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.

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?