The cry for help to save Arabic


Al Jazirah

IN an article titled “The core of Arabic language”, Dr. Ziad Al-Drees gave ideas on how to preserve the Arabic language.

He asks what threatens the Arabic language most — foreign languages or the vernacular dialects?

Al-Drees put the dialects and foreign languages in the same context as for their relationship with the Arabic language. Perhaps he was talking about the classical Arabic, which used to be the colloquial language at one point of time, meaning it became the standard Arabic that we are proud of now much later.

Because the Qur’an was sent down in Arabic, it became the language of Islam and Muslims. However, as many researchers have mentioned and some of us might know, the Qur’an has many words adapted from other languages of the world.

The colloquial Arabic dialects were considered variations of the language and they continue to coexist with the classical Arabic. Researchers keep updating the standards of correct Arabic to suit the needs of modern writing and social media communication.

Nowadays no one uses classical Arabic for conversation or for writing. Standards of modern Arabic have overlapped classical Arabic. It absorbed terminology, expressions and metaphors from many other languages and vernacular dialects. In short, all colloquial variations are part of the Arabic language and so we don’t need to consider them as a threat.

Before I dwelled on the question of how foreign languages posed a grave threat to Arabic. What I meant by that was the new trend especially among the young generation. They believe that language is not an instrument to express one’s identity but is only tool of communication.

Here you can see Dr. Al-Drees shifting from the threat of foreign languages and regional dialects to the threat from beliefs, which is a totally different issue. Everyone agrees with Dr. Al-Drees and went on to say that people see the world through their language and that we live in separate worlds instead of a combined one due to multilingualism. Our language not only reflects our identities, but it also controls how we see the outside world and how we think. Our worldview is relative to the language we speak. The Sapir-whorf theory is a hypothesis known to all those who study languages.

Even as some researchers differ with the inevitability of the Arabic language controlling its speakers’ view of the world, the regional dialects reflect different views within a hypothetical one, which is Arabic as the common language.

Dr. Al-Drees says the ancient or modern human history has not recorded any proof for a civilization fully replacing its language. So we realize that the Arabic language is the wharf which the ships of our civilization set sail from.

However, that is only one half of the truth. History also has no record of a language that wasn’t influenced by other languages. On top of the list we have ancient Arabic that absorbed many words from the Persian vocabulary at the height of that civilization. We also brag about how the Arabic language played a role in the scientific awakening in the West. It is well known that modern English, like many other languages, developed by borrowing words from languages around the world.

Dr. Al-Drees says the argument that a language flourishes with the rise of its civilization (and vice versa) is flawed because there is no scientific evidence to support it.

The idea of differentiating a language from vernacular dialects is scientifically rejected. No standards have been found to measure the rise of any language.

Language is a way of communication and a means of recording intellectual achievements. The relationship of a language with a people’s identity is a metaphoric one. So I would like to tell Dr. Al-Drees that we are not crying for help. Life is all about developments and changes, and so does the language. Just like humans a language will stop changing only when it is abandoned or when it is dead.