That’ll Do It: Jail Journalists for Using Colloquial Arabic

In a spot of overreach from the Cairo-based Academy of the Arabic Language — which has previously confined itself, by and large, to academic research and the production of dictionaries — they’ve proposed a new law to criminalize the use of colloquial Arabic rather than Modern Standard, or literary, Arabic:

This bit of linguistic protectionism, which also targets foreign terms, would come with a hefty penalty:

According to the proposed law, of which Ahram Online has obtained a copy, journalists could be fined up to EGP 200,000 and face a potential six months in jail for the use of colloquial or foreign language in their published news pieces.

The only exception seems to be for “excerpts of literary works that are written originally in” colloquial, although one assumes they shouldn’t be the sort of excerpts that raise anyone’s blood pressure.

The proposed law “also asserts that formal Arabic is the official language of Egypt and no other language should be used in any official memos, contracts, or official documents.”

This impossible-to-enforce proposed law even sets its sights on “street advertisements, commercial posters, names of shops, and information on products sold in Egypt.”

According to Ahram Online, the proposed law “will be debated in parliament before any decisions is reached.”

The risible overreach of this law — no Egyptian Arabic on billboards? — surely dooms it to footnote-dom. It’s nonetheless interesting to note that some fellows in a room thought this was a good way to sandbag the the Arabic language, saving it from crass, vulgar, and easily relatable intruders. English certainly has its own version: Indeed, it’s interesting to imagine what sort of hand-wringing dystopic-pushback there would be were African-American Vernacular English to see widespread usage in newspapers.

It’s also interesting to note they left breathing room for literature written in colloquial, although one imagines they would not feel the same about literature for children.

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Categories: colloquial / classical

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