Monday, August 21, 2006

Rendering Arabic a more contemporary language?

A few language consortia (majami' lughawiyya) in the Arab World are trying to render Arabic in pace with the new terminology... Still their conflicting efforts (Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian...) and some weird choices are not helping a more effective influence on common media...
The only two consortia that try to interact with the public are the Egyptian and Jordanian consortia since both have websites.
The Jordanian consortium provides some lists on specific topics mostly related to practical uses. It does not show a huge amount of work, but still useful. Here is, for instance, how they arabize from English some contemporary terms used in architectural practice and civil engeneering.
The Egyptian consortium, however, seems to have a more effective website since it provides a search engine (the Jordanian consortium's website does have a "search engine" but it does not work properly). I've tried some terms in my field and it does not seem to be responsive enough: for example I looked for the widely used "stratigraphy" under the category of "archeology" and they don't have any synonym; by the way I suggest "taratubiyya" for "stratigraphy". I looked for basic terms like "visual arts" and again nothing came up. In some other cases the conflicting meanings of one word seem to push the consortium members for various arabic terms: for example cartography is arabized into more than one term according to the various definitions.This shows not only the difficult task of such projects but also how the process of modernizing a language could not be made always through institutionalized initiatives such as these language consortia, which seem to me full of authoritarian spirit, an embodiment of a very influential idea in such spaces: the state could fix anything. Languages, I believe, survive beause of a more spontaneous process originating mainly from a flourishing cultural life. Helas such a thing is not really the current status in the Arab World. Anyway one still must recognize the hard work of the members of such consortia.

The Egyptian consortium claims to be an "Arab" consortium that is representing all Arab countries. This could have been the case but only in rare occasions especially when Egypt was the center of the popular pan-arab movement (especially the council of 1961, which had members from many Arab countries). But in most years the consortium is mainly Egyptian with the limited inclusion of few members from now and then from other Arabic countries (including Tunisians such as al-Fadil b. Ashur and Chedli al-Kelibi). Finally by the end of the previous century there was a decision of including non-Egyptian "correspondants" rather than members, which is arrogant and very typical of the Egyptians to say the least. Now all the members of the council of the consortium are Egyptian, who are by the way very old (born roughly between 1909 and 1940) which could not be really helpful when the task is to "modernize" a language. The modernization of the Arabic language should include the efforts of all Arab countries but this is not to blame the Egyptian consortium, which is at least doing something, but to emphasize the fact that other countries, other than Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, seem to be less enthusiastic about the whole issue.


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