Dubai: As the younger generation in some corners of the Arab world becomes more inclined to use the English language in their daily life, the emergence of a new alphabet dubbed Arabizi that uses English characters to phonetically spell Arabic words has sparked concern among educators.
As Dubai, for example, becomes an international business hub where English is the main spoken language, some experts argue that Arabic language and the Arab identity may be eroded as new trends such as Arabizi become a common phenomenon among youth.
Writing and typing Arabic using English numbers and letters — Arabizi (spelled 3arabezee) — is raising eyebrows among Arab elders who worry that the excessive use of Arabizi will weaken the Arabic language.
Some Arab youth believe that the creation of this new script simply makes their life easier when communicating using modern mobile devices.
“We naturally mix Arabic and English in our spoken communication so it easier to just type everything in English because constantly switching the keyboard is not convenient. I mainly use Arabizi in social media because I use my spoken language to express my self, and my spoken language happens to be a mixture of both Arabic and English,” said Mihad Kashif, Sudanese, 23, who works in social media.
Anas Abu Asabeh, Jordanian, 23, stated that everyone understands the new language except for the older generation: “I use it because it is easier and everyone understands it, unless if they are from the older generation. I personally don’t think it has a negative effect on me because I studied in Arabic schools where I learned its basics and practised it.”
Libyan Danya Bashir, 23, believes that Arabizi brings the world a bit closer.
“I don’t think that it has a negative effect, we mix Arabic and English in our spoken language anyways and I think that it helps those who didn’t study Arabic but were raised around people who speak it orally to communicate with each other. I have non-Arab friends who learned it and use it when they text me.”
Assistant Professor of Translation at the American University of Sharjah, Sattar Izwaini explained that people have become so active in writing and reading a foreign language such as English or French on a daily basis that typing Arabic in foreign characters is a natural activity now.
“People write Arabic using the Latin script because switching the keyboards is impractical and they have become so familiar with writing in the technology’s [PC or mobile] English settings that their fingers got used to it. Being distant from writing and reading the Arabic script can have negative effects as not getting exposed to the language on a daily basis can affect one’s spelling.”
Izwaini said that many Arab students are currently struggling with Arabic because of the curriculums that are taught in private schools.
“Private schools may teach Arabic once a week for one hour and the only reason they include it in their curriculum is probably because it is mandatory. Language is an aspect of identity, it is who we are and though learning new languages is important, there should be a balance, we should not neglect our mother tongue in order to not be detached from our society, land and heritage.”