When do you use Modern Standard Arabic?

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by nheiges, Apr 4, 2006.

  1. nheiges New Member

    Athens, GA
    English, U.S.
    I just read through some of the previous threads on Modern Standard and Classical Arabic and found some excellent information about the differences among spoken dialects. But still I wonder, when is Modern Standard Arabic used?

    On television or radio? What kind of programs?

    Between Arabic speakers of different dialects?

    If I go to Alexandria or Amman, for instance, and start speaking my learner's version of MSA, will people respond to me in standard Arabic?

    Shukran jazeelan.
     
  2. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    My try
     
  3. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    American English, Palestinian Arabic
    Marc's answers are great. Let me just add some "native input." :)

     
  4. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    I can't agree more with Elroy : Marc's answer is simply great :thumbsup:

    I agree with what you say Elroy. Would also like to add what I think is the reason why cartoons are dubbed in MSA : for a simple reason: they're meant to be sold to all or most of the Arab countries, so having them dubbed in MSA (the only common "accent" between all Arab countries) garantees a better distribution, while it would be a bit difficult to sell, let's say Morrocan speaking cartoons in Egypt. The great thing about this is, as Elroy said: children get used to MSA, I've even seen kids who only learned MSA through this:) .



    This is true. But at least they can understand you when you speak it.


    Also true, but see above.
     
  5. nheiges New Member

    Athens, GA
    English, U.S.
    Thank you so much for your responses! That was all really helpful, and it's amusing to know that cartoons are dubbed in MSA. Do the cartoon characters seem to be speaking formally, or do cartoon voices cancel that out?
     
  6. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    American English, Palestinian Arabic
    Interesting question. It's hard for me to answer, though, because I can't even imagine a cartoon character speaking in anything but MSA. It's just something that we as kids don't really ever think about; to us, that's just the way cartoon characters speak.

    Perhaps one reason that it doesn't really occur to us that they're speaking "strangely" is that maybe we subconsciously consider it to be part of the exoticism of cartoons. I guess we know that the animated figures aren't real anyway, and their speaking in MSA is just part of that. MSA is so inextricably asociated with cartoons that when kids act out scenes from their favorite cartoons and such, they speak exclusively in MSA.
     
  7. greg from vancouver

    greg from vancouver Senior Member

    vancouver, canada
    Canada, Vancouver
    Please tell me if my memory is correct: amongst the more conservative, educated people, the dialects are looked down upon as perversions of the true Arabic language and a threat to the unity of the Arab world. Is there any truth to that statement? [I am merely reciting from a cloudy memory and not expressing any sort of an opinion].

    If so, are there any active movements to devolve from the dialects and regain MSA as the sole language of the Arab world. Are there any groups of people who converse solely in MSA?

    Greg
     
  8. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    American English, Palestinian Arabic
    Yes, with the correction above. ;)

    Not that I know of. But there's no telling how far fanatics will go.

    No.
     
  9. greg from vancouver

    greg from vancouver Senior Member

    vancouver, canada
    Canada, Vancouver
    Elroy, thanks for the correction... those words were my first choices, but I wimped out when typing, as I wasn;t sure of the answer and didn't want to offend anyone.
    Greg
     
  10. mansio Senior Member

    France/Alsace
    Greg

    If you are interested by that issue try to find links on Algeria and its educational system. There has been plenty of debate there (and in the French media too) because of the attempt to replace French and Arabic dialect from the schools and universities by Classical/MS Arabic.
     
  11. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    American English, Palestinian Arabic
    The discussion about whether there is such a thing as MSA has been moved here.
     
  12. greg from vancouver

    greg from vancouver Senior Member

    vancouver, canada
    Canada, Vancouver
    I'd like to drudge up this somewhat dusty thread to ask about court trials. I have been following the Saddam Hussein trial and have some questions:

    the questioning of witnesses and their responses:
    my initial thought was that this would all be done in dialect. How, though, would the testimony be recorded in the official record? I've always read that the dialects are rarely written. I presume there is some sort of written record of the proceedings, as there is in American courts.

    the conversational words of the judge
    when the judge is speaking to the court about what is going on, giving instructions, etc, is he speaking in dialect? My guess is yes

    the official words of the judge
    when the judge is reading out excerpts of the law, reading his verdict, etc, I presume he is reading in MSA

    The examples discussed previously in this thread all seemed restricted to a single medium, but with courts, the language question gets a bit blurry to my eyes

    Many thanks
    Greg
     
  13. lama

    lama Senior Member

    lebanon
    arabic
    the formal arabic is very different from the countries' accents' .it is never used between 2 people in a conversation for example but in the news or in conferences it is always used
     
  14. greg from vancouver

    greg from vancouver Senior Member

    vancouver, canada
    Canada, Vancouver
    Just in case this thread slipped past unnoticed, I am still very curious about court trials. Can anyone shed any light on my questions?

    Thanks,
    Greg
     
  15. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    American English, Palestinian Arabic
    Unfortunately, I've never attended a court trial or hearing in Arabic, so I can't answer your question. :(
     
  16. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Hello Greg,

    I have been thinking and wondering about this also.

    My guess is that they do speak MSA, at least some of the time. Most people who would take part in a trial (judges, lawyers, stenographers, etc.) are educated and would know MSA, anyway. But for defendents and/or plaintiffs who may not know MSA, maybe they also give questions and answers in whatever dialect is being used. I do not know. For what it's worth, I know that the book "The Arabic Alphabet: How to Read & Write It" by Nicholas Awde mentions that knowing MSA and the inflections of words is necessary if one wants to become a lawyer in an Arabic country.
     
  17. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Yes Greg, I'm sorry: I wanted to answer your question but thought I'd wait till I can ask someone who'd confirm my thoughts, because I too don't remember having read the proceedings of any court trial.
    So, my guess is : Those who speak MSA in court are mainly the lawyers, some of them even sound like giving speeches يخطب (they try to impress the judges I think :) ) well, and judges of course. But as plaintiffs, witnesses.... are mainly common people who, like most of the people, don't speak MSA. Hence, the questions-answers are mainly in colloquial, this is something I'm 90% sure about. We/I only need to make sure if the final written proceedings of the trials are "rephrased" in MSA or just left as they are.
    I'll try to check and get back to you.

    This is the way things used to be in Egypt until few years ago. Now lawyers still speak Fus7a, but many of them -I'd dare say the vast majority للأسف - are not that good at MSA (grammar, rhetoric...) as their predecessors, and this is due to the general decline of education levels :(
     
  18. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
  19. lama

    lama Senior Member

    lebanon
    arabic
    heyy i have the answer to this question as my uncle is a lawyer:everything in the court is in the spoken arabic,but only things like final judgments or any written thing is in msa .
     
  20. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Well, I didn't watch the movie -at least not yet- but even without watching it I know that the dialect/colloquial is the spoken language in court. This is what we said Lama and I : people speak collquial, but the written procedures are in Arabic, sort of paraphrased (if not translated :D) into MSA.
     
  21. greg from vancouver

    greg from vancouver Senior Member

    vancouver, canada
    Canada, Vancouver
    Cherine... as I said, I wasn't doubting anyone... but in hindsight, your original post used words like "guess", "90%" and "don't remember", so you didn't sound very confident;).
    I thought this would be a convenient way to confirm... and also interesting, as the clips of the trial shown on television have always been censored snippets.
    Greg
     
  22. българин Senior Member

    bulgarian
    ok. so i understand when MSA is used in speaking, but how about writing. i read something that said "levantine arabic is rarely written." so this means that the dialects are rarely writen because most of the written material is in MSA. so does this mean that a letter to a friend or chat room, MSA is used? so, my question is, will it be a waste of time learning the written form of a dialect because it seems most of the time i will be using MSA to communicate on paper.
     
  23. greg from vancouver

    greg from vancouver Senior Member

    vancouver, canada
    Canada, Vancouver
    I'm sure some of the natives are rolling their eyes at these endless questions about MSA vs Dialect... but I think the diglossia in Arabic [and these questions] are fascinating.

    To the previous poster, does your name have an English transliteration? It might be easier to address you.

    Greg
     
  24. българин Senior Member

    bulgarian
    lol. i know, it is fascinating. i'm sure they're sick of us asking these questions, but it is so confusing and complicated to decide on the type of arabic you want to go further into. i mean there is just so much possibilities and so many choices, you want to make the right one. i have studied some MSA on my own for some time, and i'm up to a point where i want to learn a dialect, then continue on further with MSA. i think learning a dialect will help me learn MSA because dialects are not so complicated as MSA. btw, i'm doing this on my own so i don't really have anyone i can turn to for every question about the language, so i'm looking for an easier route that i can take before going to the core of MSA grammar. i can get a good feel of the language and then transfer on to MSA. i think there are more rescources and it is easier learning a dialect than a language that no one speaks on a regular basis....anyway, my name comes apporximately translated to "bulgarin." just my nationality, nothing too creative here.
     
  25. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I am just a beginner but here's what I understood so far:

    Authors of "Colloquial Arabic of Egypt" warned that written dialects have no rules and you may find a different spelling spelling of the same dialectal word or form but dialects can and are written down, as someone already explained in some entertaining literature, I assume that a letter to a friend falls into the same category but not sure. This text writes the dialect of egypt in both romanisation and Arabic, example:

    اسمك اية؟ ismak eh? (Egyptian Arabic)
    instead of:
    ما اسمك؟ maa ismuka? (Modern Standard Arabic)

    ismuka/ismuki and ismak/ismik differ only in pronunciation but use the same spelling if written without vowels, as it normally would but "maa" is standard for "what" and "eh" is Egyptian spoken for what, besides placed after, not before the noun.

    Very often it's pronunciation that's different.

    anta (MSA), enta or inta will all be spelled the same way in Arabic - انت. The sound Q ق is a glottal stop in Arabic but it's still written as ق in other dialects it is pronounced as G (go), the letter ج is pronounced G in Egyptian, so "jiddan" - "very' becomes giddan but is spelled the same way - جدا. Many sounds like th, dh, Z are pronounced differently in dialects but are still spelled the same way as in MSA. The tanwiin (nunisation) symbols are often not written out, so formal differs from spoken dialects only in pronunciation again.

    The words and forms that differ can be written out, like Egyptian مش "mish" - "not".

    Movie subtitles, so I heard, are written in MSA, even if they are spoken in dialect, so that other Arabic speakers could understand. (Thi situation is similar to Hong Kong, where they write subtitles in standard (traditional) Chinese characters but pronounce them in their way and even use different words and expressions!)

    There are not many books that teach spoken dialects in Arabic script. In my opinion, the first version to learn should be the standard.

    Do people use dialectal or standard Arabic words in letters /short notes to each other? What's the usage of informal written Arabic?
     
  26. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Levantine or Egyptian or Moroccan... Arabic(s) are written when people feel like writing them. The thing is that there is no fixed rule for their transcription.
    In chat rooms, many people simply use the romanized transcription of Arabic, so, believe it or not, this makes the colloquial written form less "weired" :) maybe because it's totally different than MSA, hence seeing it writen in different letters as well alleviate the feeling of estrangement.
    To answer your question : Yes, don't waste your time learning how to write a "spoken" form of Arabic, it IS spoken, so why bother yourself learning how to write it :)


    I agree with Anatoli. I recommend those who want to learn Arabic to start with MSA, the written form of which were derived all the colloquial or spoken forms. It's the common "dialect" between all the Arabic speakers -even if they don't really speak it, but they do have it in common-, it's the form used in writing, it's the basis for grammar even if each dialect has a different grammar, but the common grammatical points come from MSA.

    In any personal form of written Arabic -i.e. letters, short notes, SMS, chatting.... - a person can chose what they like, though I think that the majority prefer writing in colloquial.
    The only problem -if we can call it so- is that the written form of dialects is not really fixed, it's like transcripting or transliterating a "foreign" language.

    I'll give a quick examples :
    The word for "a relative" قريب qariib is pronounced in colloquial Egyptian as 2ariib . It can be transliterated either as the MSA form, and we know that we'll read it ariib, or simply write it as pronounced : أريب

    The word for "kill" is قتل qatal , we pronounce it atal and can transcribe it either قتل or أتل .
    Maybe this is the cool thing about colloquials: they're not rigid at all.


    Back to written forms of Arabic : we can't present a report, a translation, an essay, a school/university homework... in colloquial. We must use the MSA.
    Any informal context can use the "form" they choose.
    As for literature, I remember saying this before somewhere: Most of the Arabic literature is in MSA, but there are some works written in colloquial, mainly poetry. Until some years ago, this sort of colloquial art was considered second -if not third- degree, or a low level of litterature, but it started gradually acquiring its deserved place, thanks to some of the best writers who prefer it to MSA.
    Even in Novels, sometimes we can find in a Novel fully written in MSA some expressions and dialogues written in the colloquial Arabic of the writer.
     
  27. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I noticed that dialects are normally simpler in grammar, not more difficult (e.g. no case endings: -un, -an, -in and less plural forms) - so there's no steep learning curve from MSA to dialects, a lot of difference is about slight change in pronunciation (more difference in the Western dialects) and some colloquial words. Although these words are the most useful everyday words, their percentage shouldn't be too big and they are not too difficult. The learned words are usually the same as in MSA.

    I don't know why people are put off by the number of dialects in Arabic. Chinese has even more dialects and some of them are really incomprehensive for Mandarin (modern standard Chinese) speakers. The problem is only it's hard to practise it (MSA) in speech if Arabs don't use it in everyday life. So I am learning MSA, its grammar and pronunciation, there is a lot of audio in MSA but when I want to practice speaking I will need to build up my knowledge of dialects. Luckily some dialects are not so terribly different from MSA - Levantine, Egyptian or Gulf.
     
  28. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
  29. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Thanks, MarcB. it's actually in this thread:

    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=162701

    As user Driss admitted:

    Another point is that Western dialects have more clusters of consonants (kleb (Maghreby) - kilaab (MSA)), which make them harder to understand, if you have learned MSA only. It doesn't make Western dialects inferior or less important, though.
     
  30. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    American English, Palestinian Arabic
    A few quick points here:

    It sounded to me like Saddam Hussein was speaking in a mix of colloquial Arabic and MSA (just to make things more complicated! ;)). Strictly speaking, we can't say that he was speaking MSA because he used some very colloquial structures like "ha" for the future at 3:54-55, not to mention the lack of many case endings. On the other hand, he used some MSA structures (like جُعِلَت at 3:35 and ليس at 3:56 and 4:24) that are not really used in colloquial Arabic (this is common among educated people, who tend to use MSA for much of what they say when the register is formal). At the same time, some of his inflections were wrong (he said عن نفسُهْ instead of عن نفسِهِ at 4:21-22).

    As far as whether one should learn the written form of a dialect or dialects, since there isn't really a standardized version there's not really anything to learn! Furthermore, since the dialects are variations of MSA learning the written version of MSA (the only standardized written version of Arabic) would enable one to write in the dialects. As Anatoli said, words that are only pronounced differently (the vast majority of the words in a dialect) are still written as they would be in MSA. For example, I pronounce مدرسة "madrase" (Jerusalem dialect); in the Galilee they say "madrasi" and in some parts of the West Bank they say "madrasa." In Egypt they also say "madrasa" but they stress the second syllable instead of the first. Nonetheless, we all spell the word the same way. For words that have deviated so far from MSA so as to almost constitute entities of their own, those are just spelled out phonetically.

    I believe all other questions have been sufficiently answered.

    Moderator Note: Please refrain from using chatspeak or SMS style abbreviations and such, as per WR Rule #22. That means using capital letters were appropriate. Thanks.
     
  31. James Bates Senior Member

    English America
    I think you may find the case of Malta interesting. Malta became Arabic-speaking after the Fatimid conquest but since the inhabitants were still Christian they had little reason to adhere to the rules of Classical Arabic as embodied in the Qur'an. Eventually their form of speech split off and became an independent language, i.e. it was not considered a deviation from another language just as Italian eventually came to be regarded as an independent language and not a deviant form of Latin. Similarly, one can see a strong correlation between an Arab's adherence to Islam and his or her attitude toward MSA in the Arab world today. Needless to say, Christians and other non-Muslim Arabs are the least enthusiastic about MSA and the most likely to favor the replacement of it with regional forms of speech.

    I was about to post this when I realized I'd missed out on something. Islam isn't the only factor in favor of MSA. The tide of pan-Arabism that swept the Arab world in the twentieth century had a major impact on Arabs' perceptions of their forms of speech vis-a-vis MSA. I think we can safely say that if it were not for Islam and Arab nationalism Arabic would long since have gone the way of Latin and Arabs would no more consider their speech a deviant form of MSA than the French and Spanish consider their languages corrupt forms of Latin.
     
  32. Hemza Senior Member

    Paris, France
    French, Moroccan Arabic
    Hello,

    I know this thread is old but just to correct you on some points (nothing serious, don't worry :D ):

    -We say "klab" and not "kleb".
    -Bedouin dialects of Arabia (even "urban" Najdi but correct me if I'm wrong) also tends to elide the first vowel of the word, exactly like Western dialects do.

    I don't think that understanding Western dialects would be harder if you know MSA than Eastern dialects. Have you ever heard a Najdi speaker? (not from Ryadh). Even with MSA, it would be very hard to understand the speech. Same goes with a Sa3idi speaker (rural Egyptian). So your statement is too much simplified, because it depends on many factors and I don't think that general statements could be made on Western and Eastern dialects which are themselves composed of many different dialects and accents (Urban Tunisian isn't rural Moroccan nor Urban Lebanese is like Najdi).

    About the fact that Western people mix their dialects with French, it's mostly an urban phenomena, not everywhere and you can find areas and even people who don't arabise French words nor make use of code switching as you can find the same thing in Lebanon for example or Egypt, mixing with French or French and English. Again, not everyone do that, so statements should be taken with a grain of salt :).
     

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