If you've ever studied or plan to study Arabic, this article is a must-read. I've translated it below. Hopefully, this will be the first in series of interesting Arabic op-eds that Wastafarian will post every couple of weeks.
"You Have to Be Respectable First"
The hint of sadness that I get from reading the papers every morning has now doubled.
And I don’t mean (that the sadness is from) the reasons you are thinking, but rather I have other reasons. It’s true that news about the politics and the scandals of one’s people can shock him and make him depressed…However, the Arabic that these articles are written in has doubled that shock and depression.
For reasons of competition and trying to excite readers, stories of political and non-political scandals are of great interest…but it is the linguistical scandal they are silent about, with barely anyone noticing besides those concerned (within the profession).
Because I belong to a generation of the profession which considers language errors one of the biggest sins, I have suffered every day from this doubled sadness. Everything my eyes see on the newspages reminds me of a linguistic massacre. What brings a man almost to the point of despair and frustration, and what expands that linguistic slaughter, is when these scenes are repeated time after time.
Without seeing any initiative on the horizon to stop this phenomenon from continuing, I have written previously about the ‘dumbing down’ of the Arabic language and the spread of English advertisements in Arabic newspapers that speak to the Arabic reader. And I have warned, once again, of the creep of vulgar colloquial upon the respected dialect that has roots in Classical Arabic or roots attributed to Classical Arabic.
Among what I have said is that these practices aren’t an assault or an insult to Arabic, but rather the insult is to the reader, as they harm the value and dignity of any society belonging to the Arab Ummah - let alone Egypt, as a country that one day considered itself the pioneer and the leader of that Ummah.
There is aspect of the problem other than the arrogance in English and the vulgarity in the new colloquial Arabic: the slaughter of the Classical Arabic language itself…(a slaughter) that is happening in the hands of those who use it, those who commit errors of the simplest principals of spelling and grammar. These scandals, which occurred even in the headlines of some of
Back in my days at Al-Ahram newspaper, the editing director Nagib Kanan sat at the head of the editors, and his basic mission was linguistical precision, making sure every hamza was in its place, and that every preposition had its effect. Language errors were what made us feel guilty and disapproved, and we had a correction department made up of a generation capable in Classical Arabic and dedicated to its protection. If an accident occurred and there was a language error in any printed line, it was a disaster that was handled with the utmost rigor and firmness.
That isn’t the same in Al-Ahram today or other Egyptian newspapers, indeed respect for the language and pride taken in it has been on the decline even among the educated, for several reasons ranging from the impact of cultural and political defeat and its reflection on taking pride in ones identity, to the decline in the level of Arabic education and the ascent of foreign education.
The July 5th issue of “Al-Shoruq” newspaper is a case in point.
Its headline was published on the front page in four columns as:
“أزمة القضاة والمحامون في طريق مسدود” “Crisis of Judges and Lawyers in a Dead End”
When the correct version is this word is: المحامين. It’s the second word in a noun conjunction (idafa), and therefore it takes the prepositioned case!
(Note: This is a pretty easy error to catch, even for non-Arabs.)
Then, under the headline was a picture with the caption:
محاموا الإسكندرية يعلنون تضامنهم مع محاموا الغربية
In this caption are three errors. From the spelling perspective, you don’t add the letter Alif to the word محامي in this sentence. From a grammatical perspective, the word مع is a preposition, and you need to make the words after it compatible with that fact.
The correct caption would be as follows:
محامو الإسكندرية يعلنون تضامنهم مع محامي الغربية
I have other examples of the massacre of Arabic in the rest of
In the face of this crisis, it is inevitable that we remember the following:
In order for your language to be respected, you have to respectable first. And that is something else that will depress you!
(Disclaimer: Any errors in translation are my own...and feel free to correct them in the comments section!)