Arabic and Fingered Speech

It’s crystal clear, Arabic is cool again!

If you are an Egyptian, in your 20s, and went to private English schools, then 3 years ago you probably had no clue where the letter ‘jim’ was on your keyboard, and if you had a keyboard with Arabic letters, it would take you eons before you found it. There is no doubt that after the revolution a whole generation started typing in Arabic, even lols in Arabic now ‘ ! لول ‘

Personally I started constantly writing in Arabic when i was studying in Malaysia and everyone in uni just didn’t want to converse in English, so mutually i didn’t want to share a common language with them and i started taking all my notes in Arabic -and as much as i dislike admitting this, buuut i had problems translating my English thoughts to Arabic, used the slang more than often, i wont even get started on the spelling and the  ت  ط  – س ص disaster! I am deeply inspired by the arabic language, i don’t know what went wrong all those years, so for the time being i’ll blame my terrible Arabic on the education system. And It wasn’t just the language barrier in Malaysia, even other Arabs i met there influenced my behaviour, the majority were amazed that i typed in English and noted a couple of times how we Egyptians ruined the Arabic language -we sure did!

The first year I went back to Egypt, my friends noted that I was writing in Arabic and exclaimed ‘wow! you are writing in Arabic!’ and i naturally answered ‘of course, aren’t we Egyptians, daah!’  ! لول

The next year, after 25 january, people had their names changed to Arabic on facebook!

Identity awareness is of course the main influence on our changed behaviour and attitude towards Arabic. But what did really change? John McWhorter gave a hilarious talk on TED on his views on texting and Language, and he shared very interesting thoughts:

We are in an age where we can write like how we speak. What really changed is the way we spoke after 25 january and not the way we write. It’s very hard to say things like ثوار ,قمع ,انتهاك حقوق in Arabish (writing arabic with latin -English- letters) and it didn’t feel the same, we started following politicians and writers who wrote in Arabic and we started thinking like them, then talking like them. We started reading newspapers again! It’s the way we speak, not just the way we type. And it is now the norm, it seems that the whole society approves this new attitude.

Framework by IDEO

Framework by IDEO

In an earlier post i referred to a diagram by IDEO explaining how nation wide behaviour change can be achieved. Tatyana Mamut mentioned that three things must be used: rules, tools and norms.

I’ve mentioned the societal role in changing how a layer of our nation viewed Arabic. But let’s not forget the tools as well. The availability of softwares like yamli allowed an easy adaptation (i know that most of you use it!). The majority of the mobile devices used in Egypt are foreignly produced, and not in other Arab countries, so many of these devices do not have arabic keyboards or type pads integrated, but available language softwares and applications eliminate this difficulty and allow easy fast typing of Arabic. But on the other hand, our Arabic teachers are probably pulling their hair right now!

As for rules, the government plays a major role in this area and it’s a hard topic to be discussed right now in Egypt. So let’s talk about another government, the government of Iran. I had an iranian housemate and I learned a lot about their culture and country from her (Merci azizam for that!). She shared once that their government supported an organisation that is responsible for coming up with new persian words for new foreign words that are created as we speak. The conversation started by her asking for a masking tape, i had no idea what it was called in Arabic and she had no idea what it was called in English! I am not talking about the general term of an adhesive tape (شريط لاصق), but a specific type of adhesive tape. She also shared that the government motivates iranians to speak in persian by rewarding them with a discounted sms if it was typed in persian, so it’s more expensive to text in English, and who wouldn’t want to save money. Genius!

I cant say if the new attitude towards Arabic is just a fad, similarly would our interest in politics fade away and everything goes back the way it was before 25 january?!

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