Saturday, May 15, 2004

The Arabic Language and My Fanaticism

My friend and I were having a chat in a shawarma place here in Canada when the Lebanese owner of the restaurant curiously asked: “How come you’re both from Bahrain but you speak very differently?!” My friend and I broke out into laughter because we do have very different accents and we very often make fun of it. You don’t even have to understand Arabic in order to notice the difference in the way a person from Muharraq speaks in comparison to a person from Manama. I, myself, wonder how almost each village in Bahrain ended up having a very distinctive accent of its own. This could make for a very interesting study. Anyway, I find the variety of accents and dialects a very interesting phenomenon. The Arab world is a perfect case in point. Dialects significantly vary from one Arab country to the next and if it wasn’t for radio and television, understanding one another would have been quite a challenge. Despite the beauty of dialects, however, and the distinctiveness they add to the different cultures, I would rather see them disappear from the Arab world. If a linguistic genie comes to me one day and asks me to make a wish for the Arab world it would definitely be to eradicate all the accents and dialects spoken by the Arab people. I know this sounds very radical, but I seriously believe that if classical (fusha) Arabic was the common day-to-day language used by every Arab citizen, the Arab world would have easily been the pinnacle of world literature and poetry. I am certain that one reason behind the golden era of Arab culture and science was the fact that classical Arabic was mastered by everyone. It was the language spoken by the common man and hence it was easy for people to articulate their ideas in a lucid and intelligible manner. They spoke the language so eloquently that their poetry was improvised. Fine speech was their lifestyle. Now, I don’t want to render local dialects as being useless because they have produced a wide ranging form of popular art and folklore across the Arab world but just thinking of the amount of benefit we could obtain by internalizing classical Arabic as our every day language, local dialects become worth the sacrifice- if compromise was not an option. In a nutshell, I think that we should not underestimate the shortcomings of not writing the way we talk or rather not talking the way we write.

The sad thing… or the funny thing (depending on how you look at it) is that if I approach my friends today and start talking with them in classical Arabic, they won’t take me seriously. I would probably be laughed at for sounding like a cartoon character. It would be equivalent to using Shakespearean English in a casual conversation. That should not be the case because classical Arabic is the only formal way we can communicate in and for a formal way of communication to be so outlandish for us is not exactly what we want. It is also disappointing to know that a significant amount of the literate Arab population who supposedly speak Arabic are not able to form one coherent sentence in classical Arabic without having some major flaw in it . This is very unfortunate because it means that a major form of expression is eliminated.

The last time I was in Bahrain, I watched a debate on Bahrain television, can’t remember if it was a shura council or a parliamentary session debate…all I remember is that the public speaking skills of the men who spoke out leave a lot to be desired. They say it’s better to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and prove it. How true. However, I am certain that if classical Arabic was spoken in such public forums the nonsense being said would have sounded way better.

Oh well, regardless of how the Arabic language is being spoken, I think it is the most beautiful language in the world. It looks beautiful in writing. It sounds beautiful when spoken in prose, read in poetry, or recited from the Holy Quran.. and above all it is amazingly structured…knowing Arabic is like weaving a Persian carpet, once you know how the inner knots are made, the possibilities of developing words and connotations are infinite.

Sorry for sounding like a linguistic chauvinist, but I’m writing this post directly after spending some time reading Al Motanabby’s poetry and so I am in a kind of an ultra-appreciative mood for the Arabic language.

But anyways... since this linguistic genie of mine will never come… and since it will take centuries and centuries for dialects to disappear and real language to prevail and that is only IF the desire to change was there in the first place… and since fairouz sings in dialect and we all want to continue listening to her... I have another more realistic wish to make…and that is simply for the Arabic language to be less strange and more familiar to us as Arab people.

now, you might wonder why on earth am I writing this blog in English.


At 10:53 PM, Blogger TOM Orrell said...

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