Why do Arabs not care about Arabic but fuss about Arabism?


This is an excerpt from an article by Faisal Al Qasim who is more known for the debating programme he hosts on Al Jazeera:

لماذا يا جماعة؟ لماذا أصبحت لغتنا كالأيتام على مأدبة اللئام؟ لماذا هذه الإهانات المتعمدة للغة الشعر؟ وقد يكون الأمر محمولاً لو اقتصر على المضيفات على متن الطائرات. لكنه أكثر خطورة في الفضائيات العربية. فبعض الفضائيات تحث مذيعاتها كما سمعت على استخدام لغة عامية رخيصة ممجوجة بدلاً من اللغة العربية المحترمة. ولا داعي لذكر بعض الفضائيات التي تبدو مذيعاتها كما لو أنهن يتفنن في إيذاء اللغة العربية وتخريبها. لكن هؤلاء المذيعات لا يترددن في إظهار عضلاتهن اللغوية في اللغات الأجنبية على الشاشة. فقد دهشت ذات مرة وأنا استمع لواحدة من تلك المذيعات وهي تتحدث في برنامجها بالانجليزية. لقد حاولت قصارى جهدي أن اصطاد لها خطأ بسيطاً، لكنني فشلت. فقد كانت انجليزيتها ـ تمام التمام ـ نطقاً وقواعد بحيث لا يمكن تمييزها عن الانجليز أنفسهم، بالرغم من أنها تعلمت الانجليزية في بلدها أيضا كما تعلمت العربية. لماذا ترانا نتهافت على إتقان اللغات الأجنبية، بينما نتهاون شر تهاون في تعلم لغتنا الأصلية؟ لماذا هذا الاستهتار باللغة العربية؟ ألا يصل ذلك إلى حد التآمر الرهيب؟

What intrigued me most in his article was the idea that it may be yet another conspiracy on the Arabs, so that they lose their language. I am starting to think that there is a conspiracy of epic proportions which aims to make Arabs regard everything as a conspiracy against them. Arabs are probably part of the conspirators although the conspiracy is so well crafted that they don’t even realize it.

I don’t want to be a kill-joy, but I think that Arabs don’t cherish their language (in the sense of preferring to use it rather than other languages or dialects) simply because they don’t find it useful anymore. You cannot force yourself to use a language just because it happens to be yours, unless you have some identity issues. You use a language when it is useful to you and serves your purposes better. This is why some languages die and no conscious human effort could ever bring them back to life. It is sad, but this is how languages are: their main objective is to be useful for communication, if that is no longer the case, they simply fall out of use. The equivalent of natural selection in living organisms. The second erroneous assumption the author makes is to link the choice of language used for communication with caring for the language. I prefer to use English, but it does not mean I do not care about Arabic or even other languages. It does worry me that Arabic might die out completely, but that is mostly because our holy book is in Arabic and I think it is a real advantage to be able to read and understand it in the language it was revealed in. If that weren’t the case, I doubt I would feel that distressed if Arabic fell out of use entirely (like Latin did). After all, those who’d be interested in it for whatever reason will always seek to learn it. So where would the problem be exactly? And so what if a language mutates gradually and imperceptibly into an eventually completely distinct new language?

It is interesting to reflect on why language usually constitutes a big part of our sense of identity and how people get so hung up about it. In the case of Arabic, it is not even the language of most Arab countries, but ‘being Arab’ is a significant part of how many people in Arab countries perceive their identity.

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About algerianna

I enjoy writing, well communicating to be more precise as writing is somewhat a solitary activity. I tend to think that life is beautiful and interesting but people tend to over-complicate it. I like thinking about people and societies (netfelssaf like we say in Algerian). Apart from that, am relatively begnin.

4 thoughts on “Why do Arabs not care about Arabic but fuss about Arabism?

  1. Conspiracy theories are usually denied by the governments, but in the Arab world the governments themselves create and spread them. Remember the “foreign hand” concept we hear every now and then in many Arab countries. And of course everything bad happening to the Arabs is the result of an evil act of the Jews. During the Egypto-Egypt/Algerian crisis, many voices mentioned this Jewish hand and it seemed like every Arab was aware of it, yet none was able to put on some energy to stop it. Is it a Jewish conspiracy that the Arabs know the truth and decide to ignore it?! I doubt it.
    I am not denying that foreign states (including Arab ones) do stuff against our individual Arab states, some people call it diplomacy. But we must admit our governments are so happy to have this concept handy for use whenever they feel some popular pressure. It’s very comfy.

    Anyways, that was another topic. Back to the language.
    Arabic has one only difference with other languages, which is the fact it’s the language of Quran. This, in my opinion, makes its learning important if not mandatory.

    So if we forget about this point, Arabic is just like any other language which one may like, dislike, learn, or not. This is true on a personal level.
    Then you have the group level, the country.
    Like most of the colonised countries, Arabs used the language as an identity vector to oppose to the coloniser and any assimilation/melting risks. Gandhi encouraged the Indian élite to use Gujarati and other Indian languages in official meetings, and considered it as a proof of national pride.

    Post-colonial countries have in majority followed the European Nation State model. It was an expected reaction after a national independence was aquired against a foreign state after a national war. Though, most of the newly created states had no national existence or feeling before the colonisation. So the new rulers had to find a gathering vector, and language being one of them. This explains why many African countries preserved the coloniser’s language because it was the only one everybody shared.
    Arab states naturally chose Arabic as a lingua franca which gathered the populations under their rule. But instead of developing it, the elites (political, economic, scientific) kept using a foreign language, which usually was/is the coloniser’s tongue (Imagine if we had been colonized by Estonia!). This created the general feeling that Arabic is useless and like some people say in Algeria, Arabic is the language of religion and poetry.

    It’s true that languages disappear when they become no longer useful, but it’s the languages beholders who make them useless. I agree on what you say, but only on an individual level. I think it’s the duty of such nation-states to make their national languages evolve. Languages get their strength from their intrinsic values but also from their countries’ economic, scientific or societal situations. You say this is all due to identity issues. You are right in a sense because it’s related to the very nature of a nation-state country. But if today’s middle class Algerians are talking to their children in French and giving them names such as Melissa and what not, it’s not because they have an identity issue. It’s rather because of the (bad) situation of the country and because their opinion on the Arabic language is based on how this language was implemented after our independence and how our ministers council is still held in French.

    • You make many valid points:

      1- Arab fondness and conscious gullibility vis-à-vis conspiracy theories: I think it has to do with our engrained fatalism, Arab people are by and large fatalists. To change this mentality will take decades.

      2- It’s always the Jews wot did it syndrome: show a severe lack of imagination in Arab peoples. I mean, look at conspiracy theories developped by Americans for example, UFO’s and what not. On a more serious note, I wonder if the conspiracy theories imagined by people tell us something about their culture and insecurities? They must do, hence their usefulness as a political manipulation tool.

      3- Language and national idendity: interesting view that this tends to be one of the foundations of the modern Nation State. I think it is true, empires never bothered about enforcing a single language, they were more accepting of diversity. In any case, the assumption that language can unify people needs reevaluating, it clearly doesn’t.

      4- Language and holy books/ religion: it is undeniable that a holy book honors and dignifies a language in human perspective (God of course does not have favourite languages). But in the case of Arabic, this has resulted in relentless attempts to ‘preserve’ it and we all know that preserving the language might result in killing it. The method they adopted was to effectively seal it off from the ‘gentiles’ if I can use this term. Of course, this was politically motivated too – the conflict and resentment between Persians and Arabs testifies to this. The veneration which Muslims feel for the holy book was projected on Arabic, and this has done more to damage than good to Arabic as a language because it deprived it of renewal mecanisms, which then pushed people to rely on dialects or other less sacred languages.

      5- Language and socio-economics: not sure if these are related, I think it falls within the useability and usefulness of a language. What is perhaps more relevent is the need of the middle classes to differentiate themselves from ‘inferior classes’. A class conscious society will always have a thing with language.

      What I thought of after publishing this post was language as a vehicle of culture. If we lose our language, does it necessary follow that we will lose our culture? Or even religion?

  2. When I mentioned the link between languages and socio-economics I was thinking more of the international influence and spreading of the language. Look at the Chinese language today or English in the past century.

    As to your question, I think language itself is part of the culture, and at the same time many aspects of the culture can be grasped/transmitted only using that culture’s language. A virtuous circle which is vicious at the same time.

    Now regarding religion, namely Islam, I gotta say I have no doubt that losing (100%) the language will lose the religion.

    Check this video out. Ok he’s Lebanese but still, he is from Mashreq who are supposed to master the language for they are the real ones. The video doesn’t only prove his weakness with Arabic but also the fact he didn’t take a speech at the parliament seriously enough to get prepared…. May be another aspect of the Arab culture?

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