Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Arabizi, Franco-Arab, Arabeng and other evolving linguistic hybridization

This recent article ( from Aljazeera) about the phenomenon of speaking a mixture of Arabic and English that is sweeping a certain strata of the Jordanian society has brought to my mind earlier conversations and viewpoints discussed with peers in the past.

But first let's see what “Arabizi” is? It's a contraction of the word Arabi-Englizi (Arabic -English), coined by Jordanian youth.

"Mixing Arabic with foreign languages has long been commonplace among Western-educated elites in Arab countries".

This was especially evident in Lebanon where your status was proportional to how many French words you managed to put in one sentence. I'm talking about this with firm experience. If I spoke generic Arabic with no accent where my interlocutor could not place if I was from the Gulf countries or other non-oil Arab countries ( therefore poor) I would be treated differently. I decided to try it for myself. As soon as I added phrases en Francais to the conversation, the attention span would pick up and the mood would become friendlier. In this way I have the seal of approval of belonging to an 'elite' of some kind.

In Algeria it is different, although most of their conversation is strewn with French it is not really a sign of elitism but rather mostly due to the protracted period of French colonialism - since 1830 - which tried to eradicate that country's heritage and effectively make it a part of the Republique.

Tunis is midway between both, a relic from the colonial era, but also a status symbol for the westernized people.

"But in Jordan, a poor desert country" states the article” the sudden popularity of Arabizi reflects deep changes in society since the early 1990s".

Another word synonymous with Arabizi , is Franco-Arab, this word was popular among my parents' generation where French was more of an international language especially among the cultured elite. It also covers the earlier mixture of Arabic and Western music which created many interesting hits which our parents enjoyed as teenagers and youth. This hybrid music is now of course 'normal' and we see it not just between Arab and western music, but western and Latin American, or even Asian. A good example is the new punjabi beat, or some of Shakira's hits. It's great for dancing.

"Linguists blame the growing use of English among young Jordanians on American pop culture inundating the Arab world.”

I'm not sure about that, because we have always been watching American pop culture. Moreover, I don't agree that Arabizi or other such manifestations is any threat to Arabic language or culture. Arabic in my opinion is a rich language, with a continuous potential for growth (I won't even get into the argument that it is the language of the Koran and hence its longetivity is guaranteed, because that is faith based).

Hybrid language™ ;) maybe new to Jordanian youth in general but I'm sure it is not new to graduates of science and medical schools in many Arab countries. For example in Libya, medical college students use it not as a cultural expression but out of necessity because their syllabus is in English. But the fun thing in Libya is that they end up Arabizing the English language or vice versa, and I'm not the first one who brought that up in the blogosphere. Dunia which calls it “Arabeng” has posted about it here , let me quote a hilarious extract from her post.

“Another example of Arabeng is a really funny sentence my little brother used a few days ago: "he ifsheled". Now to "ifshel" in Arabic is to fail, as in fashala, yafshulu, fa hua fashil. So "he ifsheled" uses the Arabic verb, but the English pronoun, and the English past tense suffix "-ed".”

“Arabeng is not restricted to Arabic words with English grammar though. There are quite a few instances of English lexemes changed with Arabic grammer morphemes tagged on. Usually, and a bit confusingly, those people who use Arabic words and add on English grammar are more used to English rules, and those people who use English words with Arabic grammar are more used to speaking Arabic. I think.[sic]”

A long time ago I tended to use a hybrid language with my peers unconsciously but a few weeks in Libya knocked that habit out of me because I would actually be looked down on as someone who was trying to show off.
Using a hybrid language then could also be threatening enough to destroy a relationship. A vivid example is that of my friend's cousin R. R is an MD married to an officer. Every time she meets her friends in social gatherings or would talk on the phone she would sometimes use medical expressions in English just out of habit. Her husband (who obviously has insecurity issues - sorry R if you're reading this) would never pass the opportunity to denigrate her by saying 'oh we know you are a doctor and can speak English, stop showing of'.

As for me I consciously started using a generic Arabic, and only lapsing into hybrid with those who would be of the same mentality. Of course if I'm in Lebanon or at any event in which Arabizi or Franco-Arab or any hybrid Arabic is preferable and more advantageous socially I would not hesitate to use it to further my cause or blend in, even though I believe to be fully capable of convincing someone of my point of view in classical Arabic.


Anonymous said...

Great blog Highlander. Well, thank god I have been living in Germany for many years and have not heard or used ''Arab'eutsch''. I believe Arabic and German cannot dissolve into each other, even though young German people are using the ''De'nglish'' to speak to each other. It is just a sign of how English is gaining territory in many languages, including Arabic.
Egyptian in Germany

Roby said...

It's sad, but the world predominant anglo-saxon culture, language and way of life are slowly replacing the other cultures of the world. It's an effect of globalization. It happened also in the past, for example with the Romans that transmitted their language/culture over the conquered Europeans or with the Arabs, that starting from the Arabian peninsula were able to spread their religion, their language and their mentality in all the middle east and North Africa. The original cultures were lost and forgotten. In the past this happened only in limited areas of the world, but nowadays the influence of the anglosaxon UK-USA are strong over all the world and culturally they are the dominators of the world. You yourself wrote in English in your blog for speak to the rest of the world. What other languages can permit you to write to the world, if not English? Clearly I'm not saying that in few decades the cultures of the world will be abandoned, but in long times, if the anglosaxon supremacy will continue, this is the direction in which the world is heading.

highlander said...

Egyptian in Germany , that was hilarious about De'nglish. Aber die Deutsche Sprache und Arabische gehen suzamen ...warum denkst du nicht?

Roby, cultures, civilizations and empires are never eternal ...but I found your points interesting .

programmer craig said...

That's gunny... everyone else in teh world is learning English, while we here in the US are learning Spanish :p

Actually, it's logical that there'd be a universal language for trade and business, in a global economy, and it may as well be English. Think how bad we'd all have it trying to learn Mandarin chinese? 5000 characters? And I can't even make most of those sounds!

Anonymous said...

Aha Highlander,

du sprichst Deutsch? habe ich nicht dass gewusst :-))ich freue mich sehr.

I guess I have to switch now to English for your blog. My comment about German and Arabic languages was that the structure of both languages is different and still German is not a language widely spoken in the Arab world (apart from some bloggers like Sandmonkey and you).
Egyptian in Germany

highlander said...

Egyptian in Germany, ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch :) but thank you . As for the grammar it actually reminds me of Arabic with all those articles ;).You are right though it is not widely spoken in the Arab world

Anonymous said...

I’m a bit lost here. Are you talking about Code-switching? If yes, it is a natural habit/process bilingual people do; they switch between standard or regional forms of one language, between two different languages, or between occupational and domestic varieties (exactly what your doctor friend did), depending on who they are talking to, or where they are. (This is a simplified definition of the phenomena. for more details check any user-friendly linguistic book)

As for the usage of the features of a new language, such as grammar, sounds, etc, it has been going on for a long time. I remember when I was in high school in Libya, students were using the English suffix tion with Arabic and Libyan words, so we ended up with words such as, fatlication, kasadation, etc. I was extremely funny.

Bintination Libyination

Highlander said...

Oh Bintination , you just reminded me of the good old days lol..please leave a name please don't be anonymous you are too much fun ! thanks for dropping by.

hale said...

Hi -

Roby said: "It happened also in the past, for example ... with the Arabs, that starting from the Arabian peninsula were able to spread their religion, their language and their mentality in all the middle east and North Africa. The original cultures were lost and forgotten."

Not quite! Think of the Amazigh of Morocco, who retained their language and it is now one of the languages of Morocco.

But in general, Roby is correct. Over time, these languages are used less and less and finally forgotten. Sad.


Curt from Houston said...

Greetings from Houston, Texas Highlander. I just came across your blog today from Sand Monkeys site and have spent a fascinating six hours reading through your articles and links. You are definitely now added to my favorites.

I decided to make my first post here because the evolution of language has always fascinated me. For instance, the French have of late been on a tear about the influences of American culture on their language but for over two hundred years, they have had a profound influence on ours. Go figure. French idioms are so common in American English that no one really thinks about them any more. Words and phrases like coup de tat and pie ala mode are and have been universally understood for a hundred years or more.

I think that the real reason for the current dominance of the English language is that so much of the technological advances of the last century were made in the US. Not bragging here, just stating obvious fact. In my mind, this is the more responsible engine driving the globalization of English.

Anyway it's been a pleasure reading your blog and rest assured that I'll be back regularly.