Today's Arabic

I wrote a piece recently for Al Fanar -- a new English-Arabic portal about higher education in the Arab world -- about concerns over the "loss" of classical Arabic, supposedly threatened by the spread of foreign language schools, the Westernization of young Arabs, and the historical phenomenon of diglossia

Is the Arabic that young people speak today — grammatically “incorrect,” full of dialect, foreign words and neologisms — a threat to linguistic heritage and cultural identity? Or is it the natural development of a vital, globalized vernacular?

During the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, there were two slogans: الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام ("The People Want the Fall of the Regime") was in Fosha, or classical Arabic and -- as that language does -- it traveled across borders, from one Arab country to the other. But in Egypt there was also another slog: ارحل يعني امشي ("'Depart' means get out!") which "translated" the Fosha word for "leave" into the Aameya one. The revolution spread alongside a classical slogan, but they also saw an eruption of colloquial Arabic, indispensible to satire and subversion, to "telling it how it is," into the stultified public discourse, and I think that will remain the case (look at Bassem Youssef, look at mahraganaat music). 

That said Arabic-speakers don't want to lose contact with Fosha -- the language of the Koran and of literary heritage -- and there are very strong religious, political, cultural arguments against doing so. Ideally, young Arabs could master the entire colloquial-classical spectrum, plus a foreign language or two, and be all the richer for it. The fundamental challenge is not linguistic but has to do rather with low literacy and low-quality education. 

Links for 06.28.09

MEI Editor's Blog: "She was a Splendid Beast": The Arabic Transliteration Problem | Michael Dunn on transliteration. I say, don't worry about it too much, spell it like it sounds even if that changes dialect to dialect, and use fuzzy query software for information retrieval. Arab world mourns Michael Jackson | There's a bizarre number of stories and blog posts about Michael Jackson's popularity in the Arab world. Yes of course he is popular in the Arab world. As if he wasn't popular everywhere. Perhaps his popularity is magnified in developing countries because he was one of few truly international artists (like Madonna). So what you say about Jackson in the Arab world is probably applicable to Central Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. World Bank approves Dead Sea canal plan: Israel | Linking Red and Dead seas and powering a desalinisation plan. I remember Egypt opposed this, but not sure why. Maybe it wants to be the only one with a canal. Supreme Iranian Leader | Angry Arabon Khameini:
If there is one area of the Iranian political-clerical system that is more at odds with the tradition of Shi`ite theology it is the position of Supreme Leader: or the Guardian Cleric, as the translation should be. In Shi`ite tradition, the Grand Ayatullahs are never appointed or officially designated: they simply rise by reputation, just like a village or rural physician. Khumayni (the mentor of Mr. Moussavi in Iran) reversed that by deciding to first appoint himself (on behalf of the missing 12th Imam), and then to appoint his own successor without regard to clercical seniority. Khamenei is not senior at all among the clerics, and his Ayatullah treatise was rushed AFTER his designation, when Khumayni reversed his decision to designate Mountazari. I would expect that part of the Iranian republic to be the weakest link.
How Arabic is Like Parseltongue | Harry Potter joke.
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