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Link: “How Arabs Have Failed Their Language”

Original post found at: https://newlinesmag.com/argument/how-arabs-have-failed-their-language/

I knew that Arabic was in a situation of diglossia, where the day-to-day languages of Arabic-speaking countries (the “dialects”) are mutually unintelligible with MSA, the form used in writing, news broadcasting, etc.. (If you weren’t aware, you could compare the situation with Romance-speaking Eur­ope in the late Middle Ages, where written communication was still nearly all in Latin despite the vernacular languages definitely already being recognisable as forms of French, Spanish, etc.) What I was not aware of was that even children’s books are written in MSA, that kids get made fun of for using the MSA words they learn from cartoons but are also taught that their native dialects are just “broken Arabic”, and that even primary school is mostly conducted in MSA – in what’s essentially a foreign language to these kids! And that all of this seems to have an impact on literacy rates for Arabic speakers, which are lower than you’d expect for middle-income countries (although to be fair, I expect the political instability in many of them contributes).

The headline obviously sounds like it’s blaming speakers themselves for this convoluted situation, but really it makes a good argument that something needs to change, like greater recognition of dialects, especially in literacy-building material for children.

a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.