Thursday, February 25, 2010

Language Attrition Reversed?

Aaron's posting on language attrition suffered by native speakers who live overseas is something I can personally identify with. The sole difference here being the fact that I am a linguist by trade, and so I am even more aware of it.

I have to admit, however, that I was taken aback when a colleague made the comment that my Arabic was "weird". On further investigation, it turned out that it wasn't as much attrition as it was acquisition. Arabic is a rich language spoken with over 20 different dialects all the way from Western Sahara and Mali in Africa to the eastern board of the Arab Gulf. These dialects are often mutually incomprehensible.

What happened in my case is that I had a solid knowledge of Sudanese and Egyptian dialects, but that in Australia, most of my friends were Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian and Iraqi. Over the last 15 years, I had therefore acquired a substantial vocabulary of various Levantine dialects, often pronounced with a Cairene accent. The result, to say the least, would surely be weird to any ears other than mine!

The solution to that was, of course, to revert to my strongest dialects when speaking and risk not being understood anyway by people from other dialects. Which can be fun, because they in turn learn from you, too..

Aaron is facing the dilemma of speaking proper English, or speaking English Azerbaijani way. These days, with a team of five translators each from a different Arab country, we solved it by simply talking to each other in English.

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

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