ARABIC THREATENED AND THREATENING.

A couple of successive posts at the always worthwhile Jabal al-Lughat [‘mountain of languages’] make for an interesting contrast. Arabic threatened in Qatar? says “an educationalist is warning that Arabic is threatened in Qatar”:

Qatari children’s exposure to English often begins soon after birth, with the hiring of a nanny who is unlikely to speak much if any Arabic, and certain not to speak the Gulf dialect… It continues at school, where about two-thirds of their fellow students are non-Qatari…; English is a mandatory subject from first grade up, and the many American universities opening campuses in Qatar are commonly English-medium (for instance, CMU.) In short, it’s easy to lead a fairly full life in Qatar with little Arabic, and easy to envision Qatari kids of this generation acquiring English natively.
However, apart from other issues like not giving any statistics or details, the article suffers from the common conflation of classical and colloquial Arabic. “In addition, parents would rather talk to their children in the dialect of their country of origin rather than in classical Arabic, a factor which is also contributing to a general decline in the understanding of the classical language” – as if parents have ever talked to their children in classical Arabic for the past millennium, or as if it were desirable that the children should grow up not speaking their own dialects!

Then Destroying Harsusi quotes a call from Al Watan to eradicate “one of the more endangered South Arabian languages,” Harsusi, in favor of “correct Arabic.”

Comments

  1. “In addition, parents would rather talk to their children in the dialect of their country of origin rather than in classical Arabic”
    Classical Arabic isn’t a spoken language per se. It exists either in written form, or in media such as a news broadcast. Noone “speaks” classical Arabic to their kids except for my deranged Arabic teacher in 3rd grade who refused to speak in his Syrian dialect for reasons of linguistic purity. But so far he’s the only one I know.
    In any case, Classical Arabic is indeed endangered in Qatar, as a Palestinian who lived in the Gulf, I can completely relate to this article. My father (who incidentally holds a PHD in Arabic Lit.) sent us to English schools with French as a second language and Arabic as a third. Although I can comfortably read Classical Arabic thanks to exposure, writing is a whole different ballgame and I find myself peppering my sentences with Levantine words and sentence formations, some of which are derived from Aramaic or Turkish, which makes for a poor text.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    Classical Arabic isn’t a spoken language per se. It exists either in written form, or in media such as a news broadcast. Noone “speaks” classical Arabic to their kids except for my deranged Arabic teacher in 3rd grade who refused to speak in his Syrian dialect for reasons of linguistic purity. But so far he’s the only one I know.

    That’s much like the situation with Standard German (only, of course, way more extreme).

  3. Great title – I may have to steal it one of these days 🙂 I suspect it’s true of a lot of languages in the middle of the world social hierarchy – people shifting to them from less prestigious languages even as others shift away to more prestigious ones.

  4. Eskandar Jabbari says:

    I just thought I’d plug Jonathan Owen’s lovely Arabic as a Minority Language, which may be of interest to some reading this post. I just wish it were available commercially (read: affordably), but thankfully my uni library has a copy.

  5. That’s much like the situation with Standard German (only, of course, way more extreme).
    Hunh? I am sitting in a town in Nordrhein Westfalen right now – everyone around me is speaking Standard German. At least in a business environment there is usually such a mix of Germans from different regions working together that standard Hochdeutsch is all people speak, I really don’t hear dialect very often. The same is usually true at universities. I have heard people say the same “Quatsch” about Italy – “no-one actually speaks standard Italian” – that’s not true at all in my experience, quite the opposite in fact.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    Hunh? I am sitting in a town in Nordrhein Westfalen right now – everyone around me is speaking Standard German.

    Oh, yes, northern Germany, where most people have Standard German with a strong Plattdeutsch accent (and corresponding vocabulary) as their mother tongue. Not so in Austria…

    At least in a business environment there is usually such a mix of Germans from different regions working together that standard Hochdeutsch is all people speak

    That’s another situation.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    Oh. A few blockquote tags too many.
    Low Saxon grammar occasionally comes through in northern Germany, too — I’ve read in the book of a mild prescriptivist that people (implicitely: up there) often use “remember” as a transitive verb like in English — that’s completely unthinkable farther south: sich an etwas erinnern reflexive + preposition + accusative, in the standard as well as in the dialects.

  8. OK, the arabic. When speak in tho house, O Chandelier of tantivy.

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