Welcome to the Arabic Language Discussion Forum

Being a retired professor of Arabic and Linguistics, I have elected to publish an archive on how the Arabic language is used in America and across cultures.

I hope to establish a dialogue with people interested in the language, the teaching of the language, the learning of the language, and the interaction of Arabic and English while learning the language.

I am also interested in having a discussion as to the use of Arabic within the contexts of globalization.

Arabic is very much a language that binds a culture and defines a people. This blog is dedicated to understanding how American use, learn, and teach the Arabic language, and how Arabic, in Arab countries has been impacted crossculturally.

Nov 30, 2009

Modern Standard Arabic as a Second Language

Copyright © 2009 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

In the previous post "Which Arabic Ought to be Taught," I discussed the ongoing debates between Arabic professors about how to begin Arabic teaching, i.e. the use of colloquial versus MSA.

Recently, I read an article I thought might be of interest to all of us, and specially to those teaching Arabic to Arabic speakers.

A study conducted by Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim and published in the Journal of Psychology Research and Behavior Management examined the "cognitive status of spoken Arabic versus MSA in the brain."

Dr. Ibrahim concluded that MSA is "expressed in the brain of an Arabic speaker as a second language and not as a mother tongue."

I have always discussed with my students, the difference between MSA and colloquial, and pointed out exactly what Dr. Ibrahim has stated in his study. However, my discussions were not based on any concrete research. It was simply common sense.

It is, however, important to examine the learning of Arabic, both literary and spoken, within the proper domain of language acquisition: first and second language acquisition.

Doesn't this imply that the instruction of Arabic to Arabic speakers ought to use new techniques?
Specially the teaching of Arabic in the Arab world.

Read the whole article on Dr. Ibrahim's study in Science News, and do post your comments.


Nov 18, 2009

Which Arabic Ought To Be Taught?

Recently, there have been discussions in Egypt about the diglossic nature of Arabic, about the teaching of Arabic in schools, about the difficulties students face when learning Arabic, and about the methods used to teach the language. As a result students graduate from high schools or colleges with poor knowledge of their own language (see post, 10/12/09, Demise of the Arabic Language in Egypt).
Maher Hasan wrote in Al Masry al Yom an article entitled “Intellectual Struggle: Egyptianization of the Language” (9/4/09). He stated that the struggle about the nature of the language is one of the oldest ‘literary ‘struggles. Lutfi El Sayyed, Hasan said, wrote seven articles in Al Jarida (1913) about the Egyptianization of the Arabic language. So did his students, Mohammad Hussein Heykal and Taha Hussein. Abdel Rahman Al Barquqi and Mustafa Sadeq Al Rifaa3i who defended the sanctity of the Arabic language vehemently opposed them.
Maher Hasan concluded by saying that the Arabic language has profited from the diverse views exchanged between such luminaries as Lutfi Al Sayyid or Al Rifaa3i. Each aspect of the language is contained in its own domain. The colloquial has a domain, and the FusHa has another domain, and none is superior to the other. Borrowing from each other is allowed except the borrowing of common expressions (mubtathala), according to the author.
Reading this article rekindled in my mind the unending debates in the USA among teachers of Arabic about the diglossic nature of Arabic, and the teaching of the language. Discussions were conducted in the summer of 2007 on Arabic-1. It all started when Mustafa Mughazi announced, on Arabic-1, his program at Western Michigan University. He stated that the “first semester he teaches exclusively a colloquial dialect in the Arabic script. The second semester will continue the dialect and introduce MSA as a written language. Second and third year courses will focus mainly on MSA. Study abroad programs will focus mainly on the dialects”(Arabic-1, 6/1/07)
Different opinions were expressed following Mughazy’s message. The exchange of ideas held on Arabic-1 were between Mustafa Mughazy, David Wilmsen, Nimat Hafez Barazangi, Jeremy Palmer, James E. Bernhardt, Fred Cadora, Dina El Zarka, John Joseph Colangelo, Ola Moshref, Abdulkafi Albirini, Waheed Sami, Michael Schub, Haider Bhuiyan. Antonia Gimenez, Munther Younes, Jackie Murgida, Karin Ryding, Klaus Lagally, and Ahmad Khorshid. I hope nobody was left out!
The different discussions exchanged were interesting. I wish they were all gathered in a monograph as ‘The Dilemma of Teaching Arabic to non-Arabic Speakers: Different views, “ and circulated among students. It will make them think that both MSA and a colloquial are features of the same language, and as David Wilmsen wrote” to be deficient in either one is to miss half of the rich culture of Arabic.”( Arabic-1, Colloquial First 6/19/07)
Hence, the debate about how to begin Arabic teaching, i.e. the use of colloquial versus Fusha, seems to be perennial.
In my humble opinion every teacher of Arabic should consider what motivates, and what is most useful for his/her students, and then use the most appropriate feature or features of the language: colloquial first, colloquial and MSA, or MSA only.
Arabic is not a dead language. It should be taught in such a way as to reflect culture as a whole with all its diversity. It certainly needs a talented teacher who can joggle gracefully the different varieties of the language.
The moral of the story is that one should be aware that there isn’t a single way to begin Arabic teaching.
Comments will be most welcomed.

Nov 2, 2009

Language and Religion

Copyright © 2009 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

A call for papers to be published in an issue of The International Journal of the Sociology of Language prompted me to write this post. The theme of the issue is "Language and Religion." It is, nowadays, a very a propos topic.

The question is how does religion impact a language? This can partially be answered by examining, as an example, the use of Arabic in the US.

Religion is one form of identity, and when identity formation is sought, the need for ideological support arises. There is no question that there is a religious revival among Arab Americans Muslims, and Muslims in general in the US. It is an extension of the religious revival that has occurred in the Arab world and Muslim world.

The cause of such revival, although interesting, is not the topic of discussion on this post.

The question is how does religion play a role in the maintenance /shift of the Arabic language among Arab American Muslims?

Most studies of minority languages or ethnic languages are consistent in their conclusions that the use of ethnic language gradually decreases with successive generations due to a process of assimilation. There are certain events, however, that might lead to an ethnic revival. Religion is one such event.

The earliest groups of Arab Americans, those who immigrated after World War II, Christian and Muslims, tried to disassociate themselves from their ethnic heritage, especially its language, because of how they were viewed by others. Actually, as a reaction to the prevailing anti-ethnic feeling and the pressure of conformity and assimilation, some Arab Americans went so far as to Anglicize their names to escape discrimination at work or when applying for jobs, such as: Mohmad became Mike, Saleh became Sally, Bushra became Bouchard...etc.

Since the mid 1960s there has been a shift toward acceptance of ethnicity. This shift is due to three major social changes, both in the US and the Arab world: the civil rights movement in the US; the convoluted political events widespread in the Arab word continue to provide strong reasons for immigration, hence, the number of fluent speakers is increasing in the US; the revival of Muslim identity has created a need for the language with which one can fulfill his/her religious duties. In other words, this revival of Muslim identity has created a special function for Arabic - a religious function - because only Arabic can be used to fulfill the obligation of the most important pillar of Islam, the prayer.

This revival of Muslim identity is apparent on Fridays in Dearborn, Michigan, where most mosques are full at the time of the noon prayer and where women walk to the mosques wearing Islamic attire.

Did the political events following the 9/11 attack on the US affect the maintenance of Arabic among Arab American Muslims? It did not.

Recently, in Detroit, there has bee a revival in the use of Arabic among Arab Americans. This revival is reflected in the increasing number of Arabic television programs, newspapers, and cable networks that transmit directly from the Arab world. Furthermore, national religious academies have been established; private schools, where Arabic and Islamic studies are taught, have been opened. Arabic as a foreign language is taught in some public schools. Moreover, there is a definite increase in enrollment in Arabic classes in universities in Michigan, as well as other American universities (see post 8/26/09 on Can Arabic Survive in America).

I would like to conclude this post by stressing the fact that although religion is related to the maintenance of Arabic in the US, increasing interest in the Arab world plays also a major role in the preservation and expansion of the language among Arab Americans and many Americans with no Arabic background. This is mainly due to political and economic reasons.

There are many other examples where religion plays an important role in the maintenance, shift or revival of a language.

Any contribution to this topic is welcomed.