The Future Of The Arabic Language

A fierce debate is raging in the Arabic-speaking world from classrooms to coffee shops, bookstores to salons over whether to use MSA(Modern Standard Arabic) or Aamiya(local dialects).Many believe that using local dialects will weaken the Arabic language and the unity between Arab nations. The difference between MSA and Aamiya is so great as to question the basic unity of the language. The official Arabic language is used in over 22 countries as a native language by over 250 million people. It is used by 1.5 billion muslims world-wide as a language of worship and prayer.
In 1959, a linguist by the name of Charles Ferguson introduced the concept of diglossia,suggesting that two distinct forms of the Arabic language exist side by side in society. This concept has recently been revised to suggest that Arabic society is actually multiglossic. It has been suggested that the forms of Arabic exist on a continuum from Classical Arabic at one end to local dialects on the other – with a number of varieties in between. Classical Arabic is prestigious and sacred -the language of poetry and oratory, literature, science, medicine and most importantly, the language of the Qur’an (the word of God revealed in Arabic). It was described and standardized by Arab grammarians during the 8th and 9th centuries CE and has survived to the present. Classical Arabic went through a process of revival and change in the 19th and 20th centuries and developed into MSA or Modern Standard Arabic. MSA is the official language of all Arab countries. It is primarily a written language, highly codified and grammatically complex. MSA is acquired through education, not as a native language. ESA or Educated Spoken Arabic is a mixture of MSA and spoken styles. It is used for TV and radio broadcasts and is widely understood all over the Arabic-speaking world. Lastly, are the local dialects. These very widely and are acquired before formal education as a native language. Much simpler in form, they are used at home among family members, to conduct daily affairs and among friends. Many see the Arabic dialects as a threat to the Arabic language arguing that they weaken the status of MSA as a world language. They complain that they fracture the unity of the Arabic-speaking world. They also lament that dialects contribute to a weakening of the Ummah (Islamic community) and a loss of identity and heritage.
Like any living being, language is subject to change caused by developments and innovations. Language is part of a speaker’s life and needs to be flexible. Satelitte TV stations like MBC and Al Jazeera have made all forms of Arabic more easliy understood.
What is the future of the Arabic language? The jury is still out. But it is clear that whenever a civilization rises up and flourishes, its’ language follows suit and spreads far and wide. Today, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and because of it, there is interest around the globe to learn and study Arabic. Alhamdulilah!
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