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.

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.