Losing a Language

Muslim Matters

Losing a Language

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

index Blame it on our Internet Age with just about all the top websites delivered in English, the glitz of American cinema that plays out across satellite TV or a fading heritage that is lost on its own youth. Whatever the reason, the Arabic language is suffering an early demise in Lebanon and could become extinct in the foreseeable future. It is not uncommon for Lebanese people to communicate throughout the course of a day in three different languages, primarily Arabic, French and English. Arabic, however, is often spoken in fragments rather than a fluid line.

Over the past few years, parents and teachers have noticed a breakdown in fluent spoken Arabic with scores of children across Lebanon being unable to create a sentence in their own native language. Arabic is a centuries old language whose birthplace can be found in the Middle East and North Africa, however dialects of classical Arabic are as varied as the colors of a rainbow.

The decline in Arabic has been so swift and widespread in Lebanon that several social organizations have launched their own revival programs to bring the public, and especially the youth, back into the folds of comprehension. Last year, Lebanese poetess Suzanne Talhouk spearheaded the launch of an organization called “Feil Amer” which is designed to generate interest in the Arabic language. In a recent interview Talhouk revealed, “Young people are increasingly moving away from Arabic, and this is a major source of concern for us. The absence of a common language between individuals of the same country means losing the common identity and cause.” The organization routinely holds festivals and fairs in cities across Lebanon to get the public interested in Arabic.

For many Lebanese, the problem begins at home where parents speak to their children in either English or French. Many parents leave it to schools to teach their children classical Arabic. However, most Lebanese schools offer a choice between language courses. Most Lebanese children choose either English, which has the aura or glamour thanks to Hollywood, or French, which denotes an air of intelligence and sophistication. Unfortunately Arabic, whether spoken or written, is often deemed to be too complicated, time-consuming and old-fashioned for Lebanese youth.

The dangers of the wholesale loss of the Arabic language are very real. Some of the world’s greatest literary works of art are preserved in classical Arabic, poetry and prose as well. And the greatest book, the Holy Quran, is also delivered in Arabic. It will be up to this generation to preserve the Arabic language, by learning and passing it on, for future generations–before it is lost forever.

Lebanon is not the only country to see a decline in Arabic. Nearby Syria is facing a similar situation. With the influx of mass media and social networking in languages more popular than Arabic, the region as a whole may see a noteworthy nosedive in Arabic right across the board.


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