Saturday, August 01, 2009

Exclusive: Arabs’ Language Oppression Squelches Intellectual Growth

This is the language of the Quran Hadith and our local "Islamic Scholars"

We Arabs not only suffer from lack of political and religious
freedom, and economic backwardness, but we also suffer from a huge language and thinking problem, which hampers civilized change.
The Arab countries have two levels of language: local Arabic, i.e. national and regional, called language varieties (dialects) versus Standard Arabic. There is Egyptian spoken Arabic, Syrian Arabic, Saudi Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, etc. These dialects are our mother tongues. They are, however confined to daily spoken conversations. We are not allowed to use them in writing, especially in books, print media, school textbooks, and other official documents.
Standard Arabic is the official language across all Arab states. It is not, though, our mother tongue; actually no one speaks this language as a mother tongue, we begin learning it at school at the age of 6 or 7. It is our second language as opposed to our national and regional spoken Arabic which is indeed our mother tongue.
As Standard Arabic has been the language of literacy in the Arab countries for 1400 years, used in poetry and translating scientific books into Arabic (especially during the so-called golden ages), it developed a huge repertoire of vocabulary. Spoken Arabic (dialects), on the other hand, has been stigmatized, colloquial and remained limited to simple daily conversations. The bulk of its vocabulary stayed poor.
However, when you ask an Arab what their mother tongue is, they would misleadingly say, “It is Arabic,” meaning Standard Arabic, which is not true. Spoken Arabic is our mother tongue.
Both varieties/levels of Arabic share some vocabulary, which very often are differently pronounced. They also completely differ in terms of grammar and sentence structure.
Middle Eastern Arabs in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, and Palestine use similar spoken Arabics. When they meet and talk they easily understand each other despite diverse local vocabulary and pronunciation variations.
North African Arabs speak almost a completely different spoken Arabic. A Syrian speaking to a Moroccan or Algerian, for instance, would maybe understand five percent.
Standard Arabic is for all Arabs a lingua franca; it is like Latin to the Spaniards, French, or Italians whose national languages stemmed and developed from Latin. As the Roman Empire ruled Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal, Latin was the language of education and science, but people in these countries, due to widespread illiteracy, used their own spoken dialects of Latin, exactly like Arabs are doing.
As Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula invaded what became today’s modern Arab countries, they imposed Arabic as the official language. Local languages like Aramaic, Pharaohnic, Cananic, and Hebrew were banned. As the majority of people in these countries were illiterate, they managed to learn a kind of Arabic, i.e. spoken Arabic, exactly like the Caribbean natives who learned English; a kind of broken English that is grammatically, and in terms of pronunciation, different from Standard English.
Standard Arabic, the official language across the Arab world is archaic, with an archaic grammar and method of analysis and teaching.
Therefore, Arab students find it extremely difficult to learn this language, struggling with its grammar and rigid structure. Arabic Language Councils and the Muslim religious establishment have been adamant against allowing any language reform. They have claimed that it is the language of the holy Koran and hence it is sacred.
While languages like English, French, and German have gone through linguistic reforms, Standard Arabic has not. While all these other languages have incorporated modern vocabulary and modern structures, Standard Arabic Councils have employed a purist custodian role.
Sixty percent of Arabs are still illiterate or semi-literate and thus they are ostracized from reading and accessing education. The majority of Arabs sparsely read. They hate the pedantic structure of Standard Arabic. Their lack of command of this language forces them to do so. It is like Latin to Spaniards if they were forced to use it.
Standard Arabic is an artificial language. We Arabs do not identify ourselves with this “language.” We are not native to it.
People around the globe, especially Westerners, enjoy reading books because these use a language which is theirs. It reflects their mother tongue, culture, and mindset. Some books become bestsellers, but in the Arab world we lack this natural phenomenon.

Continue reading this article by
Dr. Sami Alrabaa at Family Security Matters.

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