World Arabic Language Day: A Look Ahead
By Alison Norquist / Arab American Contributing Writer
The UN’s annual World Arabic Language Day falls on December 18th this year. Sponsored by UNESCO, it is a time to celebrate the beauty and power of Arabic. For the tenth anniversary, let’s take a look not only at the past but also at the future of the Arabic language!
As the language of some of the greatest scientific and mathematical discoveries in history, Arabic began in the early 8th century BCE. After evolving further, Arab linguists in the 10th century CE compiled several dictionaries. Cementing the language’s rules, the language then grew to many corners of the world due to the extensive trade that occurred along the Silk Road. Now, Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world.
There are concerns about how Modern Standard Arabic is becoming a dying language. In Sawsan Khalaf’s article for Qantara, concerns were expressed that parents and children alike are preceding their Arab heritage in regards to learning Arabic. While reasons like economic opportunities and assimilation were cited, cultural heritage was a common downside that parents felt.
The other struggle that linguists are finding is that the full breadth of the language is not being used. Haider Abdul Redha Al-Lawati states that while the spread of Arabic was helped by Islam and the Quran, it may now be hindered due to the lack of diverse vocabulary used in comparison to Arabic use outside of the religious association. Still, he has hope.
As does Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth in the UAE. She recently commissioned 23 linguists and cultural scientists to study the strength and use of Arabic in several countries, including the United States. While the data is still being compiled, she is certain that there is hope for the next generation of Arabic speakers. It is through them that the living concept of the Arabic language will continue to survive and even thrive.
That is not to say that the Arabic of the future will be the same as it is today. In his gripping text on the evolution of language, The Power of Babel, John McWhorter discusses how the evolution of language is always happening. It’s “not just the slang but the basic structure of the young people’s language that is radically different from that of their grandparents,” more simply put, while each generation has its own slang, some of the grammatical changes that occur stick.
How To Do Your Part
That said, it is important that we all do our part to help Arabic reach another year, century, or millennium. The ways to celebrate World Arabic Language day are numerous: learn or teach Arabic, watch movies in Arabic, listen to Arabic music, and read Arabic books. Here at Arab America, we will be doing all of those things, but we will also be looking at the future of Arabic. Personally, as a non-Arabic speaker, I plan on watching some movies in Arabic with subtitles. I hear great things about Farha and Jinn. Let us know below what you are going to do to celebrate the beauty and intricacy of Arabic!
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