Why is Arabic very unpopular

No, I don't speak that language! Standard Arabic in crisis

It is a cultural language to be proud of, a lingua franca for the entire Arab world - and it is the language of the Koran. Nevertheless, Standard Arabic is unpopular with native speakers. There is more than one reason for this.

How do you get Arab youth to speak Arabic? It is precisely this problem that has plagued the wealthy states of the Arabian Peninsula for years. What is meant, of course, is standard Arabic, because there is no need to worry about the Qatari, Kuwaiti or UAE dialect. They are all spoken well and gladly - which, by the way, applies to all dialects between Morocco and Iraq.

Only standard Arabic - which is the only one that has a universally binding script and which differs from Arabic dialects as much as standard German from Swiss German - lingers in a less well-frequented parallel universe. In the Gulf States, English is now only a shadowy existence: 68 percent of all Gulf Arabs between the ages of 18 and 24 have more English than Standard Arabic in 2017, according to the Arab Youth Survey Report carried out by the PR company Burson-Marsteller Asda'a spoken. Compared to 2016, that is an increase of 12 percent.

Whatsapp versus standard Arabic

The 25-year-old Hammad Hussein from Doha also knows why: English is “more targeted, more jagged and right on the pulse of the times”. Standard Arabic, on the other hand, with its flowery vocabulary and nested sentence structures, cannot keep up in a digitized world full of bits and bytes. "Or have you ever tried to write an SMS or WhatsApp in standard Arabic?" Grins the software engineer.

Standard Arabic doesn't make many proud. But what's even worse: It's the very least fun.

Maher Fakhroo, 23 years old and a biotechnology student at Carnegie Mellon University Qatar, sees it similarly: Standard Arabic comes from a region that has not contributed to innovation for a long time. One only has to look once at the list of modern Arab scientists on Wikipedia: Anyone who could show that they had worked in the West and mostly in the USA. The Middle East, on the other hand, is backward, and its bulky high-level language is almost a symbol for it.

In itself, all of this sounds completely pragmatic: the youth of the affluent Gulf states are excellently trained and want to prove their skills on the global market. It makes sense that she is better advised with English than with the language of the Koran.

Escape from Arabism

In fact, however, it is about much more than just professional self-development, sighs Hossam Abouzahr. The linguist knows what he is talking about: He was born in the USA after his father fled there in the 1970s from the Lebanese civil war. In Michigan, Abouzahr single-handedly taught himself Standard Arabic and fell so in love with the “bulky language” that in 2015 he launched the online lexicon “Lughatuna” (“Our Language”), which explains the meaning of words in Standard Arabic as well as Levantine and indicating Egyptian dialect.

Abouzahr explains that - unlike many locals - he looks after his Arab heritage so proudly by the fact that he did not grow up locally. «After his escape from Lebanon, my father hated everything that was offered to him as an identity in his homeland. Islam, Arabism, the whole of the Middle East. In contrast, nobody in the USA dictated to me what Arab and Muslim identity mean. In an Arab country, however, you are immediately pushed into corners: 'Are you a Muslim brother?'. ‹What do you think of Copts?›. ‹About Kurds?›. ‹Are you a nationalist?›. ‹Why are you not in the community of this or that sheikh?›. Many young Arabs would have had enough of the constant pressure and would concentrate on foreign languages ​​if they were given appropriate training opportunities. "This is the only way they can get hold of coveted positions in international companies and get out of the stranglehold of their societies," explains Abouzahr.

Boredom as a major

Accordingly, standard Arabic does not make many proud. But what's even worse: It's the very least fun. The education system is primarily to blame for this. In all Arab states, the aim is apparently to systematically drive out the pleasure of learning their mother tongue from students by relying on dull memorization. In any case, it is not in the curriculum that the ornate letters could have something to do with real life. And this despite a centuries-long highly productive literary tradition.

Ministries of education do not want to make their neglect of standard Arabic official by promoting dialects.

It is by no means the case that the Arabs do not know their poets. On the contrary: unlike us, most Arabs are able to shake rows of verses up their sleeves. For example from Al-Mutanabbi (approx. 915–965): “Fear is nothing other than what people think of as terrible; Security is where you feel secure. " The only question is: Is this quoted because one has simply intuited the words of Al-Mutanabbis through excessive memorization or because the people have actually internalized something of the way of thinking of the eloquent Iraqi? How aware are they that Al-Mutanabbi sympathized with the Qarmatians - a sect that established its own republic in Bahrain based on equality and community of property in the 9th century, ultimately propagated atheism and even kidnapped the Kaaba from Mecca?

It is clear that the leaders of today's Middle East are not interested in a knowledgeable discussion of such historical details. But there is also politically harmless, but rousing contemporary literature. For example Ghada Abdelaal's “I want to marry”, in which the young Egyptian sarcastically describes the ten marriage candidates, all of whom she turned down to the growing desperation of her parents. But even such reading material remains outside the classrooms. After all, Abdelaal writes in the Egyptian dialect, and Arab education ministries do not want to make their neglect of standard Arabic official by promoting dialects.

And what might seem even more precarious to the authorities: Anyone who has ever found pleasure in reading could get the idea of ​​reading on. Or even write yourself. The book market proves how successful the authorities' strategy of discouragement is: in 2011 around 17,000 new titles were published - 2,400 of them were translations into Arabic. With its 360 million inhabitants, the Arab world has produced as many books as Romania with its 21 million citizens.

Own worlds of expression

It can hardly be denied that the Arab regimes, with their omnipresent censorship and meaningless school lessons, have encouraged the reluctance to use standard Arabic. But has this policy also promoted the enjoyment of dialect - in the sense of a kind of self-denial towards the standard language? Even if the Arabs had always cultivated their dialects, Abouzahr is convinced that this factor now also plays a role.

Ultimately, this leads to a question that makes you laugh after all: Who controls the written language?

For the past seventy years, he explains, the Arabs have been ruled across the board by autocrats who have given them nothing but political fear and economic worry. The utterances of these leaders, however, echoed against them on every television channel and in every newspaper article in the standard language. It is understandable that this stirs up the desire for one's own world of expression.

Often this happens unconsciously, but sometimes also very consciously, says Abouzahr, referring to Ahmad Fuad Negm. The Egyptian folk poet and lifelong revolutionary, who died in 2013, always wrote only in dialect - “and his autobiography reads like a single middle finger raised against the state authorities. It is no coincidence that the demonstrators marched through the streets during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and loudly from his poem 'Who are they? Who are we? 'Quoted », laughs Abouzahr.

Ultimately, of course, this leads to a question that makes you laugh: Who controls the written language? If the ability to use them skillfully is reserved primarily for political despots or religious zealots in today's Middle East, then the danger of manipulation is obvious. For example, Islamist extremists have long been discussing how looting and pillage can be justified religiously. As proof, they cite “high Arabic” terms that they themselves created.