (esp. in the case of the Gulf) consider the effect of maids (who by the way are not proficient in both Arabic or English, and instead speak a form of pidgin) and other contributing factors during the early stages of language acquisition. And so when they are faced with the true linguistic situation, it may come as a shock, and they lament that Arabic will die and with it Islam! That’s the only reason I can think of why there may be a panic or alarm every time the future of Arabic is spoken about. As for why Islam is also under threat from globalisation, I don’t know, and I don’t think it is. But, it maybe because the Qur’an is in Arabic, and if Arabic dies they think the Qur’an will too; but you are right it is a topic for another post.

Finally, I wanted to address this paragraph you wrote, I am pasting it here: “But is there anything similar in, say, Egypt? A well-defined language level that foreigners can learn, and everyone can use, half-way between the formality of CA and the alleged street-slang of ECA? Well, if the ‘official’ position were true, and CA and ECA were simply different registers of a single all-embracing fuSHa, there would be. But there isn’t. A foreigner like Haeri (or me) has to learn CA and ECA as two different languages, and then learn how to mix them”

There is a variety that is not so formal and not so street-like either, we refer to that as educated Arabic. It uses words from both registers, and speakers usually pronounce most of the case markings, it makes a person look educated yet not too superficial through the use of CA only, and not too informal by using only “spoken” words. You would simply learn how to mix them from how other speakers use this variety, but it does exist. Which brings us back to the question, are they varieties of one language or are they two different languages? I still say they are varieties and not two different languages and that Arabic is in fact diglossic. But it is something as Arabic sociolinguistics, that we are constantly concerned with and interested in, so I think that with more research we may one day fully understand the relationship between the varieties. Thank you again for contributing to this interesting and fruitful discussion about Arabic and globalisation. Please feel free to add your comments below.

I should also welcome new readers and new subscribers, welcome to Arabizi and I hope you will find the posts useful. Wishing everyone a prosperous and wonderful 2014.

Advertisements

Arabic deserves a better chance of survival: The need to change perceptions

The teaching of the Arabic language or the education policy on teaching Arabic is often criticised for its rigid and removed approach in the way language is taught to native speakers of Arabic. It is often difficult for a child to leave the classroom and apply their learned Arabic with those he/she meets (of course there are reasons for this which we have discussed in other previous posts due to other factors, but the fact remains that the language policy needs to change). In the post below the author identities many important issues that affect Arabic language proficiency among native speakers and he predicts that Arabic language will die out soon if Arabic does not go beyond the classroom door and social attitudes do not change. It is pasted below without editing……
————–Start
Arabic will die out if it is locked up in classrooms

In his inaugural address to parliament last December, the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri kept mispronouncing words and whole phrases in Arabic, smirking the entire time.

Not only did the Georgetown-educated, English-speaking Mr Hariri laugh at his mistakes, but he also cackled when Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament, asked him if he needed someone to help him out.

Being bad at Arabic is almost like being bad at an obscure sport, say croquet: no one particularly cares if you fail to grasp the quaint and overly complex techniques needed for mastery of the subject.

In Lebanon, French is the language of the learned and the sophisticated. The same is true in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and other former French colonies in the Arab world. Failing to speak proper French in those countries is a handicap in professional and social life.

In some circles, it is fashionable to make mistakes in modern standard Arabic and rather chic to be unacquainted with the meaning of a word or expression. In Morocco, the French word francisant, (French-educated) has a positive connotation. If you are francisant, it does not matter if you cannot speak Arabic. The preposterous part is that a so-called Arabist does not get away with the same glory-in-incompetence should their French leave something to be desired.

Fluency in French and English in the Middle East and North Africa has come to imply intelligence, erudition and even affluence, even if that person struggles with Arabic.

Many Arabs feel that speaking modern standard Arabic, the form of the language taught at school, is something of a burdensome, if not embarrassing, endeavour. It is not the local dialect that they use at home and on the street, which they speak with ease.

Proficiency in Arabic, proper grammar, conjugation and a broad use of vocabulary are seen as the sole purview of language geeks. It is bizarre that they are looked down upon, while those Arabs who spent time ploughing through Chaucer and Coleridge, Rabelais and Pascal to become proficient in English and French are respected.

What has happened that once-proud Arabs, who once would kill or be killed for a single verse of poetry, gauge their level of intelligence by how little they know of their mother tongue? Perhaps, it is because true Arabic is no longer their mother tongue.

It is an obvious, if little known fact that modern standard Arabic is no longer anybody’s mother tongue. No one in the world speaks it as a native language. The 350 million people spread across the 22 Arab states learn this language in school in the same way they might learn French or English. They make horrendous mistakes when they write, read or speak it. Even many Arab Muslim senior citizens can barely understand a sentence of a Friday sermon because the preacher delivers his lecture in modern standard Arabic.

All Arabs know Arabic, but a Tunisian speaks Tunisian, a Libyan speaks Libyan, and an Egyptian speaks Egyptian. None of these is “proper” Arabic. Countless Arabs find that their friends from Morocco and Algeria may as well be speaking Greek when they speak in their native dialects.

True, these derivative languages bear a close resemblance to Arabic, but they are not, strictly speaking, Arabic. The extent to which they differ from pure Arabic is far greater than the comparitively minor difference between Kenyan and Scottish English.

A native tongue is – and some linguists may wish to differ – a language that you speak fluently. It is a language that defines who you are. No one faults an American or a Briton for the differences in their use of the English language. It is just how they speak and their distinct dialect defines them.

Arabs should not be asked to speak like the 10th-century poet Abu Tayyib al Mutanabbi. No one should expect English speakers to speak like Milton either. It is futile and fails to serve the ultimate purpose of language: ease of communication.

Languages die when they become stagnant. Latin has almost died out precisely because it was locked up in church bookshelves. Arabic, with its elasticity, rhetorical treasures and axiomatic wealth may suffer the same fate if its use is restricted to the classroom, the mosque, and the halls of government.

Arabic deserves a greater chance of survival than what it is currently being offered. Occasional events celebrating it will not push it into every day life. The language must get back in touch with the most mundane aspects of our lives. It must be allowed to grow and change, given room to breathe and stretch its legs out on the streets. Otherwise it will shrivel and die.

If you’re an Arab, ask yourself: how do you say “zipper” in your supposed mother tongue?

——-end

I don’t think there is anything for me to add to the article, except to say that these issues he has brought up will always affect Arabic language if nothing is done to help the situation and improve it. It may seem negative and very pessimistic but anyone who speaks Arabic knows that everything raised in the article is precise and not exaggerated- Arabs no longer feel proud of their own language! But those who do, are few and love it with a passion that pushes them to master it. But if they were to bring this passion to their friends they would be ridiculed and their only option may be to join an old Arabic club- which is mostly boring, archaic and very uninteresting.  A language is not an object that can be fixed and mended from the outside, it needs nurturing and fixing from the inside, in this case by its speakers so that it can become a language of everyday use. I mean here not a code-switched, code-mixed, ungrammatical version of Arabic, but a grammatical version- one where a speaker can write without fear and can speak without mistakes. This does not mean I am against ‘ammiyyah (spoken Arabic) that would be denying an important part of Arabic speakers’ linguistic identities, I just think if one claims to speak a language they should work to master it in its important versions. We will always talk about this for a long time to come….. Comments are welcome as always…. thanks for stopping by.

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.

Arabic must be the focus in pursuit of ‘true’ bilingualism in the UAE: Why a serious language policy is needed

العربية: لوحة التوقّف في دولة الإمارات العربية...

Image via Wikipedia

Thank you for all recent comments and emails, I am glad Arabizi is playing a role in getting people to think about Arabic in new ways. Below I have pasted an article from the National, written by Dr. Ahmad al Issa and it superbly summarises the situation of Arabic in the Emirates. He raises excellent points about the danger Arabic is in, in the Arab world generally but more specifically in the UAE. WIth his experience and knowledge of how languages are taught around the world this article is a must-read for those wanting to understand the frustrations of linguists and educators when it comes to their fears over the demise of Arabic language. I don’t need to make many points it’s all nicely put below….your comments on this topic specifically are very welcome…enjoy the read…

—————–start

Recent articles in The National have discussed and debated the role of English in the UAE, and highlighted concerns with the place of Arabic in this diverse nation. Government officials say they hope to implement bilingual education earlier to help students improve their English language proficiency, and ease their transitions into universities where English is typically the language of instruction.

The idea of bilingual education is sound in principle. However, any language policy promoting bilingualism must be well thought out. It is important that language policies introducing bilingual education be done with an intensely balanced emphasis on both languages. True bilingualism can be achieved, but the method of instruction, and the attention and status each language receives in the classroom, matters. Simply introducing a new language earlier in a child’s education is not necessarily the best way to attain a multilingual population.

No one disagrees that English is today’s lingua franca; it is a global language that most people require in order to get ahead. Yet for children and students to gain a strong balance between their languages they must first have a very firm grasp of their mother tongue at an early age.

With Arabic in the UAE, this is not always the case.

Research has shown that students who are taught core subjects, like maths and sciences, in their native language understand the material better and become stronger communicators. Take the example of Finland, which has the highest literacy rate in Europe but whose children do not start learning English until they are seven or eight years old. English in Finland is taught as a foreign language, not a second language.

In the UAE there is the further notion that native speakers of English are best suited to teach the language. But there are many well-trained English language teachers here who are native speakers of Arabic and fluent in English. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked in favour of native speakers of English. This is an out-dated notion that has been discarded by most scholars.

When it is said that parents want their children to learn English, one has to ask how the parents were consulted. Do parents really have any option? The combination of the language policies of the country, the fact that English is the medium of instruction in higher education, and the fact that they see English as a pathway to success, all lead parents to seek out the best for their children.

One must also question if parents are aware of possible detrimental effects of English at such an early age. If students are over-exposed to English and its colourful books and exciting methodologies, their interest in Arabic can be diminished. Certainly, people will continue to speak Arabic, but fluent classical or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) will become a language of the past.

The book Global English and Arabic: Issues of Language, Culture and Identity marks the latest warning regarding the status of Arabic. Researchers from the Arab world and beyond report growing apprehension over the role of Arabic in the Arab world generally, and in the Gulf and UAE specifically.

To be sure, there will always be those who stand firm in their belief that classical Arabic will never be reduced or lost in the Arab world due to its central role in Islam and being the language of the Quran. However, no matter how hard they attempt to make their case it does not stand up to serious scrutiny. If we view language as a standard bearer of identity, then the gradual loss of Arabic in the UAE is a serious problem in need of immediate attention.

There is hope that the roots of Arab linguistic history can be salvaged. But language policy needs to be well thought out; linguists and specialists from the UAE and surrounding Arab nations need to be involved in crafting smarter ways of incorporating Arabic instruction into our classrooms . This is not a job for foreign consultants alone. Our pupils need to know as many languages as they can or desire, but it should not be at the expense of their mother tongue.

Much as identity characterises people, native languages are of great importance in defining people. For the Emirati identity to remain strong, Arabic proficiency must be maintained.

Ahmad Al-Issa is an associate professor of English and linguistics at the American University of Sharjah—end

Action needs to be taken, other countries have done so without infringing on their mother tongues and are still able to provide their students with high quality education at international standards. English is vital and needed in today’s world, but native languages surely have a place too right?

Source: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/arabic-must-be-the-focus-in-pursuit-of-true-bilingualism

Arabic making a strong presence on facebook: A strong future?

It was no surprise that sooner or later Arabic speaking users of Facebook would find a way of creatively using their language to communicate amongst themselves. When Facebook launched the Arabic platform for people to use many in the internet world did not think it was going to be as popular as English. Well, now the below article illustrates that Arabic is fast over taking English as the primary language of Facebook in the Middle East. This is a good and positive step forward and is something I have been watching closely, it’s great that there is an increased presence of the language. However, my worry is the content (not in the topic sense) and quality of language might not be as positive as its increased presence. I think it was two weeks ago that the presence of Arabic on the internet was discussed in a conference in Amman, Jordan. One of the most important remarks made (and later tweeted) was that yes the content of Arabic is increasing on the internet but that does not mean the increased content/availability reflects proficiency or a good command of the language. Ok, this is Facebook so grammar is not something that perhaps needs to be adhered to with such precision as would be expected, for example in an article. But who said spelling needs to be ignored, or the simple feminine/masculine distinction and agreement? And even worse the distinction between the similar sounding letters (emphatic vs. non-emphatic) changing this changes the word and meaning and yet these mistakes are being made and sooner or later they will stick. It’s all good to have a space in which one does not need to stress over precise grammar application,  but if such laid back attitude continues, then Arabic might be in trouble. Recently, I read that 70% of Arabic content (non-Facebook) was coming out of the ever-wonderful and beautiful country of Jordan (shout out to Jordan the second time they are mentioned on this blog for their efforts to promote Arabic), and much of it is very professional that’s a huge positive. But even then at that conference I mentioned above, they were still critical of themselves and they suggested more precision in Arabic language use was needed. For many reasons, and one was that this would set the standard and example of how Arabic ought to be written for internet purposes.

The article below, is written well and presents nothing new in the use of Arabic online- but perhaps it novelty is that it is specifically about Facebook and not just social network sites in general. Lately, I have become slightly, to say annoyed maybe is understatement let’s say I disagree with the whole take on the role Facebook played (still plays) in the Arab Spring (not necessarily in ref. to the below article).  I have noticed in the last six months, that there are many people who see themselves as experts in the Arab Spring, and they all decided that if it was not for Facebook/Twitter that the awakening would never have taken place! Honestly, truly, how very irresponsible to make such assured claims and comments, not only is it unprofessional but patronising to those people who are seeking a new future. Facebook (and social networking in general) assisted and was perhaps a good tool but it did not play such a huge role as is often made out. One wonders all those days that the internet was not available in Egypt, did the people not continue? Please research, please ask, then seek to understand before making such claims, this is what we learn when learning knowledge- right? Or am I confused? Integrity in research and writing is important even in the blogging, twitter online world or even in reference to people we have not met!

The article also makes an important point that the internet is still only available to those who can afford it and most importantly who are literate not just in writing and reading but in how a computer works. Overall, it was enjoyable to read an up to date piece on the Arabic language on the internet enjoy reading.————————-without editing

Arabic becoming the language of Facebook (Written by Arieh O’Sullivan
Published Thursday, July 07, 2011)

Study sees local language overtaking English in the Mideast by the end of the year

Since it was launched in 2009, use of the Arabic Facebook interface has skyrocketed to reach some 10 million users today. At the moment, they represent about a third of all Facebook users in the Arab world, but it’s expected that within a year Arabic will overtake English to become the most popular Facebook language in the region.

Spot On Public Relations, a Middle Eastern publicity agency specializing in on-line social media, found that two times as many people log on to Facebook in the Middle East and North Africa than purchase a daily newspaper.“What’s fascinating for us is not Facebook’s overall growth in the Middle East but its growth in Arabic,” Alexander McNabb, director of Spot On PR told The Media Line.

According to their study, Arabic Facebook has grown about 175% a year, double the overall rate of the mushrooming use of Facebook worldwide. In some countries, like Algeria, it grew a whopping 423% annually.

“Until recently, many marketers pretty much took for granted that the region’s Facebook users were English-speaking Arabs or expatriates, using Facebook in English and representing a fairly elite group of on-line consumers. It has become apparent that this is now far from being true,” the study found. “We can expect Arabic to become the most popular Facebook langue in the region within a year.” The Arabic platform’s 10 million users make up about 35% of the region’s Facebook subscribers, up from 24% in May 2010.

“The new phenomenon we are seeing is the growth in Arabic language usage, which in some parts of the region is truly phenomenal,” McNabb said. According to their figures, 56% of Facebook users in Egypt (3.8 million) opt for the Arabic language version. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, 41% use Arabic and in Saudi Arabia it’s 61%. By contrast, Morocco has 17% recorded Arabic users and at the bottom of the list is the United Arab Emirates, with its big expatriate population, with just 10%.

Social media is widely regarded as having played a crucial role in the Arab Spring, helping to organize protests and giving a voice to oppositions under autocratic regimes. According to the MENA Facebook Digest, the Middle East and North Africa is home to approximately 10% of the world’s Facebook users with some 56 million subscribers. This includes some 19 million who joined during the past year, a growth rate of 51%.

“The Arabic language adoption is a sign that it is getting popularized and more and more people are getting online and they are using tools like Facebook to communicate,” McNabb said

“Today, twice as many people in the Middle East are logged on to Facebook than buying a newspaper. If you want to get the reach across the region to people, if you are promoting products or services then you have to advertise in 274 newspapers to reach the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “Or you can use just one platform. And the daddy of the all in the region right now is of course Facebook.”

“What’s really helping make the case is the whole Arab Spring and role of online media in that has really woken people up who otherwise have just been saying this isn’t worth taking seriously and that is was just a fad.” Nabil Dajani, chairman of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a professor of communications at the American University in Beirut, was dismissive about the impact of Facebook in the Middle East.

“Facebook and the Internet are really for the elites,” Dajani told The Media Line. “My assessment is that in the Arab world the Internet is still mainly being used among the upper-middle and upper classes and universities.”

“True the number of Internet cafes is increasing, but let’s not forget that illiteracy is still high and that Internet access is difficult and expensive.” Dajani said the eclipse of traditional newspapers has been long in the making, but he argued that this had little to do with the Internet in general and Facebook in particular.

“Newspaper readership has been dwindling for a long time because they have focused on politics and people are fed up with that. They want information about the average citizen and their problems and things they are concerned with. That is not available in newspapers so they don’t buy it. It’s not because of Facebook.”

————end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=32646

‘Say it in Arabic, please’: Arabic language rights restored?

The year is moving fast it’s already July and I am becoming busier and busier by the day, the more writing I do the more there is to do…well can’t complain at least it doesn’t put me off linguistics. Just means that I don’t have time to write longer posts. I have an Arabic article I will translate about language and the human need to talk- will do it as soon as I can. It would be wrong of me to put it up if I am not happy that would be a true injustice to the author.  Ramadhan (fasting month) is due next month very excited as always and looking forward to the spiritual experience as usual.

 It was refereshing the other day to come across an article in the Gulf News about the experience of a non-Arabic speaker learning Arabic in the Gulf. I say refreshing because I usually quote native Arabic speakers and their feelings, anxieties and fears about the current and future situation of the Arabic language. What struck me about this article was his insistence that since the Gulf states have Arabic as their native tongue it then becomes incumbent upon non-native speakers living there to learn the Arabic.

He also notes and outlines the current situation of the Arabic language, in that English is preferred over Arabic and that perhaps the Arabs might lose their language one day. Of course he then goes through the importance of Arabic language, and what it would mean to lose that language. In talking about his experience of learning Arabic, he writes a description of Arabic language that I have not read in a long while. It shows his true admiration for the Arabic language and his appreciation of what it would mean were we to lose this language.

The article ends with his reflection on the danger of Arabic being lost, I chose to put this article here because I felt that it was up to date, from the ground and seems authentic in all that he writes. Have a read below as usual no changes to the original.  

————— without editing

Ancient languages are part of collective human heritage and a testament to mankind’s long journey. Don’t let them die.Language is perhaps the most precious, most beautiful gift after intellect that God granted man. In fact, language is the medium of expression of our intellect. Language is perhaps the most significant invention of our ancestors, even more important than the wheel that was invented nearly 6,000 years ago in ancient Iraq and is considered the beginning of human civilisation. For the wheel couldn’t have come about without man’s ability to think and express himself.

Languages have always and endlessly fascinated me. How they come into being, how they evolve with their speakers and how they relate to each other. How babies form pictures of people, things and places in their embryonic minds and express them in incomprehensible sounds is an endlessly fascinating process. Those incomprehensible sounds though must have formed building blocks of our languages.

One of the first things I wanted to do after landing in Dubai, besides buying my own car, was to learn Arabic. But it’s one of those pious resolutions that are easy to make and hard to follow for one reason or another.

Still, having lived and worked in the Gulf for so many years, it’s a real shame if our understanding of the Arabs doesn’t go beyond shawarma (Arabic sandwich wrap), shisha (hubble-bubble or hookah) and shopping malls.

The trouble is, you could live and work in the UAE for years and decades without ever bothering or requiring to learn the local language. Which is what most expatriates do. They live, work and move all their lives in limited spheres of their own communities without ever trying to understand the host country or society.

That is no excuse for not learning Arabic though. So when an opportunity to do so presented itself recently, I gratefully grabbed it. Given the lazy hours of my current job, I couldn’t have hoped for a better chance to quench a lifelong thirst for the glorious language that the Arabs believe — and many linguists agree — to be the mother of all languages.

The past couple of months learning the basics of Arabic with the help of my irrepressibly cheerful Egyptian teacher have been an enriching experience. In a class of 40, most ‘students’ are from Europe and increasingly remind me of that classic BBC comedy, Mind Your Language. And it’s immensely instructive to see Europeans go to great pains to master a language that is so different from theirs.

Different shades

I kind of believed I had a thing for languages and convinced myself that picking up Arabic would be as easy as learning English or Urdu. Especially when I am already familiar with the Arabic script, the language of the Quran, as most Muslims are. Besides, my mother tongue, Urdu, is based on the same script and is heavily indebted to Arabic, just as it is to Persian and Sanskrit, in terms of vocabulary. So I thought I could pick up Arabic in no time, if not master it. Boy, was I wrong!

Arabic is not just an ancient, rich language, it is easily the most complex and nuanced one I’ve ever come across. Every new lesson has been humbling, illuminating the distant boundaries of my infinite ignorance.Unlike in English, in Arabic every object and everything, living or inanimate, has a gender and sentences are formed accordingly. The whole sentence structure changes with each pronoun and helping verb.

More important, the written and spoken Arabic are totally different species. It’s not just the dialect that changes from region to region but words acquire totally different shades of meaning and interpretation.Then there’s its rich repertoire of vocabulary built and accumulated over thousands of years in a region that has been the cradle of world civilization. No other language, with the exception of Sanskrit perhaps, can boast of a literary heritage as great as that of Arabic. The Arabic language and literature have directly or indirectly contributed to all great literature in languages around the world.

It is a shame then like so many great languages from the East, Arabic has been in a steady decline. As much as I love Queen’s English, I have to say this: The growth of English as global lingua franca has come at the expense of great languages like Arabic.

Thanks to the ascendency of Western civilisation and Mac cultural invasion, more and more people are abandoning their ancestral languages for English.As a result, ancient languages have been dying at an unprecedented rate. Indeed, we may be living in a century that could prove decisive for the future of hundreds of languages. It’s feared that by the end of this century or the next, seven thousand of world’s languages could be reduced to just about 600.

It’s all the more alarming in ancient societies of Asia, Latin America and Africa. In America, most languages of native Indians, its original inhabitants, are already dead. Last year, with the death of Boa Senior in India’s Andaman Islands, the last surviving speaker of Bo, one of Asia’s oldest languages, died an unwept death. And there are many others out there that face a similar fate.

Languages are part of our collective heritage and a testament to and chronicle of mankind’s long journey. They must not be allowed to die, especially not by those who have inherited it and are born with it. Especially not a divine language like Arabic. 

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published commentator. Follow him on twitter/aijazzakasyed.

——–end

Very thorough despite the fact that he is not a linguist, he understands what we call language conservation and maintenance, happy reading!

Source: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/say-it-in-arabic-please-1.830807

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