Posts Tagged ‘Language’

Morsi on the cover of Time magazine

Is it the feeling of inferiority or a deep urge to show off that makes Arab politicians use English language when interviewed by foreign media? Rarely do we see a German or French politician doing so. As to  US or UK officials giving interviews in Arabic – forget about it. What to say then about a PM or president…

Nobody knows why president Morsi chose to use English to answer the questions of Time magazine. But Morsi messed things up mixing apes and judges in his incomprehensible speech: (more…)


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Throughout history, the fate of pioneering thought and pioneering books has always been hard and the fate of pioneering writers is, most of the time, tough and merciless. Such writers gain during their lifetime more enemies and fame than readers and money. But these in particular are the minds that trigger big leaps in the progress of science and society; even though they are systemically victims of sever repression. History is full with examples of writers tortured and books burned.

One of the most interesting pioneering arabic books is Lous Awad’s “Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Arabic Language”, the controversial book that questioned the origin and history of Arabs and arabic language. This book may be the only one (other than Taha Hussein’s “On Jahili Poetry”) to doubt and debate the conventional history of a language considered sacred by millions of Muslims around the world. Awad’s “Introduction” was censored and banned (and still is in Egypt and some Arab countries) soon after it was issued in 1981. Researchers and critics had no reach to the contents of the book and views it contained other than the articles and books written against it. Ironically one of the main sources to access Awad’s prohibited theories was the book of his enemy Badrawi Zahran “Refuting the Slanders Against Quraan and it’s Language and other Absurdities Fabricated by the Arabized Crusade Louis Awad” (all this a title!!). But did Awad really fabricate slanders and does his book contain absurdities, and which beliefs did Awad question and doubt to deserve such hostility and condemnation?

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In search for a decent “qaf” for this blog I found out that the Phoenician letter “qaph” is written exactly as the capital Latin Q. Several other Latin and Greek letters are believed to originate from the Phoenician alphabet. Letters like M, S, K still carry this resemblance.

Gold plates with Phoenician writing

If such small similarity between alphabets is sometimes clear, the differences are much clearer.

Other than being written from right to left, Semitic alphabets have no vowels. Vowel sounds are not usually depicted in a script even when a vowel changes the whole meaning of a word. Semitic nations considered vowels not worth of being written. Even though Hebrew and Arabic contain minor signs (not letters) to express vowels visually (nikkud and harakat), you may notice that these signs are usually ignored. In some words the constants written are not more than half of the real sound of the word. You have to know by heart how a word sounds or guess which vowel to supply for a given constant in it. Such writing systems are called “abjad” systems.

Russians say: east is a peculiar case. East cannot be understood. It should be accepted as it is. This may apply perfectly to Middle East where the expressed part of life is not more than half of what people experience. Political problems are half expressed. Solutions are half solutions and the easiest way to resolve a conflict is simply to hide its consequences, just like a vowel, while it actually does not seize to exist there wouldn’t be any-verbal reference to it.

A Tunisian girl raped by police last September is now facing jail for ‘INDECENT BEHAVIOR”. Tunisian justice seems trying to suppress any voice disturbing the newly-set order of things in this pioneering arab-spring state. The easiest way to do it is to hide vowels, to stop victims from appealing to courts rather than directly addressing the problem.

A Tunisian protester holds a placard reading ‘Congratulations Madame Hillary for this thief and rapist government’ on September 28, 2012, in Tunis, during a meeting of support to a woman who was raped by two policemen. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

In Lebanon any discussion regarding the 15 long years of civil war is still a taboo. It is not that Lebanese people have already jettisoned sectarian animosity. It is only that no one wants to talk about it.

Examples of the “abjad system” applied in Middle East everyday life are plenty.  Duality between what is said and what is seen, what things are and what they are officially called has become a part of the functioning system. Will Arab Spring change this pattern? The Tunisian example is not promising.

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