The Fragility of a Deteriorating Arabic?

Let’s set aside whether Arabic(s) is/are really deteriorating — or whether they’re in a process of change – and focus on novelist Iman Humaydan’s other arguments, about schooling, censorship, and how many students don’t believe that “their mother tongue is capable of reflecting their inner selves”:

Humaydan, an award-winning novelist whose beautiful novel Other Lives was recently published in translation by Michelle Hartman, recently taught a seminar in Arabic at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program for teens, Between the Lines.

The Lebanese novelist told the Daily Star that, “The Arabic tongue is deteriorating, not only because of globalization and the mainstream English language, but because the educational system in the Arab World is connecting the language to social values that are no longer convenient for the youth.”

If we walk around the first argument — since it would take a great deal yet to really show change is deterioration – the second is certainly an important one. The Daily Star writes that Humaydan taught writing skills this summer to students from at least nine different Arab countries, and that many of them were initially resistant to writing in Arabic. Some even believed that “Between the Lines” would be an English-language writing program.

“What really was a serious issue was to make these students believe that their mother tongue is capable of reflecting their inner selves,” Humaydan told the Daily Star.

She laid the blame on educational systems across the region, which have associated Arabic literature not just with religion, but more importantly with outdated, stiff-sounding, or boring material. The Egyptian Ministry of Education textbooks can also add “ludicrous-sounding” to the list.

The elimination of contemporary Arab writers from most Arabic curricula across the region has also had a bad impact, Humaydan said. The lack of dearth of creative opportunities in some countries was also a factor. Among the elite students who participated in the Iowa workshops, almost none planned to live in their home countries – most intended to relocate abroad.

The piece in the Daily Star ends hopefully however, with a suggestion that some students changed their minds about English and decided to write in Arabic.

The “Between the Lines” workshops, which took place between June 21 and July 5, were for students from across the region. They were divided in to two sessions each day. The morning session was in English, and the afternoon creative-writing seminar was in the student’s “native” language. (Although in the case of Arabic, of course, the seminars likely had a focus on Modern Standard Arabic.)

If you’ll be between the ages of 16 and 19 next summer — or know a talented writer who will be — you can check the Between the Lines website in January 2015 to apply for the next session.

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