Arab Linguistic Imperialism and the Decline of Arabic: Does anyone speak Arabic? Part 2

in Arabic language. The book was written by th...

in Arabic language. The book was written by the end of 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This second part of the post is much more provoking and may anger some readers because of the analysis Franck makes as to why the Arabic language is in the situation it finds itself in today. But like any researcher he has to explore all the possible reasons and possible “solutions” to the problem and do so in a constructive manner. The Arabic language has a unique, complex and complicated linguistic situation wherever it exists as a “native language”; and because of this, in the postcolonial globalized era the language loss/shift debate is further complicated. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did and that it gets the minds of sociolinguists or those interested in Arabic to think on a much deeper less defensive level about the way in which we use Arabic today.—–start

Foreign imposition or self affliction?

Playing into the hands of keepers of the Arab nationalist canon—as well as Arabists and lobbyists working on behalf of the Arabic language today—the AP article adopted the cliché that the decline of Arabic—like the failure of Arab nationalism—was the outcome of Western linguistic intrusions and the insidious, colonialist impulses of globalization. “Many Lebanese pride themselves on being fluent in French—a legacy of French colonial rule,” Karam wrote, rendering a mere quarter-century of French mandatory presence in Lebanon (1920-46) into a period of classical-style “French colonial rule” that had allegedly destroyed the foundations of the Arabic language in the country and turned the Lebanese subalterns into imitative Francophones denuded of their putative Arab personality.[18] Alas, this fashionable fad fails to take into account that French colonialism in its Lebanese context differed markedly from France’s colonial experience elsewhere. For one, the founding fathers of modern Lebanon lobbied vigorously for turning their post-Ottoman mountain Sanjak into a French protectorate after World War I.[19] And with regard to the Lebanese allegedly privileging the French language, that too, according to Selim Abou, seems to have hardly been a colonialist throwback and an outcome of early twentieth-century French imperialism. In his 1962 Le binlinguisme Arabe-Français au Liban, Abou wrote that the French language (or early Latin variants of what later became French) entered Mount-Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean littoral at the time of the first Crusades (ca. 1099).[20] Centuries later, the establishment of the Maronite College in Rome (1584) and the liberal (pro-Christian) policies of then Mount-Lebanon’s Druze ruler, Fakhreddine II (1572-1635), allowed the Maronites to further strengthen their religious and their religion’s ancillary cultural and linguistic ties to Rome, Europe, and especially France—then, still the “elder daughter” of the Catholic Church. This unleashed a wave of missionary work to Lebanon—and wherever Eastern Christianity dared flaunt its specificity—and eventually led to the founding of schools tending to the educational needs of the Christian—namely Maronite—communities of the region. Although foundational courses in Arabic and Syriac were generally taught at those missionary schools, European languages including French, Italian, and German were also part of the regular curriculum. French, therefore, can be argued to have had an older pedigree in Lebanon than suggested by Karam. And contrary to the classical norms in the expansion and transmission of imperial languages—the spread of Arabic included—which often entailed conquests, massacres, and cultural suppression campaigns, the French language can be said to have been adopted willingly by the Lebanese through “seduction” not “subjection.”[21] It is true that many Lebanese, and Middle Easterners more generally, are today steering clear of Arabic in alarming numbers, but contrary to AP’s claim, this routing of Arabic is not mainly due to Western influence and cultural encroachments—though the West could share some of the blame; rather, it can be attributed, even if only partially, to MSA’s retrogression, difficulty, and most importantly perhaps, to the fact that this form of Arabic is largely a learned, cultic, ceremonial, and literary language, which is never acquired natively, never spoken natively, and which seems locked in an uphill struggle for relevance against sundry spontaneous, dynamic, natively-spoken, vernacular languages. Taha Hussein ascribed the decay and abnegation of the Arabic language primarily to its “inability of expressing the depths of one’s feelings in this new age.” He wrote in 1956 that MSA is difficult and grim, and the pupil who goes to school in order to study Arabic acquires only revulsion for his teacher and for the language, and employs his time in pursuit of any other occupations that would divert and soothe his thoughts away from this arduous effort … Pupils hate nothing more than they hate studying Arabic.[22]

Yet, irreverent as they had been in shunning Arabic linguistic autocracy and fostering a lively debate on MSA and multilingualism, Lebanon and Egypt and their Arabic travails are hardly uncommon in today’s Middle East. From Israel to Qatar and from Abu Dhabi to Kuwait, modern Middle Eastern nations that make use of some form of Arabic have had to come face to face with the challenges hurled at their hermetic MSA and are impelled to respond to the onslaught of impending polyglotism and linguistic humanism borne by the lures of globalization. In a recent article published in Israel’s liberal daily Ha’aretz, acclaimed Druze poet and academic Salman Masalha called on Israel’s Education Ministry to do away with the country’s public school system’s Arabic curricula and demanded its replacement with Hebrew and English course modules. Arabophone Israelis taught Arabic at school, like Arabophones throughout the Middle East, were actually taught a foreign tongue misleadingly termed Arabic, wrote Masalha

The mother tongue [that people] speak at home is totally different from the … Arabic [they learn] at school; [a situation] that perpetuates linguistic superficiality [and] leads to intellectual superficiality … It’s not by chance that not one Arab university is [ranked] among the world’s best 500 universities. This finding has nothing to do with Zionism.[23]

Masalha’s is not a lone voice. The abstruseness of Arabic and the stunted achievements of those monolingual Arabophones constrained to acquire modern knowledge by way of Modern Standard Arabic have been indicted in the United Nations’ Arab Human Development reports—a series of reports written by Arabs and for the benefit of Arabs—since the year 2002. To wit, the 2003 report noted that the Arabic language is struggling to meet the challenges of modern times[and] is facing [a] severe … and real crisis in theorization, grammar, vocabulary, usage, documentation, creativity, and criticism … The most apparent aspect of this crisis is the growing neglect of the functional aspects of [Arabic] language use. Arabic language skills in everyday life have deteriorated, and Arabic … has in effect ceased to be a spoken language. It is only the language of reading and writing; the formal language of intellectuals and academics, often used to display knowledge in lectures … [It] is not the language of cordial, spontaneous expression, emotions, daily encounters, and ordinary communication. It is not a vehicle for discovering one’s inner self or outer surroundings.[24]

And so, concluded the report, the only Arabophone countries that were able to circumvent this crisis of knowledge were those like Lebanon and Egypt, which had actively promoted a polyglot tradition, deliberately protected the teaching of foreign languages, and instated math and science curricula in languages other than Arabic. Translation is another crucial means of transmitting and acquiring knowledge claimed the U.N. report, and given that “English represents around 85 percent of the total world knowledge balance,” one might guess that “knowledge-hungry countries,” the Arab states included, would take heed of the sway of English, or at the very least, would seek out the English language as a major source of translation. Yet, from all source-languages combined, the Arab world’s 330 million people translated a meager 330 books per year; that is, “one fifth of the number [of books] translated in Greece [home to 12 million Greeks].” Indeed, from the times of the Caliph al-Ma’mun (ca. 800 CE) to the beginnings of the twenty-first century, the “Arab world” had translated a paltry 10,000 books: the equivalent of what Spain translates in a single year.[25]

But clearer heads are prevailing in Arab countries today. Indeed, some Arabs are taking ownership of their linguistic dilemmas; feckless Arab nationalist vainglory is giving way to practical responsible pursuits, and the benefits of valorizing local speech forms and integrating foreign languages into national, intellectual, and pedagogic debates are being contemplated. Arabs “are learning less Islam and more English in the tiny desert sheikhdom of Qatar” read a 2003 Washington Post article, and this overhaul of Qatar’s educational system, with its integration of English as a language of instruction—”a total earthquake” as one observer termed it—was being billed as the Persian Gulf’s gateway toward greater participation in an ever more competitive global marketplace. But many Qataris and Persian Gulf Arabs hint to more pressing and more substantive impulses behind curricular bilingualism: “necessity-driven” catalysts aimed at replacing linguistic and religious jingoism with equality, tolerance, and coexistence; changing mentalities as well as switching languages and textbooks.[26] This revolution is no less subversive in nearby Abu Dhabi where in 2009 the Ministry of Education launched a series of pedagogical reform programs aimed at integrating bilingual education into the national curriculum. Today, “some 38,000 students in 171 schools in Abu Dhabi [are] taught … simultaneously in Arabic and English.”[27] And so, rather than rushing to prop up and protect the fossilized remains of MSA, the debate that should be engaged in today’s Middle East needs to focus more candidly on the utility, functionality, and practicality of a hallowed and ponderous language such as MSA in an age of nimble, clipped, and profane speech forms. The point of reflection should not be whether to protect MSA but whether the language inherited from the Jahiliya Bedouins—to paraphrase Egypt’s Salama Musa (1887-1958)—is still an adequate tool of communication in the age of information highways and space shuttles.[28] Obviously, this is a debate that requires a healthy dose of courage, honesty, moderation, and pragmatism, away from the usual religious emotions and cultural chauvinism that have always stunted and muzzled such discussions.

Linguistic Schizophrenia and Deceit

Sherif Shubashy’s book Down with Sibawayh If Arabic Is to Live on![29] seems to have brought these qualities into the debate. An eighth-century Persian grammarian and father of Arabic philology, Sibawayh is at the root of the modern Arabs’ failures according to Shubashy. Down with Sibawayh, which provoked a whirlwind of controversy in Egypt and other Arab countries following its release in 2004, sought to shake the traditional Arabic linguistic establishment and the Arabic language itself out of their millenarian slumbers and proposed to unshackle MSA from stiff and superannuated norms that had, over the centuries, transformed it into a shrunken and fossilized mummy: a ceremonial, religious, and literary language that was never used as a speech form, and whose hallowed status “has rendered it a heavy chain curbing the Arabs’ intellect, blocking their creative energies … and relegating them to cultural bondage.”[30] In a metaphor reminiscent of Musa’s description of the Arabic language, Shubashy compared MSA users to “ambling cameleers from the past, contesting highways with racecar drivers hurtling towards modernity and progress.”[31] In his view, the Arabs’ failure to modernize was a corollary of their very language’s inability (or unwillingness) to regenerate and innovate and conform to the exigencies of modern life.[32] But perhaps the most devastating blow that Shubashy dealt the Arabic language was his description of the lahja and fusha (or dialect vs. MSA) dichotomy as “linguistic schizophrenia.”[33] For although Arabs spoke their individual countries’ specific, vernacular languages while at home, at work, on the streets, or in the marketplace, the educated among them were constrained to don a radically different linguistic personality and make use of an utterly different speech form when reading books and newspapers, watching television, listening to the radio, or drafting formal, official reports.[34] That speech form, which was never spontaneously spoken, Shubashy insisted, was Modern Standard Arabic: a language which, not unlike Latin in relation to Europe’s Romance languages, was distinct from the native, spoken vernaculars of the Middle East and was used exclusively by those who had adequate formal schooling in it. He even went so far as to note that “upward of 50 percent of so-called Arabophones can’t even be considered Arabs if only MSA is taken for the legitimate Arabic language, the sole true criterion of Arabness.” [35] Conversely, it was a grave error to presume the vernacular speech forms of the Middle East to be Arabic, even if most Middle Easterners and foreigners were conditioned, and often intimidated, into viewing them as such. The so-called dialects of Arabic were not Arabic at all, he wrote, despite the fact that

like many other Arabs, I have bathed in this linguistic schizophrenia since my very early childhood. I have for very long thought that the difference between MSA and the dialects was infinitely minimal; and that whoever knew one language—especially MSA—would intuitively know, or at the very least, understand the other. However, my own experience, and especially the evidence of foreigners studying MSA, convinced me of the deep chasm that separated MSA from dialects. Foreigners who are versed in MSA, having spent many years studying that language, are taken aback when I speak to them in the Egyptian dialect; they don’t understand a single word I say in that language.[36]

This “pathology” noted Shubashy, went almost unnoticed in past centuries when illiteracy was the norm, and literacy was still the preserve of small, restricted guilds—mainly the ulema and religious grammarians devoted to the study of Arabic and Islam, who considered their own linguistic schizophrenia a model of piety and a sacred privilege to be vaunted, not concealed. Today, however, with the spread of literacy in the Arab world, and with the numbers of users of MSA swelling and hovering in the vicinity of 50 percent, linguistic schizophrenia is becoming more widespread and acute, crippling the Arab mind and stunting its capacities. Why was it that Spaniards, Frenchmen, Americans, and many more of the world’s transparent and linguistically nimble societies, needed to use only a single, native language for both their acquisition of knowledge and grocery shopping whereas Arabs were prevented from reading and writing in the same language that they use for their daily mundane needs?[37]. As a consequence of the firestorm unleashed by his book, Shubashy, an Egyptian journalist and news anchor and, at one time, the Paris bureau-chief of the Egyptian al-Ahram news group, was forced to resign his post as Egypt’s deputy minister of culture in 2006. The book caused so much controversy to a point that the author and his work were subjected to a grueling cross-examination in the Egyptian parliament where, reportedly, scuffles erupted between supporters and opponents of Shubashy’s thesis. In the end, the book was denounced as an affront to Arabs and was ultimately banned. Shubashy himself was accused of defaming the Arabic language in rhetoric mimicking a “colonialist discourse.”[38] A deputy in the Egyptian parliament—representing Alexandria, Shubashy’s native city—accused the author of “employing the discourse and argumentation of a colonialist occupier, seeking to replace the Arab identity with [the occupier’s] own identity and culture.”[39] Ahmad Fuad Pasha, advisor to the president of Cairo University, argued that the book “was added proof that, indeed, the Zionist-imperialist conspiracy is a glaring reality,”[40] aimed at dismantling Arab unity. Muhammad Ahmad Achour wrote in Egypt’s Islamic Standard that

Shubashy has taken his turn aiming another arrow at the heart of the Arabic language. Yet, the powers that seek to destroy our language have in fact another goal in mind: The ultimate aim of their conspiracy is none other than the Holy Qur’an itself, and to cause Muslims to eventually lose their identity and become submerged into the ocean of globalization.[41]

Even former Egyptian president Husni Mubarak felt compelled to take a potshot at Shubashy in a speech delivered on Laylat al-Qadr, November 9, 2004, the anniversary of the night that Sunni Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad received his first Qur’anic revelation. Mubarak warned,I must caution the Islamic religious scholars against the calls that some are sounding for the modernization of the Islamic religion, so as to ostensibly make it evolve, under the pretext of attuning it to the dominant world order of “modernization” and “reform.” This trend has led recently to certain initiatives calling for the modification of Arabic vocabulary and grammar; the modification of God’s chosen language no less; the holy language in which he revealed his message to the Prophet.[42]

Conclusion

This then, the recognition and normalization of dialects, could have been a fitting conclusion and a worthy solution to the dilemma that Shubashy set out to resolve. Unfortunately, he chose to pledge fealty to MSA and classical Arabic—ultimately calling for their normalization and simplification rather than their outright replacement.[45] In that sense, Shubashy showed himself to be in tune with the orthodoxies preached by Husri who, as early as 1955, had already been calling for the creation of a “middle Arabic language” and a crossbreed fusing MSA and vernacular speech forms—as a way of bridging the Arabs’ linguistic incoherence and bringing unity to their fledgling nationhood:

MSA is the preserve of a small, select number of educated people, few of whom bother using it as a speech form. Conversely, what we refer to as “dialectal Arabic” is in truth a bevy of languages differing markedly from one country to the other, with vast differences often within the same country, if not within the same city and neighborhood … Needless to say, this pathology contradicts the exigencies of a sound, wholesome national life! [And given] that true nations deserving of the appellation require a single common and unifying national language … [the best solution I can foresee to our national linguistic quandary] would be to inoculate the dialectal languages with elements of MSA … so as to forge a new “middle MSA” and diffuse it to the totality of Arabs … This is our best hope, and for the time being, the best palliative until such a day when more lasting and comprehensive advances can be made towards instating the final, perfected, integral MSA.[46]

This is at best a disappointing and desultory solution, not only due to its chimerical ambitions but also because, rather than simplifying an already cluttered and complicated linguistic situation, it suggested the engineering of an additional language for the “Arab nation” to adopt as a provisional national idiom. To expand on Shubashy’s initial diagnosis, this is tantamount to remedying schizophrenia by inducing a multi-personality disorder—as if Arabs were in want of yet another artificial language to complement their already aphasiac MSA. Granted, national unification movements and the interference in, or creation of, a national language are part of the process of nation building and often do bear fruit. However, success in the building of a national language is largely dependent upon the size of the community and the proposed physical space of the nation in question.[47] In other words, size does matter. Small language unification movements—as in the cases of, say, Norway, Israel, and France—can and often do succeed. But big language unification movements on the other hand—as in the cases of pan-Turkism, pan-Slavism, pan-Germanism, and yes, pan-Arabism—have thus far been met with not only failure but also devastating wars, genocides, and mass population movements. Moreover, traditionally, the small language unification movements that did succeed in producing national languages benefitted from overwhelming, popular support among members of the proposed nation. More importantly, they sought to normalize not prestige, hermetic, (written) literary languages, but rather lower, degraded speech forms that were often already spoken natively by the national community in question (e.g., Creole in Haiti, Old Norse in Norway, and modern, as opposed to biblical Hebrew in Israel)[48] Shubashy’s call of “down with Sibawayh!” meant purely and simply “down with the classical language” and its MSA progeny. Overthrowing Sibawayh meant also deposing the greatest Arabic grammarian, the one credited with the codification, standardization, normalization, and spread of the classical Arabic language—and later its MSA descendent. Yet, calling for the dethroning of one who was arguably the founding father of modern Arabic grammar, and in the same breath demanding the preservation, inoculation, and invigoration of his creation, is contradictory and confusing. It is like “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” to use Albert Einstein’s famous definition of insanity. Or could it be that perhaps an initially bold Shubashy was rendered timid by a ruthless and intimidating MSA establishment? After all, there are few Arabs doing dispassionate, critical work on MSA today, who do not ultimately end up being cowed into silence, or worse yet, slandered, discredited, and accused of Zionist perfidy and “Arabophobia.” Salama Musa, [49] Taha Hussein,[50] and Adonis [51] are the most obvious and recent examples of such character assassinations. Ultimately, however, it is society and communities of users—not advocacy groups, linguistic guilds, and preservation societies—that decide the fate of languages. As far as the status and fate of the Arabic language are concerned, the jury still seems to be out.

—-end
Wow! Ouch! Some important issues raised, I suspect that some of the points he mentioned in this second part could produce a dozen PhD thesis’ that’s no exaggeration.  The issue is that complex, it’s that multi-layered, it’s not about panicking or playing down the importance of Arabic….it’s about finding a real solution for how Arabic can be a productive language for its speakers and a language which can be used to account for new and modern discoveries. It does not mean we have to agree with everything he writes, but these are issues/points to think about. I think most Arabic speakers want Arabic to be their language of knowledge where they do not have to translate or learn a new language to understand and appreciate knowledge alongside English and other major languages. Currently it’s taken a back-seat in many spheres of world knowledge and many speakers do not feel empowered using Arabic. In my next post I will discuss naming rights and how language is an indicator of civilisation and knowledge.
Source: http://www.meforum.org/3066/does-anyone-speak-arabic
(You can also find all the footnotes there)
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Call to make Arabic language of instruction: The struggle continues

Classroom Chairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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

Arabic teaching methods need to be upgraded

Books

Image by Rodrigo Galindez via Flickr

I am putting something here about the work one person is doing to promote the teaching of Arabic to children outside the Arab world. Here is the piece below, without editing as usual- enjoy.

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Jinanne Tabra is promoting Arabic learning among children living outside the Arab region .Doha-May 25, 2011: It is time to upgrade Arabic learning approaches among children as the current ones are “outdated” and “lacking fun elements” which can attract children to learn the language, said Jinanne Tabra, entrepreneur and founder of ARABOH.com.

Tabra, who used to find learning Arabic an “awful burden” during her school days, has started an internationally acclaimed project to help make Arabic easier and more interesting for children, particularly those living outside the Arab region.

“I believe that we do need to look for more effective methods for Arabic teaching in which fun should be a key element,” she said to students at her former school, Qatar Academy, a member of Qatar Foundation.

While still a business student at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar – also a part of Qatar Foundation – Jinanne Tabra realized that Arabs living outside the Middle East had very few options for buying Arab language literature. So shortly after graduation, she founded Araboh.com, one of the first, and most successful, online bookstores dedicated to the Arabic language.

A graduate of business from Carnegie Mellon University‘s Qatar Foundation campus in 2008, CEO Middle East magazine named her as one of the “Top 30 under 30” and her company has become a vital resource for Arabs around the world.The online bookstore – which has sold thousands of books around the world and grown by 200% during the past three years – is now in the process of establishing a branch of her company in the US as part of an expansion plan for the company.

“I believe there is a need for the very best Arabic educational tools to be made available for every family living in non-Arab countries. I believe our children should feel proud to be Arabs and promote the true message of Arab peace throughout the world. I believe this has never been as important as it is today,” Tabra explained. Araboh.com is now visiting schools in Qatar and UAE and hosting Arabic language festivals to promote the language among children.

“We have high standards for books we are selling. They must be fun and attractive,” she said, describing the online bookstore that now delivers books to young Arabic learners in 50 countries around the world. Tabra describes her constant surprise at the achievement her bookstore has become, especially considering her dislike of learning and Arabic.

Born in the UK to a Scottish mother and Iraqi father, Tabra had very few resources for Arabic learning while growing up. She spent ten years in Scotland before her family moved to the Gulf.

“During these years I was struggling to learn Arabic with other Arab children, but the books were very boring and difficult to understand. I hated Arabic so much. The text books were boring and I was a slow reader,” Jinanne told the Qatar Academy grade five students. Jinanne, who maintains that studying at Qatar FoundationQatar Foundation has armed her with the attitude, knowledge and skills needed to achieve great things, stressed that she was not financially driven when she started her business.

“It was passion rather than business which led me to start this project. I was looking for a meaningful thing and seeking for a goal to pursue. And I found that Arabic was a worthwhile goal. I want to promote it to be the first language in the world,” she said.

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Brilliant achievement and I think she has realised something we all realised as young students learning Arabic- the resources were not so great. Filling this gap might actually help students better their Arabic language proficiency and perhaps even love the Arabic language. If one loves a language they then move on to do great things with that language like writing high quality books (and not just translations, no offence to translators they do an absolutely marvellous job) in all areas of reading not just literature. There is a real need to write self-help book in Arabic language by someone who understands the Arab lifestyle and way of being, translations are good but a book that uses examples the readers relate to in reality are always better.  I think she has begun something great and that the next 50 years are bright for Arabic publishing as the demand for good high quality works will ensure this.  I also think that the Arabic teachers in the Arab countries can also take tips on how to improve their resources, although here the intention was to make books for students outside the Arab world I think the region itself is in as much need of those much improved books too (and a renewed teaching style but that’s another topic for another day). There needs to be a change in the resources and in how the students are taught that way students all over the world can learn Arabic in a way that keeps them motivated. It’s all good…slowly but surely.

Source: http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidZAWYA20110525122613

TEDxDubai: English language threatens Arabic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing programme

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

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

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

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

No real gain

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

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

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

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

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

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