A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 11, 2012

Arabic Really Must Still Be Dying: Even the New York Times Says So

It's been a while since we've had a "death of Arabic imminent" article, which I always enjoy dissecting; purists have been complaining about the threat to the language since the lexicographer Ibn Manzur back in the 13th century, when Persian was threatening it. These days the culprits are usually English or French, or the spoken dialects. You can find many of my earlier comments on these types of articles (a surprising number of which are published in the Middle East in either English or French, apparently without a sense of irony).

But it must be true. Now even The New York Times says so.

Actually, the key point that is apparent in the article but not in the headline is that this is talking about the Gulf, where English has long been the primary language of higher education, and where Modern Standard Arabic is often neglected after the primary grades. It's not surprising that graduates of some of the (US) universities in Doha have to offer courses to train Qataris and other Arabs to speak media Arabic well enough to appear on Al Jazeera. If (Modern Standard) Arabic really is under threat anywhere in the Arab world, it's the Gulf (and maybe still Algeria, where French still holds elite dominance).  The University of Qatar is switching its language of instruction to Arabic, and the Saudis and others are placing new restrictions on English.

So I won't be as snide about the "death of Arabic" theme as I usually am: in the Gulf, the story is not so exaggerated.


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