Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Arabic language day: Qatari style

Arabic language day: Qatari style
Posted in Applied Linguistics,Arabic language,Arabic slang,Arabizi,Linguistic relativity,Sociolinguistics by FFSS on March 16, 2011
Tags: Arabic language, Qatar, Qatar University

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It seems the winter is going slowly and it’s time for those beautiful long walks again, and for those of us who love a challenging walk this is a good time. Though now I’m told the next time I am in Scotland to try the Munro walk, actually I call it a climb, apparently it’s not for the faint hearted so I’ll have a go and see- of course the best part are the breathtaking views. I have three of four posts to put up, of course I could not resist looking at the speeches of Gaddafi and writing about them from a linguist’s point of view (they are quite interesting, and I hope the Libyan people will soon be saved from this situation our prayers are with them).The other one is a review of an unpublished book chapter that I was sent a while ago, and it addresses the effects of the English language on the Arabic language in Gulf schools- anyone interested should read it, well-written, well researched. Thank you and welcome to the new subscribers to the blog, I hope you will get some nice posts in your inbox and that you won’t be disappointed; and thanks to the suggestion that I should blog more often. I will do my best, I can only think of one clichéd excuse ‘there is so much work to do’ and I hate to blog rubbish since I think my readers deserve good things.

Right back to our topic, one that is once again at the heart of Arabizi (Arabizi- How we use Arabic today©2011) the fascination and inquisitiveness into how Arabic native speakers use their language today. Is the suggestion, which often offends natives, that Arabic is dying or being lost by its speakers a true statement or one unfounded? Well to answer that you’ll need to carry out some research but here based on newspaper articles we make an analysis of the state of Arabic language right now, since newspapers reflect some type of reality.

I came across the post below on a Qatari newspaper on the 4th of March 2011, titled: ‘Qatar University holds Arabic language day’. Then it occurred to me that I never quite grasp why it’s important to celebrate one’s language and mark a special day for it, if one uses it every day in all communication?! But then, thinking this idea over and in looking closely at the context, and my own personal experience in travelling extensively in the region- it dawned upon me: the Arabic is never really spoken in public. It does not behave like the official languages in other parts of the world. Arabic in Qatar although the official language, in actual fact is only spoken by a minority, the majority speak English, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Indonesian and I think Thai (I don’t know the exact distributions). The schools do not cater to promote proficiency in the teaching of Arabic, and English is becoming ever more popular as a medium of instruction (I will discuss this in the next few posts when reviewing the book chapter I mentioned above). So the result is that the language is in danger of being lost or shifted or…whatever one wishes to label this process- but one fact is real that it is not as stable as a functioning official language should be, hence the worry. Hence the special language festivals and days to mark and reinforce the importance of the language, I cannot say that this is aimed at the non-native speakers for there is also an absence of well organised institutes that teach Arabic as a second language. And the factors go on and on, I will stop now and let you read the short article pasted without editing and at the bottom some of my thoughts on it:

———————————————————– enjoy!

Qatar University holds Arabic Language Day

DOHA: Qatar University (QU) College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) held its third Arabic Language Day celebration this week, under the theme ‘My Language and the Other.’

The programme included an exhibition of students’ work highlighting excerpts from Dr Al Bastian’s widely-acclaimed publications, poetry recitation, and discussions on issues of Arab and Islamic communities.

QU VP and Chief Academic Officer Dr Sheikha bint Jabor Al Thani gave the opening address in the presence of Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage H E Dr Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, guest and founder of the Abdul Aziz Al Babtain Prize for Poetic Creativity Dr Abdul Aziz Al Babtain, members of QU leadership, Supreme Council of Education representatives, CAS Dean and faculty, staff, and students.

Dr Al Thani stressed the importance of promoting and celebrating the Arabic language and highlighted QU’s role in doing so.

“This event encourages communication and interaction with other languages and cultures. Our language is deep-rooted in genuine values and sentiments and is the best channel to showcase our ancient and vibrant heritage. It is everyone’s responsibility to honour our language and we have to exert every effort to develop and preserve it,” she said.

She outlined the many programmes that QU offers especially the Arabic for Non-Native Speakers (ANNS) programme which attracts international students, promotes Arab and Islamic culture, and boosts social and cultural openness.

Minister Al Kuwari pointed out the role the ministry plays to promote Arabic and Islamic language and culture.

He thanked QU for its participation in the activities celebrating Doha as the Capital of Arab Culture 2010.

CAS Dean Dr Kassim Shaaban noted that Arabic Language Day was acknowledged by the Arabic Language, Education, Culture, and Science Organisation (ALECSO) to be celebrated throughout the Arab world. He referred to some of the current challenges the language faces in competition with other languages and dialects.

“This however had the effect of increased awareness and interest in the Arabic language in terms of culture, science, and religion,” he said.


I often talk of the nature of language being more than just words and that seems to be a strong motivation for holding these days/events. Language allows people to understand the culture of the other, for it holds the key to the belief, customs, culture and even way of thinking for the speakers. If the language is lost the culture is lost and it’s as simple as that, I think the more I come across these types of writings the more I am convinced of that fact: language is more than mere words. At least the Qataris are trying to pre-empt the ‘death’ of their language and by default the death of their customs and culture. I am still on this journey of discovery and I hope one day I will understand the reality of language and its indispensible nature for the human being. Please share your views as always thanks for reading!




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The power of words: What the ‘revolution’ in Egypt illustrates
Posted in Applied Linguistics,Arabic slang,Arabizi,Linguistic relativity,Linguistics,Sociolinguistics,Some writings by FFSS on February 10, 2011
Tags: Applied Linguistics, Egypt, Egyptians

Image by StartAgain via Flickr
It has been a while since I jotted something down for the blog, wishing you all a wonderful new year both Gregorian or Chinese and I pray that peace comes to all peoples of the earth and that we all live our lives happily. I have a few topics to write about over the next few weeks, today I am revisiting one of my favourite topics (still trying to understand it in its true meaning) the power of language or more precisely the power of words.

As a linguist there is always that need to understand the power of words or the power of how people use language in all spheres of their life, and inevitably the effect of those words. One of the topics I have discussed on this blog time and time again is the fact that language is more than mere words and that these words have far reaching meanings and implications this was done most notably through the ever recurring ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis’ posts. In looking at the current events in Egypt (that at times are hard to watch because of the unbelievable violence, and the hurt of looking at such a beautiful country fall apart) one thing is clear language clearly plays a major role.

Dubbed as a revolution, we know that all revolutions whether intentionally organised or spontaneously supported and joined by people, have or move on what is termed as ‘slogans’. Slogans have a few characteristics: they are usually short this ensures that remembering them will not be hard, and depending on the language of the so called slogans they might rhyme, a further aid in helping people remember them. They are words that are repeated again and again to reinforce the feelings and stance(s) of the ‘protesters’ (not sure if that’s the right word- words can be sensitive! If they are called protesters or revolutionists what are the implications??) Slogans were very prominent in the French, Grenadian, Chinese and Russian revolutions, simple words to move the emotions the simple people who wanted more justice in their lives as they saw it at the time (See: The Power of words- Literacy and Revolution in South China 1949-95, by Glen Peterson, 1997). There were three common Bolshevik slogans during the 1917 revolution: 1. Factories for the workers, land for the peasants. 2. All power to the soviets. 3. Bread, and freedom! Short and easy to remember and I am sure even in non-technology days, these words spread fast because of the power of words.

In Egypt they have new simple slogans created at every step through this uprising of theirs, everyday new slogans appear and sometimes more than one in a day. What is amazing is that once it is uttered in Cairo, you find it is also uttered in Alexandria, Suez, Luxor, London, Washington, Indonesia, Malaysia, France, Belgium, Beirut, Amman (I could go on) and even Japan –all in the same Arabic words, in the same tune and vigour. Is that the power of words or what? When looking at these people outside Egypt chanting these slogans one can see their seriousness and earnestness in repeating those words, perhaps it’s the association they attach to the words?! This is something that has intrigued me for days and caused me to write this post, how the whole world has viewed the unfolding of events in Egypt in an unprecedented manner, and at the centre of it all language plays a major and central role (maybe for a linguist that’s the case and for a politics student it isn’t?). It’s almost as if those outside Egypt in their solidarity marches feel as the people feel in Cairo, any new slogan they repeat it, translate it and spread it. This reminds me of the basis of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) in which language, its repetition and what one associates with those words can help transform a person’s life for the better (maybe a topic for another post).

We cannot ignore the role of technology in all this, it is through the satellite TV stations that (live news coverage) people see the slogans or hear them chanted that they can then re-chant them. I do not think there has been anything like this in the history of popular uprising, revolutions or whatever one wishes to call them, where the words and aspirations of a people uttered in one corner of the earth are reiterated across the globe in the same tune, style and sincerity. I am not a historian (though history interests me) but I cannot remember of ever reading anywhere how the slogans of one group were reiterated and reverberated across the world in this way. In addition to the spoken slogans and the mimicking of those, there is also the power of the written words. Over the past fourteen days some pictures usually with a man or woman or child holding a banner with a message have become iconic in representing the events in Egypt. These same words are then take and re-written across the world by supporters of the people in Egypt, the power we are talking about here is doubly strong: speech and words. This was a short note on how I see language plays a major role or rather a powerful role in events such as these and that what is happening in Egypt is unprecedented on many fronts and one of those is the use of language (intentional or unintentional).

I don’t know how things will end in Egypt (though tonight we are hearing different things?) but I hope that peace and security will be restored in Egypt and that the wonderful kind-hearted Egyptian people will be at peace soon- Allah yahmeeki ya Masr wa yahmee sha3b Masr (May God protect Egypt and its people). Please share your views on this post as always I look forward to them, I am open to suggestions or ideas, and if I have not replied to any recent messages I apologise will do so soon.



Sources: Peterson, G (1997) ‘The Power of words- Literacy and Revolution in South China 1949-95’.

Wiki-answers: For Russian and French revolution information (slogans).


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