Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Linguistic Zeal

From Gulf Daily News

A BILL which MPs said would have reinforced Arabic as Bahraini's official language was blocked by the Shura Council yesterday.

They said it would cause legal and practical problems, particularly if there were errors in the translation of documents, though the vote against was swung by just four votes.

Parliament had approved a bill which would have obliged all ministries and government organisations to produce their official letters and other documents in Arabic, with a second language as an option.

All official (such as road names) and commercial signs would have had to be in Arabic, with an option to put the name of franchises in another language, in smaller size.

The bill also stipulated that foreign and local companies have to present their products in the market mainly in the Arabic language, while Bahraini products sold abroad should only have the tag "Made in Bahrain" in Arabic.

It proposed fines of BD50 and BD200 for violators, while government employees would be punished according to the Civil Service laws.

Council services committee chairman Dr Bahiya Al Jishi was in favour, saying that Bahrain's Constitution stipulated that the country's official language was Arabic.

"In reality Arabic is second to English, which shouldn't be the case," she said.

"We have nothing against other languages, but they should be secondary, with Arabic being the country's main language, whether in official letters or signs."

"The bill doesn't speak about medical prescriptions or studies, considering that we know that it is very difficult to implement."

But council public utilities and environment affairs committee vice-chairman Abdulrahman Jawahery said that the bill would be very difficult to implement as a whole.

"Most of the experts in the government - whether consultants or engineers - are expatriates and having them present their letters in Arabic would be a waste of time and money, as translators must be hired," he said.

"Having people sign documents that they cannot understand is against the law and in translation words could be omitted or misinterpreted and this could harm the person signing it."

Council foreign affairs, defence and national security committee chairman Abdulrahman Jamsheer said that it would be ridiculous to have the names of franchises translated into Arabic. "For example, if a brand name is Global then it would be illogical to have 'Alami' as the main sign, because everyone knows the company by its original brand name," he said.


Ok, the zeal misfired because it was poorly thought through. But the Arabists will continue pushing for it, for two reasons:

(a) because Arabic is the language of the Koran - forget about nationalism, that's not really the issue

(b) because they see that the standard of Arabic in their country is deteriorating, and that is bad for their cultural heritage.

If they manage to think it through so that it does not adversely affect overseas business, and if they - like Saudi Arabia - start seeing the light and educate their own instead of depending on expats, then that might create a minor renaissance for translators into English. I might even change bases :-)

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at http://www.arabic.com.au/.

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