Opinion | Columnists

Thanks to the West for protecting Arabic

Our national televisions and radios use slang 'cockney' Arabic in broadcasts

  • By Faisal Al Qasim, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 February 3, 2010
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Illustration: Luis Vazquez/Gulf News
  • Arab broadcasters are encouraged to do away with standard Arabic, which is understood by all Arabs, and use their local lingo.

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.

In a word, Arab broadcasters are encouraged to do away with standard Arabic, which is understood by all Arabs, and use their local lingo. 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 lingually now through the media? Don't the Scottish or the Welsh, for that matter, speak proper English on British TV channels?

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.

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.

Arab films have, in their turn, played a dubious role against the Arabic language. They tend to portray wedding registrars who use Quranic Arabic as clowns, as if they are telling the viewers not to learn this type of language, when they should, as the Quran is credited with preserving the Arabic language over the centuries.

Mistakes

Arab leaders and officials are no less culpable. Hardly one hears an Arab leader using proper Arabic. In actual fact most Arab leaders make horrible grammatical mistakes in their speeches, as if they are telling their people to do away with Arabic. One sometimes cannot but laugh when listening to an Arab leader as he commits numerous mistakes in a simple sentence, while at the same time they speak perfect English or French. It is really strange. Fancy the American president or the British prime minister speaking Chinese better than English.

And when it comes to teaching Arabic at Arab schools, the situation is just as bad, if not worse. Arab students spend scores of years learning Arabic to no avail. That's why one can hardly find an Arab intellectual or a doctor who masters Arabic. Even the Arab intelligentsia is hopeless when it comes to speaking proper Arabic. Why?

Because teachers of the Arabic language are the worst enemies of the language. They give you the impression that learning Arabic is more difficult than manufacturing the nuclear bomb, which is not at all the case, as Arabic is a very nice and logical language.

Funnily enough, I myself managed to learn proper Arabic in English. I remember one day I was offered a job at the BBC Arabic Section in London, but I was not sure I could pass the language test, so I started looking for Arabic books at the university library, but to no avail.

So I then started looking for English books that teach Arabic to find an excellent book which helped me relearn Arabic in a proper manner in a matter of months. Thanks to that English book I passed the hard exam. It is really funny I spent years learning Arabic in the Arab world to little avail. Strangely enough, the best Arabic- English dictionary was not made by an Arab linguist but by a German.

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.

Thanks to the West for protecting our language!

Dr Faisal Al Qasim is a Syrian journalist based in Doha.

Comments (3)

  1. Added 17:00 February 3, 2010

    Well written, I had the similar experience of Hana Ali who found it difficult to communicate with different Arab nationals in Arabic. I am an Indian and I always tried to speak Arabic to various Arab nationals in my workplace as a way of learning and fairly succeeded in my mission. But I can't bear the expressions of some Arabs during my conversation, sometimes I felt as If I am speaking a language from other planet. Not because they can't understand my Arabic, but they always blame other nationals for the dialect I use. Therefore now I try to avoid speaking Arabic even though I have a great passion towards Arabic because it is the language of the glorious Quran which Almighty himself chose for his revelations.

    Mohammad Rafiq, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 11:09 February 3, 2010

    A great Article Dr. Qasim.

    Shamel, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 10:30 February 3, 2010

    I completely agree with the writer as far as the different dialects are concerned. From the point of view of a non-Arab trying to learn Arabic and communicate with Arabs as best as I can, it has been extremely difficult for me to grasp basic expressions, as they are so different from one country to the other. However, calling it a conspiracy to keep the region divided is a bit of a stretch. I just feel people don't realise that to keep the beauty of the language alive, they would need to keep the 'true' Arabic part of everyday conversations.

    Hana Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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