Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Writing in a Language Other Than Your Own

It is interesting to see how, at the time Arabic-speaking Gulf countries complain about the morbidity of their own language, an American university in Qatar is celebrating "the creative possibilities for expressing oneself and one's experiences through writing - in a language other than his native tongue."

"The Writer's Craft: Teaching Creative Writing in Qatar", edited by Amal Al Malki, Ph.D., assistant teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, is a book based on a collection of essays written by students of Al Malki's creative writing course - in English.

Al Malki says that her students "were encouraged to acquire both comfort and competence in a variety of English genres - but, not really to mimic the English of a native speaker."

Even more fascinating is how Al Malki explains the difference between writing in Arabic versus writing in English: "Many students in Education City had grandparents who were illiterate, and have parents who are literate primarily in Arabic. The students find themselves the first generation cultivating two languages, and two identities. They see the Arabic language as the language of family and religion, and English as their global self - the language in which they can relate their pride in their Arabic heritage to the world."

I have seen and experienced very similar sentiments among first and second generation migrants in Australia - but it didn't relate to "pride in one's heritage" as much as to the innate ability of English to express the inexpressible in Arabic - alternative identities, erotica, technology, theories of science that have not yet caught in Arabic, for which there are no terminologies in that language.

Arabs face huge obstacles in gaining access to western knowledge, the most significant hurdle being the language barrier between them and the industrialised
nations to the north that generate the majority of technical/social/philosophical innovations.

This situation is further complicated by the lack of clarity regarding the correct Arabic equivalent for numerous technical/scientific terms. The region speaks various dialects, and there is often no distinct or standard term for technological innovations. Often, Arabs from different countries in the region are forced to use a third language (mostly English) in order to communicate that sort of knowledge.

I am not a proponent of conspiracy theories, but when much of the teaching material at science courses in Middle Eastern universities is only available in either English or French as there are no Arabic translations, while students are often given texts in English or French while receiving instruction in Arabic during class time, it makes one wonder how Arabic could ever evolve and catch up?

This is a proverbial shooting yourself in the foot.

It is also a great time for lexicographers of all colours to start producing real dictionaries for a real, 21st century, Arab world. Enough esoterica. Sufis need technology, too :-)

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

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