/The Economist/: Arabic is Not Dying, After All

Arabic spoken here...and Economist thinks it will go on being spoken here.

The April Economist rebuts arguments made in The National that say, in essence: The sky is falling! Arabic’s dying!

Indeed, who knows, the sky might be falling. Once the ozone comes unstuck, perhaps the whole tent falls on our heads. But The Economist yawns at the idea that Arabic is dying.

It’s true, they say, “Even such leaders as the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, and Jordan’s foreign-educated King Abdullah struggle with its [Arabic’s] complicated grammar.” Nonetheless, the language is still alive and kicking. Evidence: Qur’an, Million’s Poet.

Of course, leaders are a funny prism for looking at language. First, leaders often have trouble with language. I heard Boris Yeltsin stumble through speeches when I lived in Russia, and George W. certainly had his travails with grammar. And, in any case, apparently King Abdullah’s Arabic isn’t so bad, according to the Angry Arab:

I detest King PlayStation but his Arabic has become quite passable, unlike that of the much intellectually inferior, mini-Hariri.

And, as Maryanne notes below, the Economist doesn’t properly emphasize that learning Arabic grammar is not like learning English. Fos’ha has both different words and different grammatical structures from 3ameya, or the colloquial language. Not knowing fos’ha is not the same as not knowing Arabic.

In any case, I thought the most interesting part of the Economist piece was this: “Arabic is the essence of Arab identity. Arabs are inordinately proud of their linguistic heritage.” (Italics mine.)

Are Arabs inordinately proud of their linguistic heritage? More, say, than the French? Yes, Arabic is the language of the Qur’an, but I don’t associate that with an “inordinate” pride. Perhaps that’s the way it looks from abroad. I’ll have to go abroad and check.

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2 comments

  1. Arabic is an incredibly difficult language and the spoken language that differs from country to country enormously (I can’t understand Algerians to save my life) is also totally different from the written language. Basically, students in Arabic speaking countries are learning their written, classical language as a second language that they will almost never speak. It’s hardly surprising that they struggle with it. Most of them get better marks in English classes than in their Arabic, but at the same time, I would hardly say that this means that they speak English better than Arabic. Learning basic English or street Arabic is not the same as being seriously fluent in written English or classical Arabic.

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  2. No, and /The Economist/ doesn’t really take the time to explain why it’s difficult to learn fos’ha.

    There are also a number of issues being mashed together here: the spoken language, illiteracy, the difficulty of learning fos’ha.

    Still, I guess it’s the “inordinately proud” comment I found surprising and interesting.

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