Internet destroys Arabic language or is it the slang?

The weather is looking good these days and let’s hope it stays that way- I must say that it’s distracting me from loads of reading. I think in the winter it’s easier to work as you have no choice but to remain indoors, so you go through books so quickly- there are no picnics, walks or cycling to think about. I am also pleased that the number of subscribers for Arabizi has hit the three figure mark- thanks for trusting and reading my blog! Right back to Arabizi related items, a question should we blame the internet or Arabic slang for weakening the Arabic language? How do we even begin to ascertain that Arabic is being weakened? So many questions and not enough clear and accurate answers. In thinking of those issues I came across this post from:, I have posted it below without editing:


This week, Qantara explores the sometimes-literary Arabic bloggers’ magazineWasla. The magazine culls from blogs around the Arab world and publishes them in a free print magazine; it’s being billed as a bridge between online and offline worlds.

The Qantara piece notes that while Elias Khoury and Sonallah Ibrahim have lauded the activities of young bloggers—Al Masry Al Youm reported that both were interested in being a part of the venture—it quotes other writers, notably Rifat as-Saїd and as-Sayyed Yassin, as calling blogs the result of “political uncertainty and intellectual impoverishment.”

Yes, “intellectual impoverishment.”

Perhaps these are two separate issues, but this split reminded me of a p.s. to a Tanjara report on a discussion between fos’ha Arabic defender Bahaa Taher and colloquial defender Elias Khoury.

During the event’s Q&A:

A young woman in the audience asked Taher what he thinks of new Arab fiction writers. During a recent visit to Egypt she had picked up examples of a novels by young Egyptian writers produced by a small publishing house. Such writers are, for example, “really experimenting and improvising in fus’ha and dialect.” When Taher asked her for an example, she mentioned Ahmed Alaidy’s “Being Abbas el Abd.”

Interesting that Taher focuses here on his “good relations” rather than the art ofBeing Abbas el Abd, but anyhow:

“That’s a very good novel” he responded. “There is a very promising new generation of writers in Egypt in their early twenties: they are presenting a new wave in Egyptian writing which is very welcome. And I can say I have very good relations with all of them including Alaidy.”

Then he tacked on a strong warning:

“They face a problem in a way. They are very talented, they are trying to do things, they are trying to be new blood in Arabic literature especially in Egypt, but they are facing a problem which you have spoken about now – this writing in slang sometimes, and not mastering their own language. Writing in slang they are defeating themselves. Why? I know writers who write in slang and they were very popular like Yusuf Idris [1927-1991] for example, he wrote in slang and he was read all over the Arab world. At that time Egyptian slang was understood everywhere because of Egyptian films, because of Umm Kulthum, because of Abdel-Halim Hafez – the famous Egyptian singers Egyptian slang was common in all the Arab world and could be understood.

“Now the situation has changed. I don’t think that Egyptian slang can be understood in Morocco, Tunisia, as it was before. So they are restricting their readership, this generation of young writers. They wouldn’t have the possibility to address themselves to Arab readers everywhere, they are addressing themselves only to Arab readers in Egypt – or if they are writing in slang in Syria, they are addressing themselves to Syrian readers.”

And, in the other corner, the venerable Elias Khoury:

“I write colloquial, what my friend calls slang. I use colloquial, and I don’t agree with him – I think we have to use colloquial. And when I read any novel in any language there are some parts which I don’t understand – you make an effort, if I am reading an English novel I make an effort. So if you are reading an Arabic novel why not make some effort to understand that the Tunisians say nejim [?] to mean I can? It seems very bizarre to us in the Levant.” (To laughter to he said that ‘ma nejimish’ means “I cannot” and that he knows Tunsian very well). So I don’t agree about this point.I think the only way a language will be alive and renew itself is through the spoken , we cannot write without the spoken. I think one of the merits of what we can learn from the Egyptian novel actually, from writers like Sonallah Ibrahim and others is the use of colloquial.”


Interesting points raised and very enjoyable due to the fact that it was written very well by the author. What would it be like to write a complete novel in slang and read it in slang or colloquial Arabic? It is becoming ever more popular these days and colloquials are easy to understand due to satellite tv in most Arab households? What do the readers think about this point? Does colloquial weaken Arabic or not? It might be nice to start a discussion about that here.



Lost in translation? The Arabic of Gaddafi

 A short post on some of my thoughts about the recent speeches of Gaddafi, a good break for me away from my never-ending work!  Usually in a revolution people write about how a people want change and about their hopes and fears but here I write about the language used by Gaddafi since the uprisings in his country. What was of particular interest to me was his choice of language, the way he used it, and the style he employed- I think I paid attention to the content later. His was not the first of speeches to be made by a leader feeling the pressure from his people, but his speeches struck me in a way that Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s did not.

He chose to use a mixture of both Standard and spoken (Libyan) Arabic and spoke in his heavy bedouin accent, which for many people was incoherent, misplaced at times and made no sense. His words and at times sentences rhymed and his use of high pitch and tonality, well unfit for someone trying to convey a message of strength and definace- but as they say he is the king of kings so it’s his rules!  The bedouin in him came through in his speech harsh, defiant, proud and shocked that his people would  have the audacity to challenge his rule and that can lead one to be removed from reality.  One cannot ignore the grand style he employed when describing how he will call on all in Libya to support him – in English it translates as: “I will call upon millions from desert to desert. We will march to purge Libya inch by inch, house by house, alley by alley.”  Those words have now become so popular that they have been made into a song titled ‘Zenga Zenga’ which means ‘street by street’ (or alley by alley). Hence my title- lost in translation  (the fact that the minute it is translated it’s loses its original allure if it did have any to begin with!) in Arabic it is almost musical but in English it is comical since leaders these days do not address their nations in such rhetoric or grandeur or for that length of time.

The speeches generally are very long or extremely short (30 seconds) they begin without warning and end sometimes in mid-topic or sentence, all we hear is the phone being put down and then the line goes dead. The news presenters then have to quickly compose themselves and try to summarise to the audience a speech that to them was perhaps not so complete not so whole. Lost in translation because to the outside world these speeches ar of a ranting, unrealistic and defeated man who has no control over his emotions. But with the closer look one sees that there are some stylistics to his speech though the content of the speeches is another story entirely perhaps best left to the political bloggers. Thought I’d share a glimpse of the linguistic side of his speeches….

To see the popular video click here: creative zenga zenga – comments welcome on anything here…. thanks for reading

Arabic language day- A Twitter perspective

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

After more than 200 tweets I decided to post something on the fact that  it is Arabic day today ON TWITTER, so I thought I’d share the news. Speakers of the Arabic language celebrate their language on this day [though I have not checked out the origins of the day yet] and they make it an issue to raise awareness about different issues surrounding the Arabic language.

The things people are doing today is, for example, all twitter users are writing only in Arabic and are apologising to their non-Arabic speaking followers for their use of Arabic only, for example- Dear Non-Arabic speakers/readers tweeps: Today is #ArabicDay so please tolerate the Arabic tweets for the day 🙂 .. Have a wonderful day 🙂

I think most people are tweeting in Classical Arabic only- which is great because you get to see people’s language skills. There are excellent quotes about Arabic as a language, as an item that defines a people, a people who are proud to be speakers of Arabic.  SO what happens now is that someone makes a cup of tea and tweets that in Classical Arabic with all the right grammar and diacritics I’ll paste it here for readers of Arabic-ما أجمل اللغة العربية , قمت باعداد كوباً من الشاى he writes here- how beautiful Arabic language is, I have made a cup of tea… and it’s all grammatically correct. Another example- في طريق العودة للمنزل #Arabicday— trans- on my way back home.. Which makes me wonder how would they have written it if they were not making an Arabic emphasis?  In English perhaps.

The issue of identity comes up in the tweets aswell اللغة هوية ….اللغة حضارة …. #ArabicDay trans– language is identity….language is civilization. It seems language is seen as a marker of identity by this speaker and as a  foundation of civilization and culture. An issue that is often discussed in Linguistics in how does language reflect identity and so on.  There are also other tweets that demand everything to be written in Arabic and not with English letters or what they call Franco-Arabic [which I think is what we refer to as Arabizi] they think that it spoils Arabic and English interesting.

The most interesting aspect of these  tweets and wall posts is not in the praise of Arabic language- no- it is actually in how the speakers are critical of their neglect of Arabic. They criticise themselves and how they are not using Arabic as much s they should be- but the nice bit is that it is all in Classical Arabic…which really emphasises their point.

The criticisms or points that people point out are the same ones we have discussed here on the blog. So I’ll try my best to sift the best ones, it’s hard when there are 93 tweets a minutes going up. Here is one from a Saudi tweeter; criticizing the choice of universities in not using Arabic as a language of instruction for Arab students, especially if it is a subject like Computing and he sees this as wasting the life of the student whilst his Arabic could have improved.

 #arabicday المناهج الجامعيه في كثير اصبحت بلغه غير لغتنا .. يضيع عمر الطالب في الجامعه يدرس الماده على انها لغه اضافيه وهي ماده كمبيوتر مثلا

Another critical one- يقول أحد المستشرقين : ليس على وجه الأرض لغة لها من الروعة والعظمة ماللغة العربية=#ArabicDay

ولكن ليس على وجه الأرض أمة تسعى بوعي أو بدون وعي لتدمير لغتها كالأمة العربية —he says ‘one of the Orientalists [someone who writes on Arabic issues but might not be an Arab themselves] says- There is not a language on the face of the earth with such beauty and greatness like Arabic, but there is not a nation on the face of the earth that consciously or unconsciously works to destroy its own language like the Arab nation’. WOW- it is a heavy statement to make and there are those who agree with him and others do not.  One can see the passion with which such tweets are delivered, he went out of his way to find and type up this quote…seriousness here.

I will not make this a very long post it was just something I thought I’d share for those interested and since it is in line with the blog’s topics. Generally, Arabic speakers feel that they are neglectful of their language and they feel that they have to do something about it.  I wonder if this will become a permanent day each year….

Source- Twitter [if you have an account you can go in and see]

Jordan: Giving Arabic its rightful place?

Petra's Treasury (al-Khazneh) in southern Jordan.

Image via Wikipedia

The Jordan Times reported that the president of the University of Jordan, has urged lecturers to do their utmost to speak formal Arabic in the classrooms. This has been met with mixed feelings as some people agree whilst others are skeptical of the idea. Below, as usual I have pasted the article without editing…


Standard vs. colloquial Arabic debate surfaces on campus

By Thameen Kheetan

AMMAN – Several students at the University of Jordan (UJ) have criticised UJ President Khalid Karaki’s suggestion that standard Arabic be used in lectures, while many professors welcomed the idea. Last week, Karaki sent a letter to the university’s teaching staff asking them to “do their best to… refrain from utilising colloquial Arabic [amiyya] inside lecture halls,“ because he said amiyya usage affects the national Arabic identity.

“Using the colloquial in addressing each other, in addition to being lax on standard Arabic grammar… is an indication of bad taste and intellectual shallowness,” said the president, who is an Arabic language specialist. He noted that amiyya has become widespread at the expense of formal Arabic, and considered this a threat to the Arab world’s “cultural identity”.

Several students said they would not accept lectures in standard Arabic because they are not used to it in their daily lives and it could lead to difficulties in understanding the course material.

“It’s weird, students will laugh at each other when they speak classical Arabic in class,” 20-year-old Haneen Bisharat told The Jordan Times. The business major pointed out that standard Arabic could be used in language classes that are obligatory for all Jordanian students, as well as optional lectures and activities in order to preserve the classical language, which she admits is fading out.

“I do not agree with the president,” said history student Rami, 21, who added that although he understands the standard Arabic, “I would face difficulties since I am used to amiyya”. Second-year marketing student Zuhdi Abu Issa agreed with him.

“The colloquial dialect creates an atmosphere of fun and comfort,” he told The Jordan Times, and described standard Arabic as “strict, formal and depressing”. Saba Obeidat, who studies theatre, explained that the colloquial makes her feel closer to the professors “as if I am talking to someone in my daily life”.

But many lecturers were partial to Karaki’s proposal. Political science professor Omar Hadrami believes amiyya undermines the language and affects Arabic thought. “It has been taking the place of standard Arabic and the biggest danger is that English words like ‘hi’ and ‘hello’ are being introduced to amiyya,” he told The Jordan Times.

Noting that the president’s suggestion is “very applicable”, he said, “I can feel this in my lectures, during which I always try to speak standard Arabic.” Geophysics and seismology professor Najib Abou Karaki also lauded the idea, but said it would take time to be totally applied on campus.”The main goal should be to make the student understand… it’s OK to adopt classical Arabic as a general trend,” he said, adding that it should be applied in a “flexible” manner so that the language used in lecture halls is also acceptable to students coming from different Arab countries, “who don’t have to master the Jordanian dialect”.

Abeer Dababneh, an assistant professor in the faculty of law noted that many lecturers employ a mixture of standard and colloquial Arabic.She said the implementation of standard Arabic would be difficult in the beginning, but over time, “people will get used to it and won’t find it strange”.”In an academic frame, there should be a formal atmosphere because we are not talking about personal issues,” she told The Jordan Times.

Not all students, however, are averse to the idea.Among them is Obada Shahwan, who studies Sharia (Islamic studies).”Of course I agree… the Koran came in classical Arabic and we should protect our language,” the 22-year-old pointed out.


The most positive aspect about this article is that at least the difference of opinion is in which type of Arabic to use, not the fear that Arabic is not used- something I have not shown for a long time. As far as I know the Jordanian education system emphasises the use of Arabic as a medium of instruction making their students strong and proficient users of their language. They excel in literature, science, and in learning English, and their English is very good which reminds me of a theory in second language acquisition (L2) that states- one’s proficiency in their mother tongue (L1)  will determine their level of proficiency in the second language (L2). So could it be that their English language is so good, often better than those in other Arab states who learn English from nursery, because they were well grounded in Arabic?  Anyway that’s a whole different topic, maybe we can discuss it next time.

 Due to the fact that their Arabic language is so good many of the Arabic teachers in the Gulf schools and universities are Jordanian (and Syrian, Yemeni and Egyptian which gives one an idea of the place Arabic takes in their education system and yet they too worry about the demise of Arabic!) and their early Arabic instruction allows them to be able to teach Arabic at advanced levels.  Both sides acknowledge the importance of Arabic and yet have good arguments for their point of view, I hope that these types of discussions can continue because at least Arabic has been put on centre stage and is not fighting to reclaim its rightful place in an Arabic speaking country.


Source: (The Jordan Times)

Omani Arabizi? Is no one immune to this?

Oman castle


 A wonderful day, great weather and lovely people around me, what more could one ask for whilst taking it easy? I was reading around and as usual I came across this news article in the Oman Observer (dated 2nd June 2010) in which the writer describes his surprise at the spread of Arabizi in Oman.    

I have put it here in full without alteration or editing: ———————————-    

“Arabizi” has found way into my house through junior and his sister. Although we come from the same clan of eastern part of this country where my grandparents were born and brought up, the two have subscribed to a new one. This new clan of theirs speaks a language that is strange to me. But because I am the chief of the house, I am trying very hard to learn it. You know as the saying goes, ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. For those who don’t know, ‘Arabizi’ is a hybrid fusion of Arabic and English. This clan also exists in Spain but there they speak ‘spanglish’ a good combination of Spanish and English.
My effort to learn ‘Arabizi’ is bearing some fruits and in the near future you will realise that I will be using words from that clan including using ‘tsabahing’ for bathing and ‘darabing’ to mean training. Very soon I will start writing in that language of ‘Arabizi’. Right now I have dedicated time to learn how to speak it. These days if somebody starts making up things i.e. being deceptive; I say to him/her “you are kharafing” I learnt that from my teachers, Junior and his sister. They tell me that it is unfashionable for anybody to speak in one language especially for those coming from biangular schools and that is the reason why ‘Arabizi’ was discovered. But I know one reason these children including other teenagers’ use this language is to hide words from their parents particularly when it is used in reference to them. Like the other day when I had overlooked the fact that junior’s sister got unsatisfactory results in her class. I heard her telling junior “Abui is very tayyib these days; I heeb him very much, this term I irisbti but he didn’t nazae me” to which her brother replied ‘stop kharafing and don’t adhab me”
My knowledge of ‘Arabizi’ told me that junior’s sister was saying that I am the best chap in the whole world because I did not put her off after she had brought unsatisfactory results in school.
Globalisation has changed my home so much so that junior and his sister along with their mother and their father (that is me the son of the soil) do not just speak Arabic or just English but a combination of both. This reminds me of one old friend of mine who said “ my grandfather smokes like a chimney and my father drinks like a fish and I am a good combination of both”
Anyway the problem here is that neither proper Arabic nor English are being used. ‘Arabizi’ is now common with teenagers. They use it in verbal and even written communication. The danger is that purity of both Arabic and English language is never maintained.
The father of junior is willing to learn any kind of language at any cost. But there is a limit to how far I can go. For example, I completely refuse to understand the kind of language that is spoken by some spoilt people in this city. These types have a habit of coming to me saying “father of junior, my best friend — the bank has blocked my account and this month I didn’t get any salary. Even some remaining change will help” Another would come saying “father of junior, my saviour — I paid all this month’s salary at my children’s school so much so that I have nothing left”
These types of clans will keep on talking about things you don’t want to hear and in a manner that cannot be said to be interesting. I refuse to understand their kind of language because if I did, I would be forced to wide open my wallet.    


What I found interesting about this article is that it’s personal. The author is living this Arabizi experience and he shows that although he doesn’t like it, he cannot resist it- a fact about language and change. In order to effectively communicate with and understand his children he has to learn this new language and way of being. His small examples of codeswitching/mixing is a natural phenomenon (according to linguists) that almost all bilinguals do when speaking. So when I am in conversation (with people who share my languages) I might switch between up to three languages at a time, it just adds something to the conversation. We can say all those switched words in English, but when we switch the exchanges become more interesting, there is a shared sense of meaning when we codeswitch. This reminds me of something I read about a New York Italian card club, where once a week men of Italian descent would meet and play cards and eat Italian food. What the researcher found was that to feel important, the young 3rd generation American-Italians, were switching into Italian even though they spoke very little Italian if any! How interesting?!    

 Having said that, I think that the writer here makes an important point that it’s not so much the switching that saddens him, but that none of the languages are learned correctly or fully for that matter. And I think that is what I agree with, Arabic is not in danger because of English per se, but ultimately because there is a hurry to learn English before establishing Arabic as a mother tongue.  There is a belief in linguistics, in which we claim that bilinguals have very high IQs because their brains process more than one language at a time and so they are very intelligent at problem solving etc… Recently, this blanket term of ‘bilingual’ has been looked at closely, and what is emerging is that in order for this intelligence to be attributed, the speaker has to be fluent, well accomplished and very confident in their first language, before learning a second language (consecutive bilingual).  Or that they learn two languages at the same time, with the same input and are able to articulate both languages at the same level of proficiency (simultaneous bilingual). This is where true codeswitching becomes so easy because many of us grew up speaking more than two languages. But if you have a child who barely knows one language and then begins to learn another language and even that language they do not perfect- there is a problem. May be this is a linguist’s paranoia but I think a language needs to be understood really well, because language is more than just words.  Each language is a world view, a way of thinking, being, and seeing others and a speaker appreciates this the more they know the language. It is the most effective tool by which we communicate, get that wrong, everything else will go too. I usually sit and think what is the frame of mind of these speakers who do not master any language, but mix and  mesh? Interesting! I would love to read on that topic, I hope someone somewhere is doing the research and we’ll benefit from the outcome soon.  Notice how he refuses to ‘understand’ Arabizi, he claims if he acknowledges it, he will be obliged to give them money. Another evidence that language is more than just words,(see Steven Pinker’s book here) it induces action, emotions and obligations upon the hearer.  Once again as I always say I am keeping my eyes open to see the developments of Arabizi in the next few years and into the next decade. I wonder if there will be a generation of Arabizi only speakers, fancy that?!       

Oman dunes 2008



Suggested readings:    

Auer,J.P.C (1984) ‘Bilingual Conversation’ Amsterdam: John Benjamins    

Li Wei (2000) ‘The bilingualism reader’ London: SAGE    

Hamers, J and Blanc, M (2000) ‘Bilingualism and Bilinguality’ 2nd edition. Cambridge: CUP    

Romaine, S (2000) ‘Language in Society: an introduction in sociolinguistics’. Oxford, OUP

Is the Arabic language “dying”?

I should really be enjoying myself now that I am on holiday! But as usual I could not help it when I came across the article I am about to paste below, I am tired but looking forward the break just as soon as I find a decent cup of  English tea I will be fine! It’s all coffee here, it’s so early in the morning but my body clock has not adjusted yet or the clock on the blog?!  Hopefully I will try posting as mush as I can in the next few weeks.  Right, another posting on the so-called death of Arabic language, and some future predictions of what the fate of this powerful language will be. It does make for a melancholic read, and as usual could be a wake-up call to those who regard Arabic language as part of their culture and heritage to do something.



DOHA // Abbas al Tonsi sees something wrong in a future where citizens of Gulf countries wear dishdashas and abayas but are unable to speak Arabic.

“How can you say ‘I am an Arab’ if you don’t know the language?” said the professor of Arabic at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

For Mr al Tonsi, who has written several Arabic textbooks and has been teaching the language for almost 40 years, the crisis is personal. “I am afraid that after 20 years,” he said, “Arabic will just be a language of religious ritual.”
The native tongue for more than 300 million people and used regularly by 1.6 billion Muslims, Arabic is in no danger of extinction. But because of the dominance of English, its usage in everyday life is under threat in several of the Gulf’s smaller states.

A senior official at Qatar’s ministry of culture, arts and heritage recently acknowledged Arabic’s decline and underscored the seriousness of the problem. “Language is the key issue for the identity of a society,” Marzook Basher Binmarzook said last month.

Mr al Tonsi’s forthcoming study of Arabic instruction reveals how Qatari schools are helping to erode that identity. Standards are vague and not communicated well to the teachers, he said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Meet this level of efficiency’. But how do you guide the teachers to get the students there?” said Mr al Tonsi. “What exactly are the main ideas? In these standards, there are no indicators of intent, no uniform lesson plans or content.” Secondly, he said, most of the Arabic teachers were inadequately trained and relied on outdated methods. “The teachers mainly teach grammar, and it’s mainly teacher-centred,” Mr al Tonsi said. “They lecture rather than engage the students.”

Finally, schools use a wide variety of textbooks, which complicates proficiency testing. They also lean too heavily on grammar, according to Mr al Tonsi, and use simplistic drills that fail to develop critical thinking. Further, most books are overly proud and authoritarian, he said.

“‘We are the best, we are the bravest’ – you feel this is nonsense if you’re a young person,” said Mr al Tonsi, who co-authored Al Kitaab, an Arabic textbook used in about 700 universities worldwide.

In addition, fewer Gulf nationals are opting for teaching careers because of low pay and a lack of cultural respect. And a major reform programme in Qatar has instituted a more westernised curriculum.

Gulf culture has in recent decades shifted towards the West. Arabs represent a minority population in Qatar, as in the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain. English dominates business, and is more common in many public places, such as malls. Many schools now favour English as the primary medium of instruction. And Education City in Doha, American University in Dubai and Sharjah and New York University in Abu Dhabi point to a higher educational system that is embracing English. Many students and their parents see it as the best route to success.

“Many Arab families now want their children to learn English before they learn Arabic,” said Jinanne Tabra, the founder of Araboh, a producer of contemporary Arabic learning materials. “There is this ridiculous impression that English is somehow superior to Arabic.”

But instead of becoming bilingual, most students in Qatar lack fluency in any language. In the past four years, only five to seven per cent of primary and junior high school students in Qatar achieved acceptable standards in national tests for Arabic and English. He urged schools to improve teacher training and create extra curricular activities in which students could converse in Arabic – book clubs, speech groups, drama clubs and poetry readings. He also thinks schools should use audio and video as the main texts, and teach an Arabic that is challenging, enjoyable, respectful of young minds and develops critical thinking.

Maybe learning Arabic could even be fun. “You will never learn a language unless you are willing to learn it,” he said. “No one learns a language by force.”


What a predicament for the Gulf countries! The more I read these articles and the more I think about the issues raised even by top government officials of the concerned countries; and I constantly ask myself , “what are they doing about it”?  To what extent does Arabic in their countries need to deteriorate in order for something to be done about it? Or is it that simply no one cares enough to do something about it? You might think that putting a law in place might be the solution, but people usually have this tendency to break the law when they can, so how effective is the law that Arabic must be used in all public buildings? When most of the workers are foreign or even if they are not all the software and interface used in the workplace is in English and has no Arabic equivalent what are the chances that Arabic will be used?  I could go on, but the more I am reading about this the more I am surprised that nothing of real substance is being done to save “their” language.  As I always say let’s give it five to ten years and see what will happen will Arabic still be in decline or will it not? I am collecting every article, every conference paper, every book and news/entertainment article on this issue and I am hoping to compile a corpus on the issue of Arabic being in ‘danger’. After five years it will be an excellent source of research and discourse analysis to see where the rhetoric is going and how the discourse on this subject is being shaped.  As usual your emails on this topic always interest me and I am grateful to those who email me with new ideas and links to other similar topics. Keep reading!


How Hindi and Urdu might just take Arabic over in the UAE!

Arabic language is in a huge decline- yes we are talking about that again- and really it is becoming tiresome! The new article I am putting here is taken from the Khaleej Times (online), and it addresses the decline of Arabic in the UAE. There is even a hint that Hindi and Urdu might take over the status of Arabic as a national language, both in terms of the number of speakers and how easy they are to learn and communicate in. Here is the article (without any changes):  


‘Arabic language use on decline in its own lands’ 

 Is Arabic the lingua franca of an Islamic-Arab state of the stature and eminence of the UAE? The spectre of doubt sweeping through the minds of Dr Nasser Shrouf, Editor of Deutsche Welle, the state-owned German TV/Radio and Internet portal in Arabic language has brought forth the answer in the negative. Dr Shrouf, a Syrian national, said he was surprised by the fact that the use of Arabic language is on the decline in its own lands although he did not venture to advance reasons for the plight. Dr Shrouf, who was the chief guest at a dinner reception hosted by Erwin Ganzer, Head of Chancery/Press Affairs of the German embassy in the capital recently, said his Arabic was “showing signs of rust”, as he had a long stint in Germany to develop the online web site for the Arabic programmes of Deutsche Welle, and that he was looking forward to interesting interactive sessions with residents here which may serve in good measure to refresh his knowledge of, and conversational prowess, in his mother tongue. “But I do not find people, including those whose native language is Arabic, conversing in the language,” he said with a lump in his throat.  It is up to the academicians and connoisseurs of Arabic language to examine the cause, he said, referring to students in schools here who have undergone more than a decade of academic exercises, but were unable to even spell out their names in Arabic. “When I return home to file stories on the online Arabic web site of my organisation (, that was created in January this year, I shall make it a point to muse over this dismal state of affairs,” he said. A heartening feature, however, is that since the web site was created, there have been over 1.5 million impressions from residents of the UAE, second only to Egypt, and considering the relatively small geographical size of the UAE. This is a matter of joy.  A cross-section of residents spoken to, whose mother tongue is not Arabic, said they would love to learn the language, but did not know where or whom to turn to. Private tuitions are expensive and the language institutes are not up to the mark, as at the end of the sessions, “you are where you were at the beginning of the course”, is the common refrain. Muslims are particularly eager to develop functional prowess in Arabic, as it is the language in which the Holy Quran was revealed. But they have also not gone far in realising their dreams, including many Pakistani and Indian expatriates whose mother tongue is Urdu, and are therefore, quite familiar with the script, although their comprehension of the text of the holy book in pathetically wanting. There are educational institutes in Syria which offer three-month courses in Arabic for a nominal fee and those who can take time off can benefit from the exercise. “But how many employers will let you off the hook to pursue the ambition?” is their query. Krishna Bihari Tiwari, a teacher of Hindi at the Abu Dhabi Indian School, wondered how Hindi and Urdu, apart from of course English that is credited as the universal language of business and commerce, could spread so fast, while even those with a flair to pick up languages, could not come to terms with Arabic language. He suggested that popular film songs, that come in audio and videocassettes, should carry the lyrics in Arabic, so that people can understand the meaning and hum the tunes as well. The film is a popular medium and the songs and dialogues can help popularise the use of the language, he averred.  Tripati made a pointed reference to the classical Sanskrit language, which also languished in similar plight, and ultimately perished and is no more a “living language”. The longevity of a language is not measured by the scale of human life, counted in generations, for it to vanish from practice, but takes eons to fade out unless the protagonists take appropriate steps. It will be a sad story, for any language suffering neglect, particularly in its own citadel, he added. 


I don’t think any Arab wants Arabic to be like Sanskrit! It is a good read though, it makes people think especially the language planners and those in the education department. 



Arab culture and language in danger: Qatar and the UAE

Yet another posting on this interesting issue, Arabic as a language seems to be neglected in both the UAE and Qatar. I quote a recent article, which is short and yet to the point. The author makes it clear that Arabic is in real danger because there is no encouragement for the speakers to use it in all spheres of their lives, even the education system cannot ensure Arabic (or English for that matter) is learned and taught correctly.


Arabic’s Uncertain Future Has Troubling Cultural Implications

by Sarah Amandolare

Arabic is being replaced by English in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, prompting concerns about the preservation of national identity and culture.

Fallout of the Shift to English

According to Tom Hundley in a piece for Global Post, Arabic has fallen behind English and Hindu to become only “the third most-spoken language in the United Arab Emirates.” Although this is “hardly surprising” since most of the population consists of foreign workers, the loss of Arabic would also mean a loss of “their sense of national identity,” writes Hundley.

There are “more than 300 million native speakers” of Arabic around the world, so the language will likely “survive as one of the world’s major languages.” However, in specific places, including UAE and Qatar, Arabic has become “endangered,” experts tell Hundley. In some cities, such as Dubai, children have adopted “a kind of pidgin Arabic” from their caretakers, often nannies from Pakistan or the Philippines.

Higher Education in the Gulf region is also rapidly shifting to English as universities from the U.S., Britain and Australia set up campuses. However, sources tell Hundley that the issue begins in primary school, where students are being taught a combination of English and Arabic, but failing to perfect either one.

Demand for Arabic speakers

While Arabic has become less desirable in some parts of the Middle East, the U.S. is sorely in need of Arabic speakers to fill foreign service positions. The need for U.S. Foreign Service officers in the Middle East “has skyrocketed” since 9/11, explained Josh Kurlantzick in a 2007 piece for The New Republic. With that, the U.S. government faces the added pressure of training “a new generation of Arabic, Farsi and Chinese speakers,” he writes.

Background: Languages in danger

In April 2009, the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger showed more than 200 languages had become extinct. The United States is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, but it also has one of the largest numbers of endangered languages. India, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico are all countries with similar linguistic situations as the United States— many spoken tongues, but also many endangered or extinct languages. Of the some 6000 languages spoken worldwide, it is thought that nearly half of them are endangered.

In a 2007 TED talk focused on cultures at the far edges of the world, National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis explained that nearly half of the languages spoken on Earth are no longer taught to children, making these languages essentially obsolete. Davis cited a statistic that a language dies off almost every two weeks, and went on to describe how languages shape the way we think, and can represent a complete history of a people.


It is quite ironic really that those outside the Middle Eastern countries are working hard to learn Arabic language, and yet those who have Arabic as a first language are losing it, for many reasons (as we have discussed in previous postings). So on the one hand we have those who will lose the language and the culture and all that relates to Arabic, and we will have those who selectively learn the language (without the cultural implications of course) for their own purposes.  As I have said before, this region is one to watch over the coming decade, if Arabic as a language survives at all levels of society (not just governmental or in classrooms) then Arabic has a future. Otherwise it may be that one day when reading about these countries in an atlas or Encarta, we might read an entry like: COUNTRY (UAE or Qatar) languages spoken, English, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic…. (in order of number of speakers). Did I exaggerate? Some linguists might argue that a decade is too long, since for some language conservationists look at languages on a day-to-day or week to week basis. Whatever the truth of the matter (I have presented in this blog many discussions about this topic and many have research evidence) there needs to be a quick investigation into the issue and it must be resolved for the sake of the people in the region. Many Arabs perhaps feel that their language can never die, but I say that a language lives as long as its speakers have faith that through it they can express themselves and through it they can feel like any other people speaking their language and feel a sense of belonging. Without faith in a language, the language dies and so do the values, histories, and stories of that language.


See also:   (Unesco’s world languages in danger)

Original article in the Global Post: