Literary or Spoken?

A Haaretz story by Yarden Skop raises one of those eternal questions, in this case with reference to the teaching of Arabic in Israel:

For years the education system has been debating over what to emphasize in the study of Arabic − whether literary Arabic, which would give students the skills to read, write and translate, or spoken Arabic, which would allow them to hold a simple conversation.

An Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities committee found that “there are no clear goals for the teaching of Arabic in the Hebrew education system. Is the goal to create a connection with Arabs in Israel by teaching conversational skills? To provide direct access to what is happening in the Middle East (by imparting skills in understanding media in Arabic)? Opening a window onto the religion and culture of Islam? The panel believes that the setting of goals is important because this will set the objectives of study in each of the skills of the language.”

The committee noted in the introduction to its report that “most graduates of the Hebrew education system do not understand Arabic and do not see Arabic literature as a source of inspiration for thought and creativity.”

The committee concluded that the goal of teaching Arabic ought to be to allow access to the Middle East and Islam by teaching students how to understand texts, and that the study of Arabic literature should be the overriding goal.

Their decision is, of course, controversial (“there are those who believe too much emphasis is placed on literary Arabic and students are frustrated that after years of study they cannot hold a conversation”), and it’s one of those problems that inherently resists a single answer. My own relation to languages has been largely determined by circumstance; I learned spoken Spanish very well because I was living in Argentina, whereas my spoken Russian is lousy because I never get a chance to practice it. But being the bookish sort, I’m happy with my reading knowledge. (Thanks, Kobi!)

Comments

  1. The committee concluded that the goal of teaching Arabic ought to be to allow access to the Middle East and Islam by teaching students how to understand texts, and that the study of Arabic literature should be the overriding goal.

    Why must there be an overriding goal ? What happened to choice ? A different conclusion seems more reasonable: 1) offer conversational Arabic, AND 2) offer literary Arabic.

    One social consequence of 2) is obvious. As it says in the article: “students are frustrated that after years of study they cannot hold a conversation”. The corresponding consequence of 1) is equally obvious: students would be able to hold a conversation.

    I am overcome here by a fit of Chomsky-like Ideologieverdacht (for me almost unprecedented). Whatever the motives of the committee members (about which it is pointless to speculate, because speculation) , the effects of 2) are exactly those which would if obtain if there were a consensus that ability to converse with Arabs should not be encouraged by official education policy.

  2. Particularly since “literary Arabic” (aka Modern Standard Arabic) and “spoken Arabic” (South Levantine Arabic) are separate languages by ordinary definitions; the Arabic language family is about as diverse as the Romance language family. Learning one certainly helps with the other, but the gulf is much wider than that between spoken and written Spanish, Russian, or English.

  3. To offer both kinds of course is such a simple solution that it makes the committee’s conclusion seems irrational. So there must be other rationales at work that would explain the conclusion. That’s how Ideologieverdacht works – it arises from trying to understand the other guy.

  4. Some comments from the Hebrew article:

    “In grade school we studied spoken Arabic, in middle school we studied literary Arabic, that messed us all up. You can’t teach children two dialects of the same language. They should have focused on one, logically it should have been spoken Arabic since that is the language of the Arabs in Israel. In the end the [literary] Arabic ruined what I’d managed to learn in two years of studying the spoken language.”

    “Even [with] the literary, after four years it didn’t make it possible to read a newspaper or understand the TV.”

    “Three years of mandatory Arabic in middle school, and nobody in our class can say a single whole sentence. These are hundreds of students I’m talking about. Someone ought to explain this enormous squandering of time, money and resources.”

    “The solution is to bring in somewhat prettier Arabic teachers…”

  5. On the other hand, some conversational Arabic can be learned by socializing with Arabs from an early age. Ordinary people and their kids need not wait for committee decisions. There is a lot of passing-the-alibi here.

  6. To offer both kinds of course is such a simple solution that it makes the committee’s conclusion seems irrational.

    Nonsense. The question is, what should be the goals of this mandatory course. Offering both kinds of course is not a “solution”, because it neither answers this basic question, nor circumvents it. (Even if you offer both courses, you still have to decide which one is the mandatory course that fulfills the purpose of requiring Arabic, vs. which one is the optional course that does not.)

  7. Only one question is about what the goals should be of a mandatory course. This is not a major point of the article, which passes over the “mandatory” aspect in the first two short paragraphs:

    Education Minister Shay Piron has abolished the requirement for Arabic language study in the 10th grade and decided that a requirement to study Arabic will apply only in junior high school. Piron, who made the decision in January, said he decided to make the subject an elective so that students will consider it more attractive.
    In fact, according to Education Ministry statistics, the requirement to study Arabic in the 10th grade has been implemented in only 37 schools in Israel. The Arabic language requirement does not exist at all in public schools in the Orthodox system, and in some secular public schools students can choose between Arabic and French.

    My sense that there is something going on here other than language gourmandise is strengthened by the article, which I read in detail only after making my comment:

    Another obstacle is that in Israel Arabic is perceived as the language of the enemy. “The sociopolitical situation is such that the value of Arabic is very low and so is the motivation to study the language,” Amara says, adding that schools don’t encourage its study. Those who do study Arabic see the study in a security-related context, he says.

  8. To put it another way (my latest comment is awaiting moderation): the mandatoriness provides a neat way to wriggle out of difficulties. Making standard Arabic mandatory would raise a lot of hackles, so with great regret, and many a tear, the committee decides to make literary Arabic mandatory.

    The difificult social and political decisions that Israelis have to make – and I see these as real difficulties – have nothing to do with “mandatory”, but rather with what to do at all.

  9. Seven (!) years of Literary Arabic in the Israeli education system brought me to a virtually nonexistent conversational capability.
    I can easily spot transliteration errors, though…

  10. some conversational Arabic can be learned by socializing with Arabs from an early age. Ordinary people and their kids need not wait for committee decisions.

    Tricky. Very tricky. By and large Arabs and Jews in Israel don’t live in the same communities, aka municipalities. Some of this is due to Jewish fear of Muslim Arabs, or Arabs generally, but for the most part it is because Arabs and Jews simply don’t like each other and don’t want to live together. And where they do live in the same municipality, they live largely separate lives, typically meeting up only at the health clinic or hospital, or, for those pursuing higher education, at university. (Aside: Relative to group size, Christians receive the highest percentage of university degrees in Israel, followed by Jews and then by Muslims.)

  11. Paul: Tricky. Very tricky. By and large Arabs and Jews in Israel don’t live in the same communities, aka municipalities.

    Yes, I thought so. That’s what I meant by “passing-the-alibi” – from people who must live as they do (“our hands are tied”) to committees (“we can’t change it either”). As I wrote in a still-awaiting-moderation comment, these are all very difficult problems.

  12. (Aside: Relative to group size, Christians receive the highest percentage of university degrees in Israel, followed by Jews and then by Muslims.)

    That’s curious. What percentage of those Christians are in Israel only for the time it takes to get a degree ?

  13. If the courses are mandatory an open society should be able to discern the motivation.

    Requiring spoken Arabic in elementary school and then a diferent form in middle school is educationally unsound because there is a well-known, among neuroscientists, sensitive period of language acquisition that occurs at about the time of the transition. Children who change language environments before the age of about ten to twelve often lose their first language(s)

  14. If the courses are mandatory an open society should be able to discern the motivation.

    Not everything in the realm of motives is either reprehensibly concealed or honestly exposed. But “openness” is not at issue here, I think, nor motives either. In the present case – at any rate as I understand the article, which is published in the open forum of Haaretz – the motives are confused and ineffective.

    That doesn’t prevent those motives from serving purposes. One way to avoid change is to supress those who want change. Another way is to muddle along ineffectively.

  15. J. W. Brewer says:

    If taking X years of something called “Arabic” is in fact mandatory for all comers in the Israeli education system, then presumably the motive of many of the students (in some cases with the support or at least acquiescence of their parents) is for the class to be as easy as possible — if some students do not have an independent desire to master some variety of Arabic because they view that as a valuable skill to have, they will instead be interested in the path of least resistance and will be happy to ultimately get their diploma with the “Arabic” box checked but no actual facility in Arabic. Mandatory L2 teaching for political reasons (e.g. mandatory Irish Gaelic for Dublin Anglophones w/ no cultural/nationalistic interest in it; probably mandatory French in many parts of the Rest of Canada; Spanish in certain U.S. high schools where you are not allowed to not take a foreign language at all, etc etc) is always at risk of being dumbed down like this, and making the subject mandatory sometimes interferes with allocating resources to more substantive/demanding/productive courses in the subject for that subset of students who actually have some personal interest in mastering it.

  16. I think we can all imagine the motives of many of the students; many of them, after all, would be happy to be able to get a diploma without taking any classes at all. But the students, for better or worse, have little say in what classes are taught.

  17. Oh, I thought the motives being discussed were those of the committee members and others in education planning. The article has the title “Is it possible to make studying Arabic cool ?” There is no investigation of what students want, as Hat just said – apart from “cool”. What they don’t want is dismissed in a brief reference to “stigma”.

    The article is almost entirely about how to get students to like what is good for them and the nation, in some sense or other – if only there were agreement on that.

  18. J. W. Brewer says:

    But even the adults in the system with some decisionmaking authority (or practical authority to control how official decisions are implemented in practice) may have varied motives. If mandatory Arabic is national policy but not uniformly supported other than via weak lip-service, the principal or other administrators of a given school may not want to invest any more resources in Arabic instruction than the bare minimum necessary to avoid getting in trouble with the Ministry of Education or whatever other bureaucracy they are nominally accountable to (especially if the parents of the students in the particular school don’t particularly care how much Arabic fluency the kids emerge with). If you were a teacher of Arabic, it seems to me that you’d be torn between: a) mandatory Arabic means more total jobs in the system for People Like Me; and b) Arabic as an elective means increased odds of a class full of largely self-selected students with a genuine interest in the subject, who are typically more rewarding to teach.

    I take it educational systems in Arab-majority countries have tradeoffs and tensions between enhancing their students’ skills in their L1 variety of Arabic versus trying to teach them to function in some literary standard version that is at considerable distance from their L1 variety, and perhaps the same tensions are felt for instructing the minority of students in Israeli schools who are L1 Arabic-speakers.

  19. If mandatory Arabic is national policy but not uniformly supported other than via weak lip-service, the principal or other administrators of a given school may not want to invest any more resources in Arabic instruction than the bare minimum necessary to avoid getting in trouble with the Ministry of Education or whatever other bureaucracy they are nominally accountable to (especially if the parents of the students in the particular school don’t particularly care how much Arabic fluency the kids emerge with).

    That’s exactly what I imagine is happening, in many cases. It’s what I meant by muddlling along ineffectively – half-hearted policy meets half-hearted implementation, everyone has the best motives, but also “a pragmatic approach”. The result is that nothing much changes – which may suit most people quite well.

  20. Stu:

    “standard” and “literary” both refer to a single language, Modern Standard Arabic. There is a diglossia in all Arabic-speaking countries with this variety as the H language and the local spoken or “colloquial” Arabic, Southern Levantine Arabic in the case of Israel, as the L language. (Exceptions are Chad, Nigeria, and Cyprus, where there is only L.) This is precisely analogous to the positions of Standard German and Swiss German in German-speaking Switzerland: each has its proper place, and it’s absurd to use one whether the other is socially correct. Haiti is in almost the same situation, except that the L language, though in universal use, is not universally accepted even in its sphere.

    In general, diglossic cultures don’t teach their L language in school, because it’s seen as something fluid, dynamic, with no rules, not open to formalized study. In situations where non-diglossic cultures teach the native language, diglossic ones teach the H language. Consequently, there are few resources for teaching it: there is a real shortage of books, curricular guides, certified teachers, because the cultures where the language is native have never had or needed such things.

  21. enhancing their students’ skills in their L1 variety of Arabic

    As I noted, this isn’t an objective anywhere in diglossic countries.

  22. J. W. Brewer says:

    So if Israeli schools actually were competently teaching their non-native-speaker students to function in the local L version of Arabic, they’d be doing a rather innovative thing by the standards of the region. Whether that’s an argument in favor of it or an argument against it I guess is unclear.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    Mandatory teaching of Welsh has contrived to alienate two of my children pretty thoroughly from the language of their forebears. The language is mostly very poorly taught, and the standard of the examinations for non-mother-tongue speakers is quite astonishingly low. (One of my children got a top grade despite learning that Welsh has grammatical gender a whole two weeks before the exam. Naturally my children are brilliant, but …)

    There is some analogy with the Arabic case in that in Welsh the traditional literary language is much farther from the spoken than with most European languages, and there isn’t a standard spoken language. This causes problems in deciding just what should be taught and why in something of the same way.

  24. J. W. Brewer says:

    One wonders whether the quality of instruction given in Modern Hebrew to Arabic-speaking students in the Israeli schools is higher, or whether the economic/etc. benefits to achieving a certain level of fluency in Hebrew are strong enough that kids are motivated to pick it up on their own despite inadequacies of the educational system. Or whether they’re just gonna learn English (or, in Israel, maybe Russian?) and use that for communication across the local ethnolinguistic divide, like sometimes happens in Switzerland/Belgium/India.

  25. Most Arabs in Israel speak Hebrew so Hebrew speakers have little chance to learn spoken Arabic in the workplace or in the street.

  26. Educated Israeli Arabs certainly know Hebrew better than most educated Jewish Israelis know Arabic, but I don’t know how much of this is due to the quality of education, and how much of it is a matter of exposure to a dominant majority language. There are several Arab columnists and journalists who report and write in the Hebrew media. Sayed Kashua, an Israeli Arab, is one of the best novelists writing in Hebrew these days; I believe he learned Hebrew in school. Many West Bank Palestinians, who are not exposed to the Israeli educational system, have become fluent in Hebrew through interactions with Jews at work or at bilingual areas like East Jerusalem. The opposite is much rarer.

    Some schools in Israel offer Yiddish as an optional subject. I don’t know know how successful that program is, compared to Arabic.

  27. I took two years of mandatory literary Arabic in what was considered one of Tel Aviv’s better middle/high schools. Given that I was well on my way to becoming a language geek at that point, the fact that I’m still not sure how to write all the forms of some of the letters may serve as another illuminating data point. But before invoking hidden ideologies, consider this: French was taught as an elective, and the French class was much worse. Students self-selected for the electives, yes, but mostly not on the basis of interest — rather, they (OK, we) chose the classes with the easiest reputations. Everyone knew that the French teacher was a pushover and that film class meant you got to watch a movie in class, so French and film probably outweighed the rest of the electives put together. The level of Arabic teaching was bad, yes, but it wasn’t much worse than many of the other subjects.

    As for teaching both spoken and literary Arabic, the problem is that if one or both were electives there’d be insufficient interest (unless they were dumbed down to near uselessness), while teaching both as mandatory classes across the school system would require budgetary expenditures for which there’s zero political will. I think the latter policy is actually the single best thing that could be done for the possibility of peaceful coexistence in the region, but honestly, it isn’t gonna happen.

  28. (Aside: Relative to group size, Christians receive the highest percentage of university degrees in Israel, followed by Jews and then by Muslims.)

    Paul, I’m just wondering, assuming it’s a significant difference is there a known cause for this order? And who are the Christians, are they mostly of Arab background or are they Africans or Europeans? If I, atheist Englishman, were to move to Israel would I (as in the old joke) be classified as a Christian atheist so I wouldn’t get confused statistically with the Jewish & Muslim atheists?

  29. A relevant anecdote: a fellow grad student was from Morocco, and told me that the most fluent L2 speaker of Literary Arabic she ever met was an Israeli officer who, on the basis of his accent, must have spent a great deal of time in Lebanon, and who was also obviously well-read in Arabic literature: she was quite certain, too, that this Israeli officer was Ashkenazi and thus was unexposed to Arabic at home. So obviously somewhere in Israel there exists (existed?) efficient teaching of L2 Arabic.

    Of course, part of me wonders whether this terrible teaching of Arabic is a bug or a feature: there are many instances I know of where local elites profit from keeping the bulk of the population ignorant of any or of certain foreign language(s). Could such a dynamic be at work in Israel?

  30. So obviously somewhere in Israel there exists (existed?) efficient teaching of L2 Arabic.

    I wonder if this “somewhere” was an army intelligence program — that’s obviously the one environment in Israel that really has an interest in producing highly competent Arabic speakers/readers. (I also wonder just under what circumstances this officer had “spent a great deal of time in Lebanon”, given the recent histories of the two countries.)

  31. I had both those thoughts as well.

  32. vrai.cabecou says:

    I’m hoping that there is no such thing as a stupid question here so:

    I’ve frequently read that if you learn MSA you won’t have anyone to talk to, but I’ve never been able to figure out what diglossia means as a practical matter at schools in, say, Morocco and Egypt. That is, are the students and teachers all using the local language to talk in the classroom even as they learning literary Arabic? Or are they all speaking MSA? which would mean that an outsider can actually talk with them in MSA (though not the language they would use in a casual context).

  33. Indeed, there is no such thing as a stupid question here, and I too am curious now that you’ve asked.

  34. There are some Israeli high schools where Arabic is taught at a level which is considered satisfactory. Some of the graduates from these schools can take a further intensive Arabic course and then they do their military service translating texts from Arabic into Hebrew. There’s also a high school where Iranian is offered. In Egypt quite a few students learn Hebrew, and years ago, while stationed in Sinai, I knew an Egyptian officer whose Hebrew was quite acceptable. However it was easier for me to speak with him in English.

  35. Etienne, there are of course exceptions. Maybe the Israeli in question had taken private lessons from a Lebanese speaker? Maybe he grew up in a mixed city, like Haifa, and had Arab friends when he grew up?
    The situation of Spanish in the US is only slightly better. Many students take several years of Spanish in school, and never get past ordering a servaysa. A few study and practice beyond their schoolwork, and end up completely fluent. Same thing with Arabic in Israel.

  36. J. W. Brewer says:

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4323529,00.html has some stats about the Christian population in Israel and its comparative educational achievements vis-a-vis Jews/Muslims/Druze. It should be recalled that a material percentage of Israeli Jews (and a much higher percentage in the younger age brackets) are haredim, who may have a certain cultural skepticism about the value of much secular education, so if you broke out stats for different subgroups of the Jewish population you might see a different pattern. I don’t know whether you would see different patterns in the Christian community if you broke out the ethnic-Arab* majority (about 80%) from the non-Arab minority (mostly recentish immigrants from the former Soviet Union who had sufficiently Jewish family ties to be allowed in). A rather fascinating-sounding fellow named Fr. Alexander Winogradsky in Jerusalem holds what are believed to be the only Eastern Orthodox services in the world regularly conducted in Hebrew, and most of his parishioners apparently speak Russian or Ukrainian as their L1 although their kids are more likely to be L1 Modern Hebrew speakers.

    *My impression is that most-if-not-all Arabic-speaking Christians in Israel self-identify as “Arabs,” by contrast to the substantial number of e.g. Copts and Maronites in neighboring countries who for not-implausible reasons do not consider themselves Arabs in an ethnic sense even though Arabic is their L1 and their ancestral languages may have fallen into desuetude.

  37. This might be a silly question that I could easily find the answer to elsewhere, but is all written Arabic perforce Modern Standard Arabic, or only more formal texts, or everything but graffiti, or…?
    I pretty much learned how to say “We go to the library” in french every year for eight years in grade school. I think we go up to the -ir verbs once in 6th grade, but we never even touched the imperfect or past tenses. I guess if the language is going to be taught badly, the barest smattering of spoken Arabic is more sensible than a uselessly small amount of the literary standard…

  38. JW, Thanks for that. I learned a lot.

    The CBS (Central Bureau of Statistics) noted that when taking into account the data recorded over the years, Christian Arabs fared the best in terms of education in comparison to any other group receiving an education in Israel. For example, in 2011 the number of Arab Christian students eligible for a high-school diploma stood at 64% in comparison to only 48% among Muslim children, 55% among Druze and 59% in the Jewish education system in general.They were also the vanguard in terms of eligibility for higher education. Some 56% of Arab Christians, compared with 50% of Jewish students; 36% of Druze students and 34% of Muslims received a high school diploma that met the basic demands of Israeli universities. In the 2011/2012 school year, some 5,700 students affiliated with Christianity studied in one of Israel’s higher education institutes and comprised 1.8% of Israel’s student population.

    They don’t seem that uneven to me, a total non-expert in interpreting education data. Were they to be audited, I wouldn’t be surprised if atheists came out well in these statistics.

  39. In general, L languages are only written when more than the content of the text is at stake: dialect poetry, song lyrics, field linguistics, oral history.

  40. (Stu Clayton) What percentage of those Christians are in Israel only for the time it takes to get a degree ?

    Virtually none. See also JWB’s link to the Ynet article.

    (J.W. Brewer) If mandatory Arabic is national policy but not uniformly supported other than via weak lip-service, the principal or other administrators of a given school may not want to invest any more resources in Arabic instruction than the bare minimum necessary

    I’m sure this is the case. When I ask Israelis whether they studied Arabic in high school I get muddled answers. I believe the subject is technically mandatory but in fact is not studied in most schools, or at best brushed over lightly. English is compulsory from fourth grade or so, and is absolutely required for most university programs. That’s because in most fields the creation of post-secondary textbooks in Hebrew is an economic non-starter. From the student’s perspective, English is a prestige language, a ticket to the Western world, the international language of science, technology, travel and commerce; no other language comes close. Arabic, though assuredly the language of a good chunk of the country’s citizens and that of all the surrounding countries, carries no such weight.

    (AJP Crown) (Aside [by PO]: Relative to group size, Christians receive the highest percentage of university degrees in Israel, followed by Jews and then by Muslims.)

    Paul, I’m just wondering, assuming it’s a significant difference is there a known cause for this order? And who are the Christians, are they mostly of Arab background or are they Africans or Europeans? If I, atheist Englishman, were to move to Israel would I (as in the old joke) be classified as a Christian atheist so I wouldn’t get confused statistically with the Jewish & Muslim atheists?

    My sense is that education is more highly valued by the Jewish and Christian populations than the Muslim population (with a nod to the Jewish ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) element that values education, but only of the religious variety). Apart from recent immigrants from FSU states who though nominally Christian have sufficient Jewish affiliation to have passed muster, a few thousand Armenians and a tiny number of clerical, diplomatic and journalism families, virtually all of the Christians in Israel speak Arabic as their mother tongue. The great majority of these people also self-identify as Arab, though there appear to be growing numbers who say they are ethnically Aramean or Assyrian and volunteer to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Father Gabriel Nadaf is perhaps the most outspoken in this regard, and his son took a nasty beating last year because of this stance.

    Were you to move to Israel you would be registered as a Christian,* there being no test for belief but only for traditional affiliation. This dates back to Ottoman law, untouched by the British despite the King’s Order in Council of 1922, and similarly untouched by the Israeli Knesset: Matters of personal status are left to the religious courts, which is why members of different religious traditions cannot wed in Israel. Ain’t no preacher who would do it. Which means a quick trip to Cyprus these days — no more proxy marriages in Paraguay — and Lordy knows (you should excuse the expression) lots of difficulties for those not-quite-Jews from the former SFU.

    *Israeli ID cards do not in fact indicate religion. The field in my card where it says I’m Jewish is labeled לאום le’om, which translates as ethnicity, or nationality (without the sense of citizenship). Google [ Israeli Identity Card ] if you’re insufficiently confused.

  41. I’ve frequently read that if you learn MSA you won’t have anyone to talk to, but I’ve never been able to figure out what diglossia means as a practical matter at schools in, say, Morocco and Egypt. That is, are the students and teachers all using the local language to talk in the classroom even as they learning literary Arabic? Or are they all speaking MSA? which would mean that an outsider can actually talk with them in MSA (though not the language they would use in a casual context).
    Only a data point, and probably not very representative. My daughter spent her elementary school years at an international school in Lebanon; most of her classmates were Lebanese. The instruction was partly in German, partly in French, but they also had Arabic (=MSA) lessons. These mostly consisted of writing and reading exercises – the students read out and copied texts, wrote dictations, and learnt poems and songs by heart. No attempt was made to teach conversational skills, have discussions in MSA, etc. During breaks, the children spoke Lebanese Arabic vernacular or (this being a private school in the Christian part) French. So, I obviously don’t have any idea about the language situation in schools where Arabic is the main language of instruction; but my impression was that in Lebanon, MSA is something you read and write, not somthing you talk, and that, when Lebanese talk to other Arabs, they use some kind of mixture of Lebanese, MSA, and the other Arabs’ dialects.

  42. Hans: that strikes me as extremely representative – except that, to “MSA is something you read and write”, I would add “or recite, or listen to”. Some unusually motivated teachers try to encourage conversation in MSA, but by and large, it’s socially unacceptable; MSA is primarily for one-way communication, for addressing an audience. Even talk show guests rarely maintain consistent MSA, although they certainly make some use of it.

    s/o: Most written Arabic is MSA, with the exceptions John Cowan notes, but you do get more and more colloquial features in Egyptian popular writing, and there are a small number of novels in dialect.

  43. vrai.cabecou says:

    Thanks, Hans and Lameen! So when my friend’s daughter practices MSA conversation in her high school Arabic class, she’s doing something that kids in Morocco and Egypt (and Lebanon) don’t bother doing.

  44. Lameen: If it weren’t for the prestige of Koranic Arabic, I suspect that the diglossia in Egypt would be heading for a crack-up, as it has long since done in Greece and may be beginning to do in Haiti (see our earlier thread on Guarani diglossia). As it is, Egyptian Arabic is already passively understood in other Arabic-speaking countries as a result of the productivity of Egyptian media. As Nick points out (linked on that thread), the state alone is not enough to keep an H variety in being, it needs support from literature too.

    Étienne: I wrote to you in Brito-Romance on the Guarani page, in the good old-fashioned way, with grammar and dictionary in hand — I’m certainly not fluent in the language, but it is much easier for me than actual Welsh! I wonder if you read it, or even noticed it as addressed to you. It took me some time to figure out that the “Stephen” who contributes to Siganus’s blog (which I read using Google Translate) was actually you, thanks to GT’s tendency to over-translate names.

    For a while some years back, I was getting rather peculiar emails in Polish: not commercial spam, as far as GT could tell me, but not very meaningful either. I mildly remonstrated in English, and when that brought no relief, scraped up every bit of Venedo-Romance I could locate and blasted that back to the sender. I received no more Polish emails: evidently, one gibberish source canceled out the other.

  45. A followup editorial in Haaretz on the subject.

  46. The conclusion:

    Israel should see Arabic as an official language not only on paper, and back this declaration with practical steps. The Education Ministry must set a homogenous study program for all schools, consisting of uniform criteria for compulsory studies, which will apply to the religious state schools as well.

    But first and foremost the ministry must employ Arab teachers, who are familiar with the spoken and literary tongue, and train more teachers, both Arab and Jewish, to teach Arabic.

    Arabic studies in schools should be no less important than English studies, whose necessity nobody doubts. After all, Israel is part of the Middle East, which is mostly Arab, and it is appropriate for its people to invest more in learning their closest neighbors’ language.

    Makes sense to me.

  47. Coby Lubliner’s “Reflections on Diglossia” provides lots of specifics along with some useful terminology like parastandard ‘regional standard, Umgangssprache’ and semistandard ‘a standard language without all the usual roles’. Also interesting and useful is the notion of diglossia as a continuum that all educated societies fall into some position on (even English has the derogatory expression to talk like a book).

    Just ignore the stuff about how diglossia should have been called diglossy in English, because Greek -eia, -ia, Latin -ia, French -ie > English -y (except in the names of specific diseases (except mania)). Or contemplate academia, ambrosia, ammonia, ….

  48. J. W. Brewer says:

    A couple shoulds, a couple musts, a “nobody doubts,” and an “it is appropriate.” I am puzzled as to how anyone with any self-awareness can write in the magisterial tone of omniscience and condescension that is unfortunately typical for a certain genre of newspaper editorials. I assume pretty much everyone who lives in Israel is already keenly aware that Arabic (in one variety or another) is the predominant language of the neighboring nations. If the consequences of that geographical proximity for Israeli educational policy were uncontroversially obvious, there would be no dispute, and thus no occasion to bloviate like this. (By the editorialists’ logic, one ought to tell Estonians it is their duty to study Russian as seriously as they study English, or Danes that it is their duty to study German ditto.) I don’t have a strong opinion myself on what that educational policy should be, and I probably do not know enough to have an opinion worth taking seriously, but I do have a gut instinct that anyone who writes in the tone of that block quote should be at least provisionally presumed to have the wrong position on the substance of the issue in question.

  49. Oh, come now. I’m no fonder of editorial bloviation than you, but you know perfectly well that an editorial expressing the opposite view would be written with exactly the same sort of bloviation, so it’s silly to say that “anyone who writes in the tone of that block quote should be at least provisionally presumed to have the wrong position on the substance of the issue in question.” In fact, it smacks of exactly the kind of editorial disingenuousness you’re complaining about.

  50. Last week in Nederland we had the (annual) dag van het duitse taal. Can anyone guess what the annual bloviations about our schoolchildren’s learnership of neighbourly language might have cropped up for the occasion?

    (They said things like “Ever since it stopped being compulsory to study [a certain language], nobody does. What, apart from the change from compulsory to not-compulsory which we shall overlook as being too obvious to even consider, could possibly account for this? It is probably the undue emphasis on grammar, probably.” Lord preserve me from newspaper opinion pieces!)

  51. exactly the same sort of bloviation

    One cannot read Haaretz alone and be informed on what’s going on in Israel. I subscribe to the print edition (which I receive with the international edition of the New York Times); for balance I mostly ignore the weekend edition, opting for that of the Jerusalem Post, about which the same must be said. Friends with impeccable lefty credentials sometimes joke that Haaretz should be called Der Stürmer and that it’s published by Hamas in Gaza. The Post almost reflexively supports the settler position. (I read the Hebrew media too, but mostly online and not extensively. My Hebrew media diet comes mostly from radio and TV news and public affairs programs.)

    Both of those papers are read by tiny fractions of the populace; maybe 50K copies of Haaretz and half that number for JPost in a country of eight million. Until recently, the largest newspaper by far was the left-leaning Yediot Aharonot, with about ten times Haaretz’ circulation, but the freebie (with free home delivery too), right-wing* Israel Hayom, funded by Sheldon Adelson, has very seriously challenged Yediot’s position.

    The web-only Times of Israel is a good, well-written, centrist read.

    * Pro-Netanyahu is a better term. The paper despises political parties and personalities to the right of him.

  52. Gale and I spent five weeks in the Lowlands back in 1987. While there, we went on a sightseeing boat on the Meuse near Maastricht, Gale’s father’s family’s Ausgangspunkt. We noticed a whole group of tourists standing in the stern looking at the sights to be seen on either side of the boat’s wake. When we asked about it, we were told that those were the Germans. As I had noticed myself, all announcements were in Dutch, English, French, and German in that order. So evidently by the time the German version was given, the boat had already passed the point of interest in question.

  53. J. W. Brewer says:

    If someone wants to post an editorial with equal stylistic bloviation but an opposite position on the substance of the particular issue (which I accept is not unlikely to exist), I will consider equilibrium restored and return to a neutral position. Although since the opposite of “X is important, therefore X should be mandatory” need not be “X is unimportant, therefore X should be forbidden” but instead can be something like “people can have different views as to how important X is without being unreasonable, therefore X should not be mandatory but appropriate resources should be available for those who are particularly interested in it,” I don’t know that strict parallelism in bloviation-level would inevitable. I would actually enjoy an op-ed explicitly arguing for the status quo along the lines of “since we disagree about how important X is, let’s compromise by making X officially mandatory for symbolic purposes while in practice doing a totally half-assed job of doing X well or providing the resources that would be necessary if we really wanted to do X well.”

  54. Y wrote: Some schools in Israel offer Yiddish as an optional subject. I don’t know know how successful that program is, compared to Arabic.

    Yiddish is offered at Bar-Ilan University, where knitted skullcaps on male heads are common and a pro-settler ideology is in the air. Arab parents often send their daughters to study there because of the generally modest dress of the place. I’m told that these young women often choose Yiddish as an elective. One wonders about the motivations.

    Etienne wrote: Of course, part of me wonders whether this terrible teaching of Arabic is a bug or a feature: there are many instances I know of where local elites profit from keeping the bulk of the population ignorant of any or of certain foreign language(s). Could such a dynamic be at work in Israel?

    I doubt it. I can’t even reason my through such a scenario. The closest would be the ultra-Orthodox school system, where Hebrew Bible, Talmud and so forth are the only subjects studied except for a grudging nod to basic arithmetic.

  55. Stefan Holm says:

    This topic isn’t an easy one. Since around 1970 knowledge in L3 languages has dropped dramatically in Sweden. Until then it was mandatory from secondary school (girls typcially took French and boys German). Even with popular L2 English (compulsive from the age of 10) things have happened. On one hand young Swedes today are far better than their parents and grandparents in speaking everyday English. We’re even told that Scandinavians together with the Dutch are the best of all non natives when it comes to fluency in conversation. On the other hand university professors complain about their students being significantly inferior to elder generations in understanding English text books. According to the critics the young only learn kyparengelska (“waiters’ English”).

    In Finland today there is a pretty widespread opposition against pakkoruotsi (‘enforced Swedish’). From historical reasons Finland is constitutionally bilingual and ‘the other language’ is mandatory in school for both native speakers of Finnish and Swedish. For a century or so the number of Swedish speakers (the former elite) however has descended to some 5%, concentrated to a few areas in the southwest (including though Helsinki). So young Finns may have the same feelings about Swedish as the Israelis have about Arabic. (The Finnish elite though, particularly in trade and industry, are lobbying for – besides English – both Swedish, Russian and German in the education system).

    An explanation to the apparent paradoxes (which seem to be international) could be the system of higher education. It was earlier more or less restricted to the social elite but has become far more ‘democratic’. That in turn might have triggered a major change in the over all motives for studying languages – from literary to spoken. What used to be career and maybe general enlightment could today be amusement and entertainment. Don’t ask me what to do about this, or even if something ought to be done.

  56. Don’t ask me what to do about this, or even if something ought to be done.

    It is of course axiomatic that Something Must Be Done. The editorial syllogism is then completed by This Is Something and Therefore This Must Be Done. Honestly, what do they teach in schools these days?

  57. Honestly, what do they teach in schools these days?

    I’ve been wondering about that myself, with respect to schools in Germany. Such a huffing and puffing, interleaved with about-turns, as has been going on for decades with education policy ! The education police are at a loss, although of course they don’t see it that way. For age reasons most of them must be from the “generation of 1968″ that institutionalized starry-eyed political fatuousness here.

  58. Part of the blovating tone JWB objects to is probably an artifact of translation. English is sadly defective in impersonal verbs, while Hebrew is rich in them, so translations from Hebrew are often full of awkward circumlocutions like “it is necessary”, “it is appropriate”, etc.

  59. More comments from the Hebrew site:

    “It’s absolutely possible to speak in the litearry language. The term ‘literary’ does not mean that it’s merrely written in books and cannot be conversed in. In interviews in the Arabic channels usually only literary Arabic is spoken. Even Arabs from different countries often do not udrestand each other when using the spoken language and are forced to use the literary. I know the literary language and a bit of the spoken one and I can speak freely with Arabs. Sometimes they are impressed by the elevated language I use, but I haven’t run into problems of not inderstanding or not being able to communicate.”

    “Bilingual schools are the solution. I went to such a school and Arabic was part of the ongoing experience. In the army I was assigned to the appropriate unit and even trained younger soldiers in matters of manners and culture. I recommend expanding this model and giving it appropriate government resources.”

    Aside on Haaretz: Paul, Haaretz is indeed the leftiest major paper in Israel, but it usually the only one reporting on issues regarding Arab and Palestinian issues. I can’t imagine any other paper discussing the matter of Arabic language education at any length, from whatever political perspective.

  60. In any case, the prescriptive tone is pretty typical of Hebrew editorials (at least in Haaretz, which is the only Israeli paper I read at all frequently). Maybe it’s to do with the famed Israeli speak-your-mind bluntness. But I really don’t see the objection — isn’t expressing an opinion the point of an op ed?

  61. Haaretz editorials in Hebrew read to me like any other modern editorials, in Israel or elsewhere. They are meant to be direct, clear and, especially, brief. I agree with TR’s analysis of the translation issues. If anything, they are less pompous than right-wing editorials, which are compelled to weave in nationalistic stock phrases everywhere.

  62. Stefan Holm says:

    Des and Stu: I sincerely share your concerns. But the question is, to quote Lenin: Что делать, (Shto dyelat’) What should be done?

    In the PISA measurements of students’ skills Sweden is sinking like a stone (like many other western countries). The other day it was reported that 25% of the new university students in science (maths, physics, chemistry) failed in a high school level math test! Everybody is upset but noone knows how to turn the tide. Right wingers blame the sloppiness of the generation of ’68 and left wingers blame the fiscal cut-downs and both dream of the good old days.

    The only thing nobody puts into question is teaching itself. The five years at the university it takes to become a certified teacher in Sweden is 90% about pedagogics. And pedagogics changes all the time according to, as somebody put it, ‘latest psychology news from the US east coast’.

    But I never hear anybody even wonder, if a math teacher in front of all shouldn’t know math, a German teacher German and so on. No, it’s all about pedagogic tricks to make the students feel cosy – at reduced fiscal expenses.

    A friend of mine since early teen ages (who sadly, and way to early, passed away last November) was a teacher in Swedish for 16 to 19 year olds. He always kept a number of coins (value about 2 dollars) visible on his rostrum and through the years told every class, that if anybody could come up with a Swedish word (listed in the Swedish Academy’s Word List) that he couldn’t explain, he or she was welcome to pick one of the coins. Through the years it never happened.

    His funeral was crowded by colleagues and – former and present students. That, I would call ‘authority’ – neither in the military commanding nor in the new-age-pedagogical-psychological way, but through the classical view of the words ‘education, knowledge, enlightment’.

  63. des von bladet says:

    The odd thing about education is that has always been in decline. Exactly when the golden age was has never been clear to me, except that the elite was perhaps better served than now. My other’s generation is plenty full of pig ignorant semiliterates, and I have a Facebook to prove it.

  64. Stefan Holm: in Québec in the nineteen sixties a report recommended that Latin be dumped as an L3 and replaced by some modern language. Unfortunately Latin was dumped and no other language whatsoever put in its place. As one of the few of my generation who still was taught Latin I believe it did me a mountain of good in improving my reading and writing ability in French and in English, to say nothing of how easy other languages seemed afterwards (In German class my fellow students struggled with the German case-marking system, which I found rather boring).

    More broadly, what I have noticed with my students (francophones and anglophones alike) in Canada is that reading, *in any language*, is an activity associated with school only and otherwise avoided like the plague. Their passive vocabulary and command of more literary/elevated registers of their L1s is definitely far weaker than was mine when I was their age. My hunch is that, whereas for me (and for a large number if not a majority of hatters, I suspect) books were and remain important either as a refuge from or an alternative to mundane reality, to my students’ generation other means of ‘escape’ existed (various computer games and on-line activities, basically).

    As a result, I suspect L2 and L3 teaching/acquisition is now much more difficult than before because the notion that students could/would supplement their language classes with reading in the target language is now wholly obsolete. I think language teachers by and large haven’t quite come to grips with this new reality.

  65. J. W. Brewer says:

    I have no Hebrew, but what struck me seemed unlikely to be an artifact of bad or clumsy translation just because it sounded so naturally like a certain genre of self-important L1 Anglophone bloviating. Maybe the translator was so good he put it into a particular register of journalistic English which always rubs me the wrong way but must appeal to someone for some reason or else it wouldn’t exist, whereas the original Hebrew might have been in a register which, if I knew Hebrew, would be less irksome to me. The functional question is whether an editorial is primarily intended to “express an opinion” in the sense of giving psychological pleasure to those who already share the opinion by hearing it restated or is instead primarily intended to persuade people who aren’t sure what they think of the issue in question but are trying to be open-minded about it. Pursuing the former goal (especially if you and your target audience are fatuous and complacent) may be counterproductive for pursuing the latter goal, but I guess Haaretz or its translators are entitled to decide which goal they value more.

    Because I am in my day job a lawyer who writes hopefully persuasive prose for a living, I am very focused on what sort of language might actually be persuasive to a not-yet-convinced reader (typically a judge) rather than just what sort of language might my clients enjoy reading because it restates and reaffirms their own pre-existing view of the situation. It is possible that newspaper editorialists do not view their objective in similar terms.

  66. Stefan Holm says:

    Etienne, mon ami: I took eight years of English, four years of German, three years of Russian and one year of French. I don’t regret one single moment of this: It allows me to participate in this great blog; it allows me to read the Communist Manifesto in original: Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa…; it allows me to read Pusjkin and Lermontov: Белеет парус одинокий В тумане моря голубом!… or listen to the Beautiful song of The Little Bell and enjoy the most beloved singer in Europe so far (in an early and bad recording – but together with those the very poor) in the story about the three times in his life the bells rang for Jean François Nicot.

    So, Etienne, you did the right thing in learning Latin.

  67. Stefan Holm says:

    Sorry, I missed the link to Edith Piaf. But admit that it has a more genuine ‘touch’ than this magnificient performance at the Palais de Congres.

  68. “Even Arabs from different countries often do not udrestand each other when using the spoken language and are forced to use the literary.” – that’s a bit of a myth. The compromise language that Arabs from different countries resort to in order to communicate is highly variable and draws a lot on standard Arabic, but rarely if ever do they opt for full-on standard, in my experience. (Certainly not to the point of using case endings, unless they really want to show off.)

  69. Stefan Holm says:

    Sorry again! Here’s another try: First : Song of The Little Bell, and then Les trois cloches in French: by Mireille Mathieu at the Palais de Congres.

  70. reading [...] is an activity associated with school only and otherwise avoided like the plague. [...] My hunch is that, whereas for me (and for a large number if not a majority of hatters, I suspect) books were and remain important either as a refuge from or an alternative to mundane reality, to my students’ generation other means of ‘escape’ existed (various computer games and on-line activities, basically).

    I was born in 1958, and everything about this was true then, except that the plug-in drug was television, mostly of the network variety. Comic books were a distant second. I enjoyed both of them, but books were far and away more important than either.

    The golden age of reading in the U.S. was apparently 1860-1920, the age of the dime novel, but of course the fact that mental junk food came between hard covers in those days didn’t make it any less mental junk food.

    People who like to read Good Stuff are, always have been, and doubtless always will be a rare breed. “Here’s tae us. Wha’s like us? Damn few, and they’re a’ deid. Mair’s the pity!”

  71. Lameen—I’m sure you’re right. In his defense, in Israel you’re rarely going to actually experience speakers of different Arabics interact with each other, except maybe the odd Iraqi or Moroccan Jews speaking to Palestinians. I don’t know what they use; these days, probably Hebrew.

    BTW, I really need to check my typing before I post.

  72. Me too, obviously. Bloviating not blovating, and deficient not defective.

  73. Stefan: Right wingers blame the sloppiness of the generation of ’68 and left wingers blame the fiscal cut-downs and both dream of the good old days.

    Not only right-wingers lay that blame (proof: I lay it). Not only left-wingers lay the other blame (ditto). To amplify my remark: I think both charges are justified, but that means to me only that neither “anti-authoritarianism” nor “pumping money into the system” is going to improve matters.

    But I never hear anybody even wonder, if a math teacher in front of all shouldn’t know math, a German teacher German and so on. No, it’s all about pedagogic tricks to make the students feel cosy – at reduced fiscal expenses.

    I agree 100%. One problem here, if it is one, is that making all aspects of life ever more cosy is a primary human goal.

  74. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    Etienne, I don’t teach any language so I may have lost touch with kids today. Nonetheless, out of personal experience, also known as unrepresentative anecdotes, I’d suggest that modern electronic entertainment may actually increase students’ exposure to foreign-language material, at least if the foreign language is English.

    I learned English in school before having an Internet connection. Even so, for years I was reading English novels in an Italian translation, but untranslated English instructions for board games, and more ambitiously English manuals for role-playing games. Then my friends and I played adventure video games with English dialogue, albeit of the multiple-choice variety as far as the player was concerned.

    By the time I got online I had read more Shakespeare in English than my teacher had assigned, but even so most of my English writing was on mailing lists and online forums. I have Italian friends whom I suspect of never having read Shakespeare in any language and whose English grades were quit poor, but who then started watching English TV shows online.

    If I’m honest, now I’m constantly reading English both for work and for leisure, but I’m ashamed to reveal here how little literature I read, and most of that isn’t in English anyway.

  75. I agree with JWB, who wondered if the Haaretz editorial was preaching to the choir or actually trying to convince the unconvinced. The bit “By the editorialists’ logic, one ought to tell Estonians it is their duty to study Russian as seriously as they study English” struck home too. As someone peripherally involved with Israeli diplomacy, I see value in knowing Arabic but also realize how remote that thought is to most Israeli Jews, whose mortgage payments take precedence over matters of state.

    And yes to Y who noted that Haaretz is the only paper in Israel to consider at depth Arab/Palestinian issues.

    For the record I’m posting below the editorial in the original Hebrew. (I have no idea how to “justify right” in WordPress. Hat, you’re welcome to fix if you do.)

    ללמוד ערבית ברצינות

    מעמד השפה הערבית במערכת החינוך הישראלית נדחק, עד כדי היעלמות. יש לתמוה על עובדה זו במדינה ש–20% מאוכלוסייתה הם ערבים, רבים מאזרחיה עלו אליה ממדינות דוברות ערבית, והיא עצמה נמצאת באזור שכולו כמעט דובר ערבית.

    מאז שנת 1948 נלמדת הערבית במדינת ישראל בצורה לא עקבית ובכפוף להנחיות שונות ומשונות. כיום, לדוגמה, כפי שדיווחה אתמול ירדן סקופ ב”הארץ”, במחוז הצפון מוגדרת הערבית כמקצוע חובה כבר מבית הספר היסודי, אך ההנחיה אינה חלה על בתי הספר בזרם הממלכתי הדתי. במחוזות אחרים לימודי ערבית מוגדרים כלימודי חובה רק בחטיבת הביניים, אך ברבים מבתי הספר ניתן לבחור בינם לבין לימודי צרפתית. באחרונה ביטל שר החינוך, שי פירון, את חובת לימוד הערבית בכיתה י’, אך חובה זו ממילא לא נאכפה כראוי, ורק מספר קטן של תלמידים ניגשו לבחינות הבגרות בערבית.

    התוצאה של הנחיות לא אחידות אלו, בנוסף לתוכניות לימודים שעברו טלטלות ושינויים ולעובדה שמערכת החינוך נמנעת לרוב מלהעסיק מורים ערבים, היודעים את השפה על בוריה, היא לימודי ערבית ברמה נמוכה, שאינם מקנים לתלמידים שליטה בשפה זו.

    לימודי ערבית נקשרים על פי רוב לקונוטציה שלילית של “שפת האויב”, ומרביתם נעשים מתוך מוטיווציה להכשיר את דור העתיד של המודיעין. אין זה מופרך להניח, כי לימודים בדרך כזאת אינם מעוררים גישה חיובית לא לשפה ולא לדובריה, והם תורמים לריחוק ולחשדנות, הקיימים ממילא בין יהודים לערבים.

    מן הראוי שמדינת ישראל תראה בערבית שפה רשמית לא רק על הנייר ותגבה את ההצהרה על כך בצעדים מעשיים. על משרד החינוך לקבוע תוכנית לימוד אחידה לכל בתי הספר, ובה קריטריונים אחידים ללימודי חובה, שיחולו גם על החינוך הממלכתי הדתי. בראש ובראשונה על המשרד לשלב מורים ערבים, המכירים את השפה, המדוברת והספרותית, ולהכשיר מורים נוספים, ערבים ויהודים, ללימוד ערבית.

    לימודי הערבית בבתי הספר אינם צריכים להיות חשובים פחות, בצורה כה משמעותית, מלימודי האנגלית, שאיש אינו מטיל ספק בנחיצותם. ככלות הכל, ישראל היא חלק מהמזרח התיכון, הערבי ברובו, ומן הראוי שאזרחיה ישקיעו יותר בלימוד השפה של שכניהם הקרובים ביותר.

  76. Paul: I pasted your first Hebrew paragraph into GT, which right-justified it but never arrived at a translation. “Wird übersetzt…” appeared in the box, that was all. Is that paragraph self-referential, by any chance ?

  77. OK, after waiting a few minutes, while occasionally pressing the “übersetzen” button, I got a German translation that makes no sense. This is the English rendition: “Status of Arabic Israeli education system is pushed to the point of disappearing. Has to wonder about the fact that 20% of the country’s population are Arabs, many citizens went to Arabic-speaking countries, and she is almost entirely in Arabic.”

    You seem to have a penchant for recondite prose…

  78. I put the Hebrew stuff in blockquote to see if that would help, but it didn’t. No idea how to fix it, sorry!

  79. You seem to have a penchant for recondite prose…

    Moi?

    I presume that GT’s rendering of a passable translation into English, while fumbling badly going into German, is due to a much larger corpus of parallel English/Hebrew texts (Pace Gesenius).

    As you probably know, a German text is about 15 percent longer than its English parallel. French is similarly longer than English, but English is about 35 percent longer than its Hebrew parallel. One reason is that most Hebrew prepositions are formed by a single letter prefixed to the next word, as is the definite article. Another is that certain one-word Hebrew verb constructions take three words in English. Too, Hebrew does just fine with no present tense of the verb to be. All of which must tax GT. The Hebrew version of the editorial contains 306 words; its English translation in Haaretz contains 408. GT did it with a spare 405.

  80. Yes, but in “and she is almost entirely in Arabic” what does “she” refer to ?

  81. Hat: Add the attribute dir=”rtl” to the blockquote element you added. That should also correct the problem that the final period in each paragraph appears at the right end of its line rather than the left end; at least in Chrome.

  82. In Firefox too.

  83. Meaning this:

    <blockquote dir=”rtl”>… ללמוד ערבית ברצינות </blockquote>

  84. It worked! Thanks, both of you.

  85. what does “she” refer to ?

    This is GT’s translation of the first paragraph:

    Status of Arabic Israeli education system is pushed to the point of disappearing. Has to wonder about the fact that 20% of the country’s population are Arabs, many citizens went to Arabic-speaking countries, and she is almost entirely in Arabic .

    And here’s my fix-up:

    The status of Arabic in the Israeli education system has been pushed to the point of disappearance. One must wonder about this when 20 percent of the country’s population is Arab, many of its citizens emigrated from Arabic-speaking countries, and Israel herself is situated almost entirely Arabic-speaking region.

    It worked! Thanks, both of you.

    Terrific. Thanks to all. I’ll try to implement in future posts. But meanwhile I’ll forward to a webmaster who’s been struggling with this in a bilingual-bidirectional commercial blog.

  86. Oops: . . . and Israel herself is situated in an almost entirely Arabic-speaking region.

  87. David Marjanović says:

    Hans: that strikes me as extremely representative – except that, to “MSA is something you read and write”, I would add “or recite, or listen to”. Some unusually motivated teachers try to encourage conversation in MSA, but by and large, it’s socially unacceptable; MSA is primarily for one-way communication, for addressing an audience. Even talk show guests rarely maintain consistent MSA, although they certainly make some use of it.

    That’s actually fairly close to the situation in Austria (Standard German vs. dialects and Viennese “mesolect”).

    But I never hear anybody even wonder, if a math teacher in front of all shouldn’t know math, a German teacher German and so on. No, it’s all about pedagogic tricks to make the students feel cosy – at reduced fiscal expenses.

    Interesting, because in Austria it’s the opposite: future teachers study their subjects, but most are hardly taught any pedagogics. Austria’s PISA results are, and continue to be, abysmal.

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