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.

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)