Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Re:The Language Dilemma

Time to get serious:

Ah crap, I promised I wouldn't do this anymore but it looks like I dragged you blog readers into another long and boring post. If you don't feel like reading just skip through and look at the pictures. I apologize in advance to everyone who came here looking for mindless brain candy, sorry folks no candy today.

Maya over at her Amalgam posted something today that really tied my pretzel. A message by one of her fans imploring her to write comics in Arabic. Naturally Maya being the sweet sensitive person she is replied in a sweet and sensitive way. Now I encourage everyone to voice their opinion concerning any issue they want to, but what really lit my fire wasn't her fan but the article s/he linked from Al Arabiya. The Age old argument that the Arabic language is dying and that it is a shame.

A response by Beirut Spring linked in Maya's post, captures one aspect of the argument well, that whatever language we come to use frequently, is because of the opportunities it opens up for us. Had I not spoken English for example I would not have gotten any of the mediocre low paying demeaning jobs I despise waking up to everyday.

Another point I would like to bring to your attention is that it was mentioned in the Arabiya article by some prissy girl who was purposely interviewed to create an image in our minds of a pampered princess who we would like to beat to death with a sock filled with small heavy rocks, and who probably wears braces and drinks the blood of babies, while wearing pink stockings, and probably showers in 24 Karat champagne, while dancing on the bar and flashing everyone with her culture destroying nipple rays... what was I saying?

Right, that this totally discredited youth figure attributes her use of French to the fact that it is cool. Now I don't know about French but let me tell you about why I speak American!

It is  because it is the language of winners, of the rock stars of planet Earth, of the powerful and of the infinitely awesome, and coincidentally of this really hot girl in high school who I had wet dreams for. Arabic on the other hand is the language of defeated whiney Grandma who needs me to hold her arm because she can't navigate two pairs of steps without getting vertigo and lapsing into an insulin starved induced state of shock as she collapses to the ground simultaneously snapping 3 different bones in her body by the force of gravity alone because she endured a world war and a civil war and does that explain why my father never hugged me, and why I am incapable of feeling love or remorse.... where was I?
Right, Arabic is a language associated with defeat.

The point of this post is that those reasons aside and when in all seriousness we take into account the political and social consequences of the spread of one language in the place of another which is part of  invasive colonialist imperialism, and a modernist manifestation of cultural desensitization and war by other means, 

when we take all that into consideration, there are certain myths about our relationship with  the Arabic language that deserve to be busted open. And because I am thrilled and overjoyed and actually not at all angry, at the fact that I have something to say about this topic, I will share some of them with you.

We didn't used to speak good Arabic good:
If George Antonius is to be trusted from his book The Arab Awakening, then well into the 1800's the Arab language was in such disarray amongst most of the Arab populous. This was especially true in what would become Lebanon, so much so that he described the dialect of Levantine Maronites as indiscernible to most Arabs and that Arabic was going out of vogue and being replaced with the much more popular languages such as Aramaic.Hell with the exception of a few individuals most people actually opted to speak other languages to communicate with each other. This can be basically blamed on the Ottoman Empire or the fact that our ancestors were didn't care what they spoke because you don't need to converse with sheep to have sex with them and they were right (women too).

Muhammad Ali pasha started the drive towards education:
Before the reforms of Mehmet Ali and the Young Turks in the late 1800's there was such a dearth of schools, that we had to send people abroad to get a basic education. The only institutions of learning were religious ones and they were pretty much only interested in things which have no relevance to everyday life. There is a general consensus that after the Abbasid dynasty things spiralled out of control and ignorance became the norm. It was a goddamned Albanian that started public education, and that was to take young boys away from their mothers so they could die fighting for him. People in Syria were so fucking scared of the Red Pasha that they often cut off their firing finger or poked their eyes oust to avoid being conscripted with his army. Fuck! To our ancestors calling in sick took it to a whole new level.(source) Anyway the point is that this was the first time that private families began coming together to create schools in their villages although still very timidly.
 His gaze goes deep into your soul

Most of the people were illiterate
The fact that there were no schools meant that most people in the Ottoman empire were as literate as my goldfish. Apart from Butrus Bustani (First mofo to write an encyclopedia) and Nasif Al Yaziji There was no prominent knowledge of the Arab language. It was all Durka Durka Sherpa Sherpa.

We didn't have any books
The Printing press didn't make its way to the Arab world till the 1700's, and while the Abbasid era translated and wrote books like Cuba rolls cigars, by the time the Ottoman Empire rolled in, Arabic book translation and publishing had ground to a halt. It was American protestants, here to save our souls from the devil, who were the first to print arabic texts en masse (the bible) and created a simplified Arabic font which still looks really bad online.(Source). The Arab Typewriter had 300 goddamned characters  (Source) before the protestants came in from Malta.

We still don't
The aggregate of translated books from the Al Ma'moon era to the present day numbers 10,000 books - equivalent to what Spain translates in a single year. (Source) 

Even in the 1700's we still wrote Arabic like Yamli
(Source) "The first Arabic books published using movable type in the Middle East were by the Maronite monks at the Maar Quzhayy Monastery in Mount Lebanon. They transliterated the Arabic language using Syriac script" Did you read that, TRANSLITERATED, basically the same shit we do today in MSN and on Yamli. Go ahead and call the next person who gives you shit about using transliterated Arabic a protestant Orientalist, that should shut him up.
Is Edward Said gonna have to choke a bitch?

 The French taught us Arabic
And Finally a fact whose irony is not lost upon myself, is that the French were the first to institutionalize public schooling in Lebanon and teach all our asses how to read. I mean sure the Ottoman Empire was beginning to go through reform towards the end but that was towards speaking Turkish. So we can thank the French whenever we speak Arabic with a fart infused French accent.Hi Kifak Cava?

So in conclusion, if anything the Arabic Language has been resurrected in the last 200 years, we are much better off than we were and alarmists who lament the good old days need to cut that shit out. It is not a shame because it is not dying and even if it were, in the eternal words of Elizaberth Hurley in Bedazzled "everyone speaks English Anyway, and if they don't they should learn"


Nothing I write is accidental. You probably shouldn't trust me on all un-cited material though.


poshlemon said...

As a research student in history, I must say your knowledge impressed me :)

But, (although you warned us) I still expected more of that light humor of yours :P

lukewarm said...

:) thanks! Wow that means a lot to me. I needed to get that out of my system.

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