Ara­bic threat­ened by dom­i­nance of English

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Athoob Al-Shuaibi

A rapid wave of change is necro­tiz­ing the Ara­bic lan­guage, as its rich and beau­ti­ful vo­cab­u­lary is un­der the threat of the in­flu­ence of English. Al­though there are no sta­tis­tics about the num­ber of peo­ple who have aban­doned their mother tongue, there cer­tainly is a global trend to­wards the adop­tion of English in ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tions, ed­u­ca­tion and busi­ness. This aban­don­ment of the mother lan­guage in fa­vor of English is not lim­ited to Ara­bic speak­ers. It is hap­pen­ing glob­ally in al­most all coun­tries of the world.

Bring­ing peo­ple to­gether

Lan­guage was in­vented by our an­ces­tors mil­lions of years ago to sup­port them in trans­mit­ting ideas be­tween each other. With about 8,000 lan­guages around the world, it helps bring peo­ple to­gether, and is con­sid­ered a type of pro­tec­tion from ideas from those who speak dif­fer­ent lan­guages.

As a cul­tural tool, lan­guage helped de­velop the first hu­man in­ven­tions. There­fore, it has been im­proved to ac­com­mo­date more con­cep­tions. It is a chang­ing tool to keep up with man’s present needs. The power of lan­guage is linked to the pros­per­ity a per­son can pro­vide to mankind. There­fore, weaker lan­guages di­min­ish with time, while the lan­guage of in­dus­try, lux­ury and science be­comes the pre­vail­ing one. The chang­ing process of speech has been a con­tin­u­ous one. Thus, it is a mis­nomer to call it a prob­lem, and maybe the right thing is to face it with an open mind.

“Once upon a time, specif­i­cally dur­ing the reign of the Ab­basids and Umayyads, clas­si­cal Ara­bic was the most pow­er­ful lan­guage in the world,” said Hayat Al-Yaqout, Founder and Ed­i­tor-in-Chief of Nashiri, a non-profit e-pub­lish­ing house. “Peo­ple who con­verted to Is­lam at that time needed to learn the lan­guage not only to understand the re­li­gion, but be­cause the Is­lamic state was the ex­porter of in­ven­tions, sci­en­tists and philoso­phers. It was the cool lan­guage that ev­ery­one de­sired to learn.”

En­dan­gered gen­er­a­tion

So why call to safe­guard lan­guage if change and de­vel­op­ment are main­stream? How bizarre is the thought of rob­bing the iden­tity of a whole com­mu­nity sim­ply by speak­ing in a dif­fer­ent lan­guage? Yaqout be­lieves fu­ture Arab gen­er­a­tions are en­dan­gered if they grow up not know­ing clas­si­cal Ara­bic. They need it be­cause, from her point of view, di­alect is poor of pow­er­ful vo­cab­u­lary. “Lan­guage is a think­ing tool; with­out a strong Ara­bic lan­guage, they won’t be able to keep and live with the val­ues that come with it. Ev­ery lan­guage brings its own val­ues. There­fore, the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will forget their ori­gins and their Arab iden­tity, ”Yaqout told Kuwait Times.

But roam­ing in shop­ping cen­ters, one might over­hear par­ents speak­ing most of the time in English with their chil­dren. Also, English has be­come a re­quire­ment to hir­ing a do­mes­tic worker or nanny. Gen­er­ally, us­ing this lan­guage in daily con­ver­sa­tions be­tween youths and chil­dren is no longer lim­ited to pri­vate school go­ers.

It is clear and ob­vi­ous that English is tak­ing over Ara­bic at all lev­els. In Kuwait, for ex­am­ple, af­ter be­ing a sub­ject taught in mid­dle school, English was in­tro­duced in the el­e­men­tary stages in the late ‘90s. “We be­came a gen­er­a­tion that fears the ig­no­rance of English and are ob­sessed with the im­por­tance of learn­ing the lan­guage,” said Dr Ab­du­laziz Abal, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Kuwait “I was only 15 years old in the United States with my fam­ily when the Iraqi regime in­vaded Kuwait. A lot of Kuwaitis like me did not understand what was go­ing on. We were set to sur­vival mode, and in or­der to get through this, we had to learn proper English. I think it’s still some­where in our sub­con­scious that we might lose our coun­try again, and there­fore we must pre­pare our chil­dren to study and work abroad,” he told Kuwait Times.

Most pow­er­ful

Al­though Span­ish speak­ers out­num­ber na­tive English speak­ers, English is the most pow­er­ful lan­guage in the world. The me­dia in gen­eral is a prop­a­ga­tion tool, as movies, TV shows, In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia are making it cool to speak English. Abal said the world is unan­i­mous that English is the global lan­guage of busi­ness and academia. Plus, ed­u­ca­tion and pub­lic life have be­come de­pen­dent on English sources be­cause Ara­bic data on the In­ter­net lacks of cred­i­bil­ity. “Ev­ery­thing is in English,” he said.

“When we try to see it from the child’s per­spec­tive, we find that he chooses to speak in the lan­guage used in daily life and not his mother tongue, be­cause he doesn’t need it,” said Abal. “We shouldn’t fear col­lo­quial lan­guage. It’s close to the heart, and there­fore will be ab­sorbed and un­der­stood quicker than the clas­si­cal lan­guage. Di­alect is use­ful when we use it with Arab chil­dren who were raised in cir­cum­stances that led to weak­ness in their Ara­bic spo­ken or writ­ten skills,” he added.

When Abal asks stu­dents which sub­jects they de­test the most, the im­me­di­ate re­sponse is Ara­bic and Is­lamic stud­ies. He said the ma­jor­ity of Ara­bic and Is­lamic teach­ers are bit­ter or harsh with their stu­dents, and their teach­ing style is prim­i­tive. “They teach them how to re­ceive it, not how to use it. I don’t blame them for choos­ing English. The child in his sub­con­scious doesn’t want to speak the lan­guage of killers, as the me­dia is try­ing to paint this im­age of Arab Mus­lims. He wants to speak like his fa­vorite Dis­ney char­ac­ter, or his fa­vored YouTube celebrity,” he said.

Yaqout said clas­si­cal Ara­bic won’t add any cog­ni­tive value to those who spent their first years lis­ten­ing and speak­ing the slang used in their coun­try. Yaqout agrees with Abal that it’s not the chil­dren or their par­ents’ fault. “Ara­bic lan­guage teach­ing cur­ric­ula is stupid and not suit­able for ev­ery­day use. Ara­bic dealt with as a writ­ten lan­guage al­though it’s pri­mar­ily spo­ken. As a mat­ter of fact, all lan­guages in the world be­gan by be­ing spo­ken. Writ­ing is a kind of ab­strac­tion be­cause there are no rea­sons for writ­ing let­ters in cer­tain ways. On the other hand, chil­dren learn English by singing, making pre­sen­ta­tions and hold­ing con­ver­sa­tions with their peers in class, ”Yaqout ex­plained.

“If the next gen­er­a­tions are raised not know­ing how to understand or use clas­si­cal Ara­bic lan­guage and de­pend on lo­cal di­alects, the gap will get big­ger, and it’s more likely that re­li­gious peo­ple will ap­pear to pro­tect their monopoly on the Holy Qu­ran and its in­ter­pre­ta­tions. This is ex­actly what hap­pened to the Bible when Latin be­came ex­tinct. History re­peats it­self,” warned Yaqout.

Hayat Al-Yaqout

Dr Ab­du­laziz Abal

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