Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Anglo-Arab for lack of a better term?

The Saudi Gazette has this to say about the use of English words in Arabic:

"Modern Arabic is classified as a macro language with 27 sub-languages spoken in countries ranging from the Kingdom itself to Mali, in Africa. Not one of these forms of Arabic is immune to the influence of non-Arabic words (...) In particular, the advent of technological, educational and even social changes has meant that hundreds of new words have been inserted into the Arabic language of today (...) A Saudi student pursuing a degree in accounting in the United States claims that sometimes there isn’t any alternative but to use English terms. “I use financial terms in English that are easily understood by Arabs and non-Arabs alike,” he remarked. “The reason is that we study (for our degree) in English, but also because some financial terms have no Arabic equivalent.”"

And although one Saudi linguists sees this as a positive cross-fertilization of Arabic, another is not so happy with it:

"Prof. Wael Al-Omari : “Inserting non-Arabic words into Arabic and code-switching (changing from one language to another in the midst of utterance) is noticeable and the reason is a kind of defeatism,” he said. “One looks up to other languages and cultures and forgets his own.”“The effect of that is withdrawal from our own language, our own culture and the creation of a missing generation that will not be able to sustain, or even know either their culture or history,” he added. "

And a piece of advice - "To keep our language updated, we should Arabize (to give an Arabic term or form to) each new technological, economic and political term, instead of using non-Arabic terms."

Localizing scientific terminology is not easy, especially if you consider the following factors:

(a) The fact that the Arab world has been divided between French and English cultural impact, and this means their scientific terminology comes from two distinct linguistic groups.
(b) The number of dialects used in the Middle East
(c) The fact that there has been very little indigenous scientific progress for a long time
(d) The fact that there has been very little collective work by linguists in localizing scientific terminology since the 1960s. Lots of solo acts, as you can see from the variety of terms proposed for a common English term, though.
(e) High levels of illiteracy in Arabic, so no widespread use of scientific terminology (or any other!)

I had an interesting experience trying to find the Arabic for "pragmatics" (as in a field of linguistics). One dictionary translated it as "pragmatism" (as in philosophy). Another, specialized in linguistic terms, had it as semiology!! In the end, I found out why.. A colleague on Proz wrote:

"The word, and I think even the branch, is simply not found in Arabic. Unfortunately, in the absence of an Arab linguistic authority, it becomes the task of translators to coin their own terms. An example of that is Al-Khuli's definition of the term. Because when one says (علم الرموز = semiology) alone, the listener wouldn't expect that to mean anything that has any relation with linguistics. Al-Mawrid is, of course, a hopeless case in lexicography, so it shouldn't be even consulted on such terms, because they won't be there. The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines pragmatics as (The branch of linguistics dealing with language in use, and the contexts in which it is used, including such matters as deixies, turn taking in conversation, text organization, presupposition, and implicature. "

Sort of reminds me of a question another colleague once asked "What do you do when a dictionary is WRONG and you know it??"

No comments: