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.

Dec 31, 2010

The Arabic Language in the News

Recently there were many articles in Arab media related to the Arabic language.

The articles deal with a variation on a single theme – the future of Arabic: such as the preservation of Arabic in the face of globalization, the poor instruction of the language, the outdated books and methods, the dominance of English in business, the mixture of languages, apathy of native speakers to learn Arabic properly, and finally the threat to Arab national identity due to the dwindling use of the language in many settings. These topics have been discussed ad nauseam in all types of media, national and international, and no proper measures seem to be undertaken to remedy the situation.

One specific article worth mentioning was written by Muhammad Ayish in the National Conversation dealing with the future of Arabic. It was written following discussions during Arabic Language Day regarding the future of Arabic in the context of globalization. A day initiated by the UN General Assembly in 1971 and celebrated every year.The article is very much a propos since there seems to be a real concern in the Arab world regarding the decreasing use of Arabic in “everyday settings and professional life.”

Ayish expresses optimism in his article for the future of Arabic, its development and preservation. He maintains that “Cyberspace” will open “new frontier for the future of Arabic. This is in spite of the media’s consistent warning that the use of Arabic is dwindling and is thus threatening “national identity in Arab countries.” Http://www.thenational.ae (12/26/2010).

Muhammad Ayish writes that Professor Yasir Suleiman, the author of The Arabic Language and National Identity sees “huge potential for Arabic to be further developed in cyberspace and the media sphere.” He further adds that Professor Suleiman at a Cambridge conference on Middle East broadcasting “spoke on the potential role for communication media in virtual reality to expand the use of Arabic and encourage a greater articulation of our national identity.”

Ayish in the same article brings up a positive development in the Arab world. He wrote, “The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt introduced Arabic domain names to allow Arabic-speaking users to access Web content.” Furthermore, “Internet content services like Maktoob.com” was “recently acquired by Yahoo.com, operating in Arabic, and Facebook has also launched “its Arabic services to allow million of users …to interact in their native language." “In observing the UN-declared International Mother Language Day” says Ayish… “There was a campaign among the region’s Facebook users to communicate exclusively in Arabic.”

The article ends with a note of caution as well as with anticipation as to the future of Arabic. “I understand,” concludes Ayish, “the challenges ahead are incredible tough, but the opportunities in cyberspace for the development of the language are as expansive as the medium itself.”

The survival of the Arabic language, standard Arabic, should not be of such concern. It is a language that carries a well-established religious tradition as well as an immense literary heritage. It is a language that acts as a unifying force, a common denominator among all speakers of the language in the Arab world. It is an expression of identity. Hence, it is not a dying language. But it is rather a language that is evolving and changing which is an accomplishment of performance.

What should be of concern to all is the ailing system of education in most of the Arab world. A system that is constantly failing to embed among Arabic speakers a sense of pride toward the language and realizing, as Professor Suleiman explores in his book, “the symbiotic link between language and identity…”

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

Dec 12, 2010

Surge in the Teaching of Arabic in the U.S.

On November 17, 2010 I attended the AATA (Arabic American Teaching Association) meeting held in conjunction with MESA in San Diego.

Out of curiosity I asked Dr. Aman Attieh, professor of Arabic and member of the AATA Executive Board, to give me a list of new positions advertised this year. She wrote back stating that “for the academic year 2010-2011, there are at least 22 new positions advertised in higher education institutions to be filled in Arabic.”

Arabic, as a foreign language, has always been taught, but mostly limited to large academic institutions. By comparison other foreign languages, predominantly western languages, were taught in academic institutions across the board.

There is no question that nowadays it is very important to learn and teach Arabic in the USA. This phenomenon is on the increase due to the complex political and economic world events that require an awareness of others, culturally and linguistically. It is a language, along with Chinese, that plays important role on the global stage.

Eric Gorski in an article referring to the languages mostly studied in the U.S. (Bloomberg.com), 12/8/2010), wrote “The highest gainer was Arabic, which jumped to No. 8 from No.10 on the list of most-studied languages. He further says, “Interest in languages often rise with world events, but many experts say Arabic is not a passing fad considering the long-term importance of U.S. relation with the Muslim world.”


Larry Gordon in his article in The Los Angeles Times (12/7/2010) Arabic, Korean and Chinese deemed fastest-growing language courses at U.S. colleges, wrote that in a study conducted by MLA of 2, 500 universities and colleges, enrollment in Arabic “surged by 46% between 2006 and 2009. More U.S. college students are studying Arabic than Russian, a change that officials say reflects a shift of interest from Cold War concerns to current issues involving the Middle East and terrorism.”


In a letter to AATA members, Dr. Elizabeth M.Bergman, Executive Director of AATA wrote, “…the MLA regularly surveys colleges and universities in the United States about enrollments in foreign languages—including Arabic, of course. She further wrote, “the results of the survey for 2006 and 2002 are available on the MLA website (scroll down to “Surveys” at http://www.mla.org/documents#tab06). They documented a huge increase in enrollments in Arabic language classes throughout the country.”

There are numerous articles written about the surge of Arabic studies in the U.S. I have pasted some links for those interested in further pursuing this information and gathering data for a more extended study on the status of Arabic teaching and learning in the U.S.





For further number of articles on American college students studying Arabic, go to:


Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

Nov 13, 2010

‘Grammaticalization’ is Well and Alive

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

This post is by David Wilmsen.
I thought his reply on ‘grammaticalizaion’ ( Arabic-L 11/11/2010) would be an addition to my blog since it can certainly be dissected into more than one topic related to the Arabic language, applied or theoretical.

I find the statement of our colleague about grammaticalization to the effect that "this process is not applicable in the Arabic language" to be very curious (although I recognize the source of its motivation).

First, grammaticalization processes have surely occurred in Arabic over its long history (and prehistory). As such, it is appropriate for us to search for a suitable equivalent for the term 'grammaticaliztion' in Arabic, that we may be able to speak about such historical processes without being obliged always to borrow the European language term (in this case, originally French) when speaking Arabic.

I hasten to add that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with using borrowed technical terms - we are all members of an international community and as such may borrow each others' terms when those are more apt than our own. But it would certainly assist those of us who are teaching students whose native language is Arabic to have a set of agreed upon Arabic terms to use with students who are just entering into our community of scholars. One problem with such terms in Arabic is that there seems to be no consensus amongst scholars and other users over the adoption of technical terminology, and even if there were, such terms often remain opaque. Just consider the discussions that break out occasionally over this forum about the Arabic equivalents of various technical terms! It does little good to teach them to students if students themselves find them opaque and no one else understands them.

Second, grammaticalization processes must surely continue to take place in Arabic as a whole, certainly within the spoken vernaculars, which are, after all, also a part of the entity to which we refer when we speak of "Arabic."

What is more, the process can be seen to have taken place in the development of written Arabic. For example, the word نفس has in some contexts lost (or as those concerned with grammaticalization say, it has undergone the “semantic bleaching” of) its original meaning of 'soul' or 'breath' and is now used to mean 'the same' as in نفس الشيء 'the same thing.' This clear case of grammaticalization is discussed in the book Studies in Semitic Grammaticalization by Aaron D. Rubin (Harvard Semitic Series, vol. 57. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005, p. 19), who says that the “shift of a noun referring to the body or part of the body into a reflexive pronoun ‘self’” is quite common in Semitic, as indeed it is across world languages.

While some purists decry the construction, it is nevertheless used and found to be quite acceptable by many modern authors, such as Ghassan Kanafani, Naguib Mahfouz, Ahlam al-Mustaghenmi and many others, including that paragon of modern Arabic stylists Taha Hussein.

That some modern-day purists decry such usage must indicate that some change has taken place and that the construction would be encountered less often in earlier but still familiar texts.

To satisfy myself about just this issue, which, I admit, has piqued my curiosity since I first heard it mentioned ages ago while sitting at the feet of my then Arabic teacher استاذ فائز of Yarmouk University of Jordan, I searched arabiCorpus (http://arabicorpus.byu.edu) for the phrase نفس ال in the premodern and the modern literature databases (representing texts from all of the writers mentioned above and many more). After eliminating false hits like النفس البشرية and تنفس الصعداء , the results are as follows:

In the premodern database (comprising 912,996 words), the construction appears 103 times.

In the modern literature database (403,901 words), it appears 272 times.

That is, in a modern literature database less than half the size of that constituting the premodern database, the construction appears almost three times as often.

Using the Quran database (for what it's worth, 84,532 words) as a base line (where the construction appears exactly 0 times), we can see that the grammaticalization of نفس proceeded apace from sometime after the 1st century hijri, becoming increasingly more common between the medieval and modern eras of Arabic writing.

That a process of grammaticalization has clearly occurred, even it if has not gone to completion, is evident in that the function of the word نفس has shifted and its inflectional categories when used to mean ‘the same’ have been bleached to a certain extent. For one may use the plural نفوس with words like بشر or its derivations, but one may not say something like نفوس الشيء ** or نفوس الأشياء ** to mean ‘the same things.’ DeLancey discusses precisely this sort of bleaching and functional shift with respect to the English words ‘top’ and ‘finish’ in an article that may be found on his webpage: http://pages.uoregon.edu/delancey/papers/glt.html

In this instance at least, a discussion of grammaticaliztion is indeed applicable to the history of and current usage in the Arabic language.

This, then, contradicts our colleague's even more curious assertion that "any new grammatical change in Arabic is not acceptable." For, whether or not there is a continued grammaticalization of نفس , other processes of grammatical change do indeed take place even in written Arabic (which is the variety to which he seems to be limiting his statement). One such change, that I myself find grating on the ear, is the non-canonical formation of, if you will, a double valence iḍāfa, or what Badawi, Carter and Gulley (Modern Written Arabic: A comprehensive grammar. London: Routledge, p. 136) call “multiple annexation,” by collapsing what at one time and in higher style is still written as two iḍāfas. To illustrate, I cite a very tongue-in-cheek example adduced by one of my translation teachers, استاذ سوسف الزاهد (now, alas, deceased الله يرحمه). He said:

قد قلت لكم مئة مرة إننا لا نكتب « جزمة وشراب الواد » بل « جزمة الواد وشرابه

Excuse the crudity of expression; this was a mnemonic invented by استاذ يوسف for inculcating in his students how the iḍāfa is generally formed in more elevated registers; he meant it to be humorous so that it stayed in the mind (at which it proved quite effective with me!). Simply that he had to use the mnemonic at all, and, as he was wont to say, had to repeat it a hundred times, should provide ample indication that the construction is found to be acceptable by college-educated native writers of Arabic. Indeed, the construction جزمة وشراب الواد - if not the actual words - can be found very often in current Arabic writing, especially in newspapers.

About the process, Badawi, Carter, and Gulley say, “Although in CA [i.e., Classical Arabic] only one element normally occupies the first position, MWA [Modern Written Arabic] is extending the possibilities,” adding that (p. 138), “MWA is increasingly making use of binomial (or indeed now polynomial) annexation, in which two or more 1st elements are coordinated (by any of the coordinators) before annexation the 2nd element.”

Badawi, Carter and Gulley (137-8) adduce many examples of this, including the binomial annexation عقل وضمير الأمّة , which purists would maintain should be عقل الأمّة وضميرها and I myself, although not a purist, prefer. When they get to polynomial annexation, however, the process becomes harder to dispute, for while we can easily rewrite a phrase such as مشروع تطوير وتحديث مسرح البلوون to read مشروع تطويرمسرح البلون وتحديثه , it is difficult to change a rather unlovely name like غرفة تجارة وصناعة دبي to غرفة تجارة دبي وصناعتها without introducing ambiguity, sounding foolishly pedantic, and doing violence to the name of the institution in question itself.

Therefore, pace our colleague, by the principle that usage defines acceptability, such constructions are apparently an acceptable grammatical change to have occurred recently, let us say within the last fifty years, in written Arabic

غصبا عن عيون النحويين وعن عيون الحرصاء علي الصفاء

If a language has ceased to undergo grammaticalization and grammatical change, it is probably dying or already dead.

David Wilmsen
Associate Professor of Arabic
Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages
American University of Beirut


Nov 2, 2010

Remarks on Linguistic Borrowing

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

A request on the Arabic-L about borrowed English verbs into the speech of Arab Americans triggered the writing of this post. Actually, Arabic-L has inspired more than one post on my blog!

Borrowing usually occurs whenever languages are in contact. It cannot be avoided. It involves the transfer of linguistic items from one language to another. The borrowed items are either unchanged or inflected like items of the same grammatical category in the borrowing language. Interference occurs when grammatical rules of the dominant language affect grammatical rules of the subordinate language,

Borrowing can be examined on both the speech level and language level. Speakers are generally unaware of borrowing on the level of language. They are rarely the first to make the transfer. On the speech level, on the other hand, borrowing occurs when a bilingual consciously or unconsciously integrates elements from one language into another. This is the type of borrowing depicted in the speech of Arab Americans.

The question of what can be borrowed, why borrowing is possible, and how interference occurs have been discussed at great length in the linguistic and sociolinguistic literature. Two majors points of view are common in discussions of borrowing and interference. One point of view stresses the fact that differences in linguistic structures play a major role in borrowing (Derek Bikerton, 1981 & Uriel Weinreich, 1963. The second point of view emphasizes the importance of the “social-cultural context”(Carol Scotton &John Okeju, 1973). I am of the opinion that both the linguistic systems of the languages involved and the social context determine the amount and the types of borrowing and interference, which occur. Both perspectives should be taken into consideration when examining the borrowing between languages in contact.

I have collected data from Arab Americans living in Dearborn, Michigan in order to examine lexical borrowings occurring in their speech and to answer the following questions: what can be borrowed, why is it borrowed, and how does interference at the different linguistic levels occur?

This study is similar to other studies on borrowing. It proceeds according to a universal pattern. Syntactic and semantic restrictions determine the type and amount of borrowing, but sociocultural factors within the linguistic community produce performances unique to that community; they are rarely understood outside its boundaries. This performance should not be considered an erosion of the speaker’s competence in Arabic, but rather as an accomplishment of performance resulting in an ethnic language, or lingua franca, that acts as a bond or maintenance of one’s ancestral language.

If interested, you will find information in my chapter “Language Conflict and Identity: Arabic in the American Diaspora” which is in my edited book Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic: Variations on a Sociolinguistic Theme. Curzon, 2002.

Oct 28, 2010

What is happening to classical Arabic?

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

The debate on the decline of the Arabic language in the Arab world never ceases to be discussed in the local media. However, recently this debate heated up again. A number of articles dealing with the topic were published in different Arabic newspapers.

The Egyptian newspaper el masry el yom (10/9/2010) had an article by Mohamed el Helbawy regarding a survey conducted by the “Arab Thought Foundation.” The purpose of the survey was to determine the causes of the decline of Arabic in schools, universities, the media, cinema, theater and songs. Furthermore, says El Helbawy the survey will shed light on the different views regarding the rise of a” third language” which is combining alfusHa ألفصحي and al3amiyya العامية . The survey will be conducted in nine Arab countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, Sudan and Palestine. “Arab Thought Foundation” in its “Book of the Month” will publish the results of the survey.

Dr. Ahmad Kamal Abu el Magd, chair of the Egyptian National Council for Human Right was quoted in al masry al yom (9/10/2020) saying that the government shares the blame for the “assassination of the Arabic language.” In the future, says Abu el Magd, Egyptians will speak Arabic like kahwaga bijou الخواجة بيجو . Khawaga bijou was a comical character in an Egyptian series in the 70s who imitated the speech of foreigners living in Egypt and never learned to speak Arabic fluently.

In an article published by the Associated Press (8/16/2010), Zeina Karam writes “Lebanon tries to retain Arabic in polyglot culture.” Since Lebanese code-switch between French, English and Arabic, many fear says Karam that “the new generation is losing its connection to the country’s official language: Arabic.” The article further mentioned the video posted on You Tub of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s address to parliament where he stumbled through his speech in classical Arabic “raising laughter from lawmakers”, and prompted Mike Berry, speaker of the House, to say sarcastically “do you need any help.” It did not seem to have bothered Al Hariri!

The editorial of Gulf news (10/17/2010) had an article titled “The Arabic Language Can’t be neglected: Its Richness and Importance should be Highlighted and Protected.” It criticized the present methods of teaching Arabic in schools, that it “should be friendly and useful instead of becoming daunting and tedious.”

Another article reflecting the concern in the Arab world about the decline of the Arabic language was by Hady Hamdan published in the Jordan Times (9/14/2010). The article delineates the argument over the increasing use of text message transliteration in “chat language,” and its damaging effect on the Arabic language.

Hady Hamdan wrote, “While citizens in general differed on the issue of transliteration, Arab linguists were united in their view that transliteration poses a serious threat to the Arabic language.”

In the same article, Mohammed El Salman, an associate professor of sociolinguistics at the Balqa Applied University, told the Jordan Times…”that there should be awareness campaigns to familiarize young people with the danger of this practice,” i.e. the practice of chat language. Ibrahim Khalil, professor of Arabic at Jordan University, “urged young people to stop using transliteration before it does irreversible damage to their native language, supported Salman’s argument.

Al jazeera net had an article (10/21/2010) by Mustafa el Baqali دفاع عن لغة ألضاد بالمغرب in which he described the discussion of academicians in Rabat regarding the dim future of the Arabic language in Morocco while French is still used in the media, administration and legislation, a situation they referred to as “a new cultural colonialism.”

The Moroccan literary writer Abdel Kerim Ghalab, stated that those who call for the use of colloquial Arabic or French, in the domain where classical Arabic ought to be used, are committing a “criminal act.” He further said that such ideas are propagated by Francophones who are not well versed in al fusHa. In the same article, Professor Fatma al-Hababi stated that the reason for the decline of Arabic is due to ignorance and demoralization that prevail among Arabs in general. While professor RaHma Bourqiya felt that the decline of classical Arabic could be avoided if the language is regularly used in technology, the media and business.

Hence, it is obvious that almost everywhere in the Arab world, intellectual are concerned about the quality of classical Arabic used in different milieus. Articles are written, meetings are held, committees are established, and Arabic language festivals are organized, in my opinion to no avail. This is because the real reasons for such decline are never seriously considered and acted upon by the authorities.

What are the reasons for the above somber views regarding the deterioration of classical Arabic in most Arab countries?

Is it the lack of qualified teachers?

Is it the methods used to teach classical Arabic?

Is it the shortage of adequate curricula?

Is it the excessive number of students in classrooms?

Is it the preponderance of private and foreign schools where Arabic is poorly taught, or not taught at all?

Is it the lack of accountability in general, which affects the system of education?

Or, are all of the above culpable for the deterioration of classical Arabic in most of Arab countries?

Sep 24, 2010

Observations on Arabic Humor

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

Few weeks ago Al jazeera had a very interesting program on the work of a political cartoonist, Shujat Ali Shamshad (www.aljazeeratalk.net/shujaat). Ahmad Mansour presented the interview and cartoons strips.

Shujat Ali’s cartoons are dealing with political events in the Arab world. They astutely deride Arab leaders. The cartoons are accompanied by a captivating background music.

I have written to Mr. Shujaat Ali and praised him for his work. He gracefully thanked me for appreciating his caartoons. He further stressed his admiration for Egyptian comedians and hoped that in the future he will highlight Arab humor through cartoon strips.

I have to stress the fact that Shujaat Ali ‘s work transcends any Arabic cultural barrier. His humor has universal political features and can easily be applied or translated to other cultures and languages and still be understood.

After watching the cartoons the idea of a post on humor was appealing to me, especially that humor usually sheds light on the culture of a society and could be an excellent tool in teaching a language.

In Egypt humor is an important means through which people express frustration, protest or criticism of the prevailing social, economic and political conditions. Adel Hammouda, a journalist, wrote a book on how Egyptians deride their rulers. In this book he analyzed modern Egyptian political humor within its social and cultural contexts. Although the book was written in 1992, it is still very a propos regarding Egyptian humor. He states “jokes are the opinion of those who do not want to divulge their opinion. Humor is the de facto majority party in Egypt. It competes only with soccer, unemployment and population increase.” عادل حموده. كيف يسخر ألمصريون من حكامهم

Humor usually sheds light on the culture of a society. Its major functions are entertainment and protest. It can be transmitted in a written form or orally. The authorities can easily censor written jokes or cartoons if they are considered too critical. Verbal humor, on the other hand, cannot be easily suppressed since the blame cannot be attached to a specific person.

Jokes and cartoons are transmitted within a specific region where the same language is used. If the jokes or cartoons have universal features, they will have universal appeal and can be conveyed into different cultures with different languages.

I have examined three sources of humor in Egypt. The first consists of analytical studies where humor is recognized as “prose narratives” ( El Shamy, Hasan, Khorshid, Faruk, Ibrahim Nabila, Sharaf, Abdel Aziz ). They look at humor as a literary form of Arabic folk literature.

The second form of humor I have looked into is the verbally performed humor. Such humor achieves its aim only if it abides by rigid rules of performance. They are always delivered in colloquial. Sarcasm, ridicule, puns, exaggeration, imitation, and linguistic incongruity are a must. Only a listener who is very familiar with Egyptian colloquial can understand this type of humor. Minimal phonological variations can trigger laughter from the audience. Or, sometimes homonyms in puns are used to create semantic ambiguity. Usually the performer targets with humor a particular group, such as political figures, stingy people, doctors, nurses, teachers or unfortunately a misunderstood segment of Egyptian society such as the sa9idis صعايدة

The third type of humor is that of cartoonists. One of the most famous cartoonists in Egypt is Mustafa Hussein. He attaches to his cartoons humoristic utterances that are expressed sometimes through proverbs or brief jokes that are semantically ambiguous. These cartoons are written in colloquial Egyptian. A reader who regularly follows Hussein’s cartoons can deduce the different social, political and economic problems that Egyptians are facing daily. *

As in verbal humor the listeners have to be aware of the socio-cultural traits and have a linguistic background to appreciate Hussein’s cartoons. However, the linguistic aspect in this type of humor is not as crucial as in the case of verbal humor. In the later form of humor the listener has to be linguistically knowledgeable with the phonology, morphology and syntax to appreciate the metaphor, homonyms, ellipsis and alliteration. Furthermore, verbal and written humor differ in that in verbal humor the narrator has to have the right tempo, the correct intonation, the proper body language, and avoid hesitation when delivering the punch line. Written humor lacks these aspects of the verbal performance.

Is humor easily borrowed from one culture to another culture, or from one language to another language? Incompatible linguistic structures as well as incompatible social and cultural aspects prevent the borrowing of humor. However, there are some universal features that allow the borrowing of humor. In this case it is hard to determine who borrows from whom.

Humor that depicts certain social conditions is usually short-lived. A clever narrator, however, can use the skeleton of a joke and apply it to different situation at different times to fit the new prevailing circumstances.

In conclusion I would like to stress the fact that listeners can only understand humor if they are well acquainted with both the cultural and linguistic dimensions of the joke. Furthermore, humor can be used as tools in language teaching. They provide a window that sheds light into the culture of a society where the specific language is spoken.

In my opinion humor ought to be systematically used in teaching a language. The universality and/or specificity of some humor might arouse students’ curiosity about the language and culture they are studying. As E.T. Hall wrote “if you can learn the humor of a people and really control it, you know that you are also in control of nearly everything else” (Hall, E.T. 1959, The Silent Language, p.59)

*Aljazeera.net selects daily a cartoon from an Arab newspaper that depicts the political issue du jour. The cartoon appears at the top of the page under “report of the press.”


Aug 2, 2010

Why Shoud Arabic be Taugth in America?

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

Usually when there is a crisis between the Arab world and the West Arabic suddenly becomes an important language and interest in learning the language booms.

An awareness that Arabic ought to be taught in America is apparent in discussions held in different milieus: such as academia, business institutions and TV programs. Al Jazeera Arabic channel had a special one-hour program (From Washington 7/6/2010) dealing with the Arabic language and its status in America. The questions raised during the discussion were “does Arabic have the same importance as other languages in the US? And should Arabic be taught as a foreign language in public schools?”

Professor Laura Khoury, an anthropologist who participated in the program, said the teaching of Arabic would build bridges of understanding between America and the Arab world and hence improve communications with the Arab world. Moreover, said Khoury that it is only fair and rightful for Arab Americans to request the teaching of their ancestor’s language in public schools since they are taxpayers in this country. She, however, criticized how Arabic is taught in America. The curriculum, says Khoury, is not appropriate because it is biased toward the West. One should add here that the Arab American community is a large community whose membership has been estimated between 6 to 9 million people. This is a fact that should be taken into consideration when discussing the importance of teaching Arabic in America.

Presently there are many rising voices in the different Arab American communities for the teaching of Arabic. In Chicago the community demanded that Arabic be taught in public school similar to other foreign languages. In Virginia, Michigan and California communities are also demanding the introduction of Arabic as a foreign language the way Spanish is.

The moderator of Al Jazeera asked his guests “what should Arab Americans do so that Arabic is taught the same way Spanish is?” Nihad Awad, Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) said that politically it is not easy nowadays to push for Arabic to be to be taught in public schools. After 9/11, said Awad, Americans became suspicious of anything Arabic and in fact many are opposing the participation of Arab Americans in the political arena.

In an article in Federal News Radio (7/30/2010), Max Cacas reported that Senator Daniel Adaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, convened a hearing to explore how government can improve foreign language capabilities. The senator stated “understanding foreign language is …vital to our economic security as Americans compete in the global market.” Furthermore, Cacas said David Maurer, GAO’s director of the homeland security and justice team found that “the State Department suffers from an on going shortage of foreign language skills”. Maurer said, “With such key shortfall in such languages as Arabic and Chinese, State has several initiative to address the short falls including training and pay incentives.”

Hence, it is obvious that learning Arabic in America should be considered seriously and the reasons are many.

Liza Owad wrote in the Medill Reports of Chicago (3/11/2010) that there is a problem due to the language gap in health communication. “How do you talk to the doctor when you don’t know the words?” She said “a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine revealed racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive a lower quality of health care than non-minorities. This is due to the patients’ inability to communicate with their doctor.”

Similarly in the judicial system interpreters are in great demand. Police departments in New York and across the country are stepping up efforts to recruit officers who can speak Arabic. “Police chiefs hope the investments pays off by improving service to immigrant communities and easing fear of offices in those areas.” Colleen Long, in he The Associated Press 3/12/2010).

What about the business field? Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago pubic schools officials announced in 2009 plans to “expand the CPS Arabic language program using $888.000 U.S. Department of Education Grant.” The Mayor stated, “We all know the economic future of our city depends on our willingness to seek opportunities in the Arab world…” The population of the Arab world exceeds 350.000,000 a fact that can be looked at as an incentive for American businesses to seek lucrative markets.

Fortunately in Academia awareness about the importance of teaching the Arabic language was restudied. School, Colleges and Universities are aware that Arabic is a critical language and ought to be introduced at all levels.

According to the Omaha World-Herald (4/16/2010) Arabic is the fastest growing foreign language taught at U.S. colleges and universities “a trend mirrored at the University of Iowa.”

In an article in The Norman Transcript (3/30/2010) entitled “Breaking Barriers.” Nanette Light states that the University of Oklahoma will offer an undergraduate degree in Arabic in the fall of 2010, “positioning the school as the only academic institution in Oklahoma and one of the five in the country to offer fluency in the language as a major.”

According to a study conducted by the Modern Language Association “Enrollment in Arabic classes grew 127 percent nationally from 2002 to 2006, by far the largest jump of any language...French and German grew by only 2.2 percent and 3.5 percent respectively. That compared with the 127 percent growth for Arabic, 51 percent for Chinese and 37 percent for Korean. Arabic in 2006 became the 10th most-studied language in the United States.”

In conclusion, in spite of the negative attitude that prevails among some Americans towards Arabs and hence the Arabic language, the teaching of the language has prospered. A number of grants, especially Federal Grants, are available for institutions seriously seeking them.

It is up to individuals or academic institutions to become aware of the availability of existing funds. Unfortunately, this is a responsibility, from which some academicians recoil, which seems as if they do not care for the kind of bridges these opportunities are constructing toward cross-cultural understanding!

Jun 19, 2010

The Emerging Arabic Encyclopedia

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

This is an informative post I thought might be of interest to those dealing with the Arabic language or need general information given in Arabic.

The Egyptian TV channel al masriya, had an interview with Dr. Nayel al Shafi’I the founder of the Arabic Encyclopedia, al marefa (6/10/2010).

In my opinion al marefa is somewhat similar to Wikipedia, but in Arabic.

Al marefa was founded in 2007. Presently, it consists of 2, 409,583 pages, and incorporates 75,665 articles.

During the interview, the TV investigative reporter stated that such an encyclopedia would be useful to those “devoted to the Arabic language.”

If I may, I would like to suggest to those viewing this blog to bookmark the site www.marefa.org. You will be exposed to a large number of interesting topics.


May 23, 2010

Observations on My Trip to Egypt

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

I have just come back from Egypt.

I started my trip with an eventful flight cancellation. It was immediately after the eruption of the Iceland volcano, and our plans had to be changed.

We couldn’t get in touch with the airline Lufthansa, either by phone or through the Internet! So, for three days we kept going to the airport with our luggage to check on our flight. We finally were able to fly to Cairo via Frankfurt.

Prior to our Egypt trip, my husband and I were supposed to take a Mediterranean cruise that would have started in Venice. We missed the cruise due to all flights cancellation to Europe. We had no choice but to go to Egypt few days earlier. It was worth it.

The minute I landed in Egypt, a feeling of well-being came over me. I was in my city, Cairo. It is my beloved city in spite of the crowd, pollution, and jumbled traffic.

Driving in Cairo is treacherous. There is no traffic control. So, while being driven in the city, I decided to read the signs displayed on cars, stores and restaurants. This is how I managed to survive the horrendous traffic and keep my sense of humor. It was rewarding, or better yet, it was interesting.

I was amazed at the number of foreign names used and transcribed phonetically in Arabic on commercial signs.It has increased tremendously since my last visit two years ago. It is a case of borrowing that reflects social and economic changes that have occurred in Egypt recently. My next post will deal specifically with the topic of borrowing and its different facets.

My second remark about my visit to Egypt is the meeting I had with some members of the Cairo Linguists Group.

Before my departure to Cairo, Madiha Doss had asked me to discuss my research on Arab American with the members of to the Cairo Linguists Group. I was honored to fulfill her request and spoke about a situation of language conflict and identity, ‘Arabic in the Diaspora.’

Madiha Doss, Gerda Mansour and Emad Abdellatif organized the Cairo Linguists Group. They arrange for monthly meeting on linguistic topics, and publish a yearly Journal, al-Logha. The journal publishes papers resulting from the seminars organized for the group at the Arab and African Research Center in Giza. Contributions to the Journal can be in Arabic, English, or French. I am enclosing the group’s email at the bottom of this post

The day of the talk was the hottest day I encountered during my stay in Cairo. I thought no one would show up at the meeting. On the contrary, some did show up. I had the chance to meet a number of linguists as well as the well-known translator (Arabic- English), Humphrey Davis. That the group would go to the trouble of braving the horrendous heat and attend my talk, gave me a great feeling of warmth. The meeting was worth any level of high summer heat. Furthermore, I was impressed with the group academic engagement, and by the questions raised by the attendees.

I do hope those who attended the meeting keep in touch with me through my blog, and comment on my posts. The exchange of ideas will be of great interest to me.

My best wishes to the Group.

Arab & African Research Center in Cairo

E-mail: info@aarcegypt.prg


Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

Apr 7, 2010

Colloquy on the Arabic Used in Egypt

The Egyptian newspaper Al Shorouk published (4/3/2010) an article written by Professor Galal Amin *(1) entitled ‘The Decline of the Arabic Language is Demeaning to all of us.”
Professor Amin begins his article by criticizing the language used for advertisement in a prestigious daily newspaper. The advertisements were written in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. He felt personally insulted and “burst with anger at what he sees daily to be a disdain toward the Arabic language.” He further says that he is astonished at the amount of colloquialism used in reputable newspapers by respectable writers. They even write columns in colloquial Arabic, says Professor Amin, and some books, as well, are published in the spoken language.
According to Professor Amin, what’s happening nowadays to the Arabic language is strongly related to the decline in cultural values and civilization.
The comments following this specific article were interesting. There were thirty-seven comments. Twenty-nine comments were supportive of the article and of the author’s criticism of using colloquialism where Standard Arabic ought to be applied. One commentator was strongly critical about the use of colloquialism in any type of writing. He says that such form is used intentionally to disrobe Egypt of its identity as an Arab and Islamic country. He then asks the readers to view the Wikipedia Masry site on Egyptian Arabic *(2). According to the commentator such site supports his suspicion of a conspiracy!
Among the other eight commentators, four accepted the use of colloquialism, which they say, is still Arabic. In addition, they say that it is the most natural mean of communication in a country where illiteracy is high; approximately over 1/3 of the population is considered as illiterate. Furthermore, says one commentator “ we have read and loved the use of colloquial in the poetry of Salah Jahiin and Ahmad Fuad Nijm.” “Their poetry,” says the same commentator “does not reflect any linguistic decadence.” The four maintained that both, colloquial and standard, reflect the identity of the country. They all agreed that the real danger is the rampant use of English lexical items in both the written as well as in the spoken form of Arabic.
The last four commentators were in favor of using colloquial in writing. One has written his whole comment in Egyptian colloquial stating that it is a living language that is used by poor, rich, illiterate, literate and intellectuals alike. However, he ended his comment by contradicting himself and saying that ‘classical Arabic’ is to be used in the written form only.  I am assuming that Professor Amin would not disagree with the commentator. In his article, he simply criticized the use of colloquialism in the written form and specifically on the recent trends of publicly displaying adds in colloquial Egyptian.
The article and the comments that have followed, led me to bring up the following two points that I thought might be of interest to some readers.
First, the non-ending discussions of the use of colloquial versus standard Arabic.  Such discussions are carried both in the Arab world by Arabs, and in the West by both Arabs and non-Arabs. In the Arab world the discussion is usually about the decline of Arabic and the usage of colloquial in writing. While in the West most of the debate is about the teaching of the language and about ‘which Arabic ought to be taught.’
In previous posts, I mentioned that teachers of Arabic in the West should consider what motivates students, and what is most useful to them. Furthermore, that the teaching of Arabic should reflect culture as a whole.
One commentator on my blog, Antionio Gimenez, said the “the ends will lead us to the means. Any choice is fine to a certain extent provides we want to teach and use Arabic as a living language.”
A second commentator, David Wilmsen, correctly stated that even in Standard Arabic there are “phonological, orthographical, and stylistic differences. The notion that what is called Modern Standard Arabic is uniform across the Arab world is largely ideological stance…. Variability simply shows that the language is indeed living.”
Hence, the comments on the post in my blog, as well as some of the remarks on Professor Amin’s article in the Egyptian newspaper, all stressed the fact that the language is ‘living’. This ought to be taken into consideration when teaching it, studying it, or analyzing it.
My second point deals with the process of borrowing from English into Arabic in Egypt. The borrowed item is either written in the Latin script or in the Arabic script. It involves the transfer of lexical items from one language to another. The borrowed items are either unchanged or inflected like words of the same grammatical category in the borrowing language, Arabic. Interference occurs when grammatical rules of one language affect those of the second language, or borrowing language. Due to the differences in the phonology of the two languages, the borrowed English words sound, in many cases, quite comical when it is transcribed into Arabic.
On my next post I will be discussing in details the process of borrowing between English and Arabic. The discussion will deal with borrowing in Egypt as well as in the USA.
I would like to conclude this post by stressing the fact that I totally agree with   Professor Amin’s views expressed in the article mentioned above. One should recognize that either colloquial or standard, each occupy an assigned territory. However, the crossing into each other territory is allowed in certain settings under certain conditions that are defined linguistically, and culturally, 
(1)* Dr. Galal Amin is a professor of economics at the American University in Cairo. He is the author of numerous publications dealing with the Arab world, Muslims, US relations with the Arabs and Muslims, and specifically with Egypt.
(2)* Wikipedia Masry began in April 2, 2008.  Topics are written in Egyptian colloquial using the Arabic script. There are, however, some topics transcribed in the Latin script.

Mar 14, 2010

Thoughts on al fusHa and al’amiyya

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the debates on the issue of al fusHa versus al ‘amiyya are perennial.  Whenever the status of the Arabic language in the Arab world or in the West is discussed, both readers and listeners are showered with arguments and suggestions. Some are quite enlightening and others are not worth mentioning. 
The debate is sometimes triggered by discussions held during the meetings of the Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo. The Academy meets regularly to discuss new terminologies introduced into standard/classical form of Arabic. The aim of the Academy is to establish terms generally accepted and understood all over the Arab world. In other words, new terminologies, whether technical or non-technical, should have the same meaning in every Arab country.
Members of the Academy, with their usual commitment to al fusHa, comment on, discuss, reject and recommend the type of Arabic that ought to be used in the written form.
Recently, the topic was brought up in the Egyptian newspaper al shorouk. It published an article entitled  “Is al fusHa against progress? Al ‘amiyya invades areas usually restricted to al fusHa” (2/20/2010). The article was followed by Azza Hussein’s lengthy comment.
She wrote, one should also consider a third form of address that derives its legitimacy from the new generation of mobile phones and Internet. It is the Arabic written in Latin script, known as Anglo-Arabic. This, according to her brings to mind Salama Moussa’s call to use a single type of Arabic for both the written and the spoken forms. He also called for the use of Latin script, which according to him would be a ‘ leap towards the future.’ Moreover, says Hussein, in 1964 Dr. Nafoussah Zachariah Sa’id wrote a book entitled “History of the debate on the use of the spoken form and its implication in Egypt.”
Moussa’s wish, according to Azza Hussein, as well as the wish of his followers, Lewis Awad in Egypt and Youssel el Khaal and Anis Freha in Syria, is in the process of being fulfilled. Hussein mentions that the call for using al ‘amiyya has a lengthy history: 
1. Rifaa al Tahtawi called for the use of al’amiyya. He used it, himself, in his writing and translation, and was among the first to introduce it in journalism.
2. The German Orientalist Wilhelm Spita (1880) who was the director of the Egyptian National Library, years after Al Tahtawi published a book on the “Rules of al’amiyya in Egypt.” In his book Spita linked classical Arabic to underdevelopment and called for the use of al’amiyya in writing. Karl Vollers, who replaced Spita as the director of the National Library, not only called for using al ‘amiyya, but also for the use of Latin script in writing it.
3. William Wilcox, a British Orientalist, in 1893 published in Al Azhar magazine, an article entitled “Why Egyptians do not have the talent of invention?”  He linked this lack to the Arabs’ insistence in using al fusah. In 1925 he even translated the Bible into al’amiya. In an article entitled “Syria and Egypt, North Africa and Malta, People Speak Punic, not Arabic.” Wilcox maintained that al ‘amiyya spoken in Egypt, the Levant, the Maghreb and Malta is one and the same language, originally Canaanite,  Phoenician, or Punic, languages that preceded Islam. Hence it is unrelated to classical Arabic!!!!!!!! This is a statement that needs to be seriously commented on.
4. The British Sloan Wilmore (1901), director of the Civil Courts in Cairo during the British occupation, wrote a book “Local Arabic in Egypt.” He called for the use of colloquial instead of classical in literary writings.
5. Louis Massignon, French Orientalist, delivered in 1929 a lecture in Paris titled “The Arabic language will not survive unless it is written in Latin script.”
All of the above calls for the use of al’amiyya have opponents and supporters among the Arabs.  Strangely enough, among the supporters of such a call was the prominent leader of the Liberal Constitutional Party, Dr. Abel Aziz Fahmi, a classicist! In 1943 he suggested to the Academy of the Arabic Language the idea of replacing Arabic script with Latin script. Of course, this idea was vehemently rejected, criticized not only in Egypt, but also all over the Arab world.
6.  Among those supporting the use of al’amiyya in writing, was the Lebanese poet Sa’id Akel. He stated that ‘who wants the language of the Qur ‘an should go to the land of the Qur’an.’
Ahmed Megahed, in the Egyptian newspaper al shorouk of 3/1/2010, wrote an article on the same topic of al’amiyya versus al fusHa titled ‘”Language and Speech.” He quotes the great poet Hafez Ibrahim who published a poem in 1903 with the title of” The Arabic Language Mourns its Destiny Among its People.” In the poem the poet depicts the Arabic language as a person mourning his life prior to death.
رجعت لنفسى فاتهمت حصاتى وناديت قومى فاحتسبت حياتى
رمونى بعقم فى الشباب وليتنى عقمت فلم أجزع لقول عداتى
وَلَدْتُ ولما لم أجد لعرائسى رجالا وأكفاء وأدت بناتى

The poet further says that the fault does not lie in the language itself but rather in its speakers who do not follow any grammatical rules when using it. Hafez Ibrahim, says Megahed, criticized the language used in the media. At that time the only media available were newspapers and magazines.
أرى كل يوم بالجرائد مزلقا من القبر يدنينى بغير أناةِ
Had he seen the press of today, what would the great poet say?  Laments Megahed.
Recently in Egypt there has been a number of discussions about the demise of the Arabic language and the teaching of the language in schools.
This criticism of the educational system in the Arab world is not recent. As Megahed stated in his comment, Yahiya Haqi, a 20th century famous Egyptian writer, criticized school curricula that stress memorization of the grammatical rules rather than understanding them through literary works.
Recently, in a statement given to al shorouk (2/19/2010), Farouk Shousha a poet and a member of the Academy of the Arabic Language was also critical of the language used in Egypt.  Shousha maintains that the decadence of the Arabic language began after the July Revolution of 1952.   The ‘language of colonels’ (bikbaashi) evolved after 1952, says Shousha. All political speeches were delivered in al’amiyya. He further says that the educational system, and schools ‘ curricula in general, have to change. New curricula have to be introduced, and the minister of education has to be an educator himself rather than an engineer!
Today the Egyptian TV channel al masriyya was interviewing a university professor of Arabic, Dr. Ahmed Kishk. He began by stating that al’amiyya is not an official language, and criticized the media for using a mixed language. According to Kishk the media should use standard Arabic. He, however, differentiated between standard and classical Arabic, and it is the standard aspect of the language that ought to be used in the media. As for al’amiyya, says Kishk, its should be refined. The present ‘amiyya is coarse, says Kishk, and this coarseness is transmitted into the standard form of the language.
This continuous discussion on the diaglossic nature of Arabic and its ramification in the different intellectual and academic fields,  both in the Arab world and the West, are interconnected. They  prove that the topic of spoken versus written Arabic, has and will always be en vogue whether it is in the Arab world or in the West.  In the Arab world the discussion usually leads to the topic ‘demise of the language in the educational system’ and its usage in the media. While in the West most of the discussions deal with the topic:  ‘which Arabic ought to be taught’ in schools and colleges. (See my previous post of November 8,2009)

Feb 27, 2010

Conference on the Arabic Language in Lebanon: Comments

Lately, while on vacation, I have not been very active posting on my Blog. However, an article in the Daily Star of Lebanon prompted me to comment on three different points mentioned in the article.
The Daily Star (2/26) reported that a conference on “ Arabic Lacks Standards for Teaching, Testing-Expert” was held in Lebanon to discuss the lack of comprehensive test to measure “the capability of university students in Mother Tongue Language.”
A second point was briefly brought up, and that is the lack of tests to examine how to teach students the Arabic language.
Finally a comment made by the media, I assume the Lebanese media, attending the conference was “ their dissatisfaction about the event which was billed as focusing on the mother tongue.”
It is a fact that in most Arab countries high school students take an examination in the Arabic language as they would in any other subjects. They might fail or pass. The grade is then added to the overall score of the examination. There is no special college entrance examination to test students in Arabic prior to their admission to a university. I doubt that Arab countries, including Lebanon, would ever establish a standard entrance examination for native speakers of Arabic. It is taken for granted that when students graduate from high schools they know Arabic!
What should have been stressed in that conference is HOW TO TEACH STUDENTS THE ARABIC LANGUAGE? That is, the training of teachers should be seriously considered not only in Lebanon, but all over the Arab world.
There is definitely a regression in the teaching and the use of the Arabic language, that is modern standard Arabic, in the Arab world. This regression is due to the existing educational system, and the lack of applying modern methods in teaching the language. The archaic methods used to teach the language are the cause students dislike Arabic classes.
Finally, the use of the words ‘Mother Tongue Language’ to refer to college entrance examination was inappropriate. The media was dissatisfied that the conference did not focus on the Mother Tongue. I assume it expected the discussion of colloquial Lebanese, and its rampant use in the media.
This, of course, can lead to very interesting and heated discussions:
Is colloquial the MOTHER TONGUE, or is it rather the standard language that is the MOTHER TONGUE?
Do children begin the process of socialization in colloquial, or in standard
Any comment?

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

Feb 4, 2010

Study Arabic!

The best advise to students of Middle Eastern languages is to study Arabic and become fluent in it.
In an article in the daily newspaper of the University of Pittsburgh (2/1/2010) Simone Cheatham quoted a statement made by Cheryl Finlay, Director of Student Employment and Placement Assistance, who said “knowing a second language can help students find jobs in an unsteady economy.” Finley further quotes Alan Juffs a linguistic professor at Pitt who stressed the importance of learning French, Chinese and Arabic. People who are fluent in those languages “might have a higher chance of getting key jobs in government offices, especially with the FBI or the CIA.” Professor Juffs went on saying that students “could also use foreign languages to help them teach English to others, …or volunteer for organizations like the Peace Corps.”
Arabic and Chinese are both languages that play important role on the global stage. Hence, studying them is not only valuable for students to find jobs with the FBI or CIA or as English teachers. The knowledge of both languages will facilitate communication in the business world. They are international languages. In our global setting the knowledge of Arabic and Chinese will create many opportunities for employment in the international business sector. Knowing both the language and the culture of ones business partner will definitely facilitate and enhance all business deals.
Reuters reported on 1/27/2010 that Arab members of the World Trade Organization are pushing for Arabic to be made a fourth official language of the global trade body. Presently, English, French and Spanish are the official languages.
As mentioned in a previous post, the US is a leading power in advocating globalization. The American educational system must drastically improve the “concept of global education.” We have to train American students to be linguistically and culturally more aware of other cultures in order to succeed in any business undertaking.
In addition to the study of foreign languages, Professor Juffs advise students to study also linguistic. “Linguistic and modern languages complement each other.”

2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

Jan 26, 2010

Arabic Novels in Translation

This post might not be related to the teaching of Arabic directly, but it is within the spirit of the blog.

Learning the Arabic language, or finding out how it is used to express the way people think, should also be of interest to readers of this blog.

In an article published in the New Yorker (1/18/2010), Claudia Roth Pierpont wrote about the translation of Contemporary Arabic Novels. She said, “We need to learn about the ways that people think and work and suffer and fall in love and make enemies and sometimes make revolutions….”

Contemporary Arabic novels will indeed teach us about contemporary Arab people, whether we read them in Arabic or in translation.

The author offers a detailed exposition of contemporary literary Arabic works, of their authors, and of the names of their translators. It is indeed worth reading. And, it would be of interest to any teacher of contemporary Arabic literature, of comparative literature, and definitely to teachers of Advanced Arabic.

Actually, the author’s following statement prompted me to write this post. She said “Arabic novels, while not yet lining the shelves of the local bookstores, have been increasingly available in English translations, offering a marvelous array of answers to question we did not know we wanted to ask.”

 From my perspective as a linguist, I think that students of advanced Arabic language should read in abundance modern novels. Possibly, they will in the future become translators of further novels. There are still many other interesting novels to be translated.

Copyright © 2010 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

Jan 20, 2010

Is Arabic Threatened?

Copyright © 2009 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

The article “Workshop Aims To Promote Arabic Language “ by Carol Rizk (1/16/2010) prompted me to write this post.

Rizk was reporting on an organization ‘Fil’Amr’ that sponsored an Arabic festival “with the aim of promoting and preserving the Arabic language.” She quotes Suzan Talhouq who wrote, “…The Arabic language is in a delicate and sensitive position.”

This is somewhat true. I have expressed a similar point in an earlier post ‘The Demise of the Arabic Language in Egypt’. However, the word ‘preserving’ is not appropriate when we refer to Arabic.

Talhouq in discussing the state of the Arabic language was in connection to a conference, she must have attended (The International World Conference on Linguistic Rights held in Barcelona in 1996). The attendees at the Conference discussed “ the people’s right to defend their mother language as it was threatened.”

The Arabic language is definitely not threatened. Languages such as Basque, Scottish Gaelic, Nubian might be threatened due to their contact with a dominant language, that is, there is a “tip” in favor of some other languages, such as Spanish, English, or Arabic.

Talhouq further says that “invasions” and “colonization” has led to “the mutilation 'of Arabic' in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq”

In my opinion “mutilation” is also too strong of a word. It is rather a situation of language contact where Arabic came into contact with other languages.

Whenever languages are in contact, three major processes occur: code switching, borrowing and interference. These are linguistic processes that affect all languages in contact and, hence, can explain the changes that have occurred in the Arabic of Cairo, Beirut, Amman or anywhere else where Arabic is the dominant language.

Language in contact is not a recent phenomenon. It has always occurred and will always occur. As David Wilmsen commented on this bog. “It simply shows that the language is indeed living.”

In the same article, Walid al-Kabis, an Iraqi author living in Norway, notes that Arabic will “become the third international language in 2050 because the number of Arabic speakers would multiply considerably.” That says it all.