Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Our Own Sykes-Picot

The Gulf News recently published an opinion piece worth reading [I have fixed the English a little, and rearranged it so that it makes sense to Western readers]:

We Arabs are the worst collaborators against our own language. We always talk about conspiracies being woven against the Arabic language, while, in fact, we are Arabic's arch enemies.

Instead of calling upon all Arab satellite channels to use proper Arabic in their broadcasts, some Arab media officials do exactly the opposite. They call upon male and female presenters to use their colloquial regional dialects instead, which can hardly be understood in other countries.(...) It is true they have their own accents, but the language they speak is perfect English, while, on the other hand, the colloquial Arabic spoken by the Libyans, for instance, has nothing to do with proper Arabic. That's why no other Arab can understand it well when spoken on television.Arab films (..) tend to portray wedding registrars who use Quranic Arabic as clowns, as if telling the viewers not to learn this type of language, when they should.

(...) Isn't this a lingual Sykes-Picot, argues an Arab analyst? Isn't it enough that the Arab world has been carved up geographically and politically by the British and the French colonialists? Why do we try to fragment it linguistically now through the media? Is this done on purpose by media officials so that they prevent any kind of cultural communication amongst Arabs, which might lead later to real unification envisaged by Arab pan-Arab nationalists?

(...) It is true that the Arab satellite television channels that use proper Arabic have, as I mentioned in an earlier article, succeeded in unifying the Arab people where Arab nationalist parties have failed, but the TV stations that encourage the use of dialects have a parochial regionalist slant. In other words, they are an extension of Sykes-Picot.

[and so on and so forth - bad teachers, national leaders who can't string a sentence correctly, etc. etc..]

[Then the bomb]

Thanks to the West for protecting our language!

One cannot but also thank the BBC for using the best standard Arabic in its broadcast over half a century, while our supposedly national televisions and radios are using slang ‘cockney' Arabic.

And were it not for Google or Microsoft, the Arabic language would probably have missed out on the Internet and computer revolution. Thanks to Microsoft, proper Arabic has found a place for itself in the computer industry. And thanks to Google, Arabs can now use their proper Arabic to look for information on the World Wide Web. Were it left to Arabs themselves, they would have debased their language as they have done over the years.

[Not sure about the last part - Google just pulls up any rubbish in Arabic letters as Arabic, be it machine produced, or even Dari]

The unity of written Arabic is a myth, too. I have never been able to stomach literary works or academic materials written by scholars from North Africa, because the syntax is French.

The myth hits hardest when working as a copy editor. Businesses want to target the "Arab" world (another myth) but what sells in Lebanon does not sell in Riyadh or Aden. Just try selling car parts.

One could add to this myth the problem of almost non-existent technical terminology. Although many Arabists have tried unifying the terms used in pure and applied sciences, localisms are still more than common, and more than necessary.

I wouldn't blame the Arabic language teachers - they are bred to teach a language that is archaic and does not move with times. In the age of the Internet, fusha is making less and less sense to the younger generation. Time to stop being our own arch enemies, and modernise this dinosaur.

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