Transition from Colloquial to MSA

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by Qureshpor, Oct 8, 2013.

  1. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Moderator: I am not sure if I am able to discuss this question in this forum or not. If it does not conform to forum rules, then please delete it.

    I have lived in an English speaking country since my childhood. I believe if I went to any other English speaking country, my English would be understood and I am sure I will be able to understand English speaking natives of that country. Similarly, my Urdu and Punjabi would be understood anywhere in the world where there are Urdu and Punjabi speakers.

    From my knowledge of Arabic, albeit fairly meagre, I am aware that at least some Arabic dialects are quite distinct from MSA. My question is this. In due course when education is widespread all over the Arabic speaking world, will there come a time when people will speak a relatively standardized Arabic even if it does n't quite match up with MSA?
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2013
  2. barkoosh Senior Member

    Not in a million years.
  3. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    Dialects have become more homogenised in some ways - one now hears people in the Gulf using "msh" instead of "moo" or "mub" for example (one of thousands of examples). Additionally, people are using MSA words at times as well.
    However, I highly doubt they will all merge at all, and certainly not to an MSA-like language. People are very proud of their dialects, even if they are constantly fed information that what they speak is "incorrect" or "slang", and I believe that globalisation means ENGLISH is having a much, much more profound impact on dialects than MSA ever could have. Many (not all) people just consider MSA to be of secondary (if at all) importance to English.
    At the end of the day, all dialects are very far from MSA (including Gulf, which people sometimes claim as close to MSA) and even though languages are in a CONSTANT state of evolution, I cannot ever imagine Beirutis speaking like Emiratis, Iraqis, Moroccans, or even Egyptians.
  4. bearded

    bearded Senior Member

    But aren't newspapers written and radio/TV news spoken in MSA all over the Arab world? Does this fact have no influence ? And isn't MSA taught in all schools? Why shouldn't it prevail over the dialects in the long run?
  5. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    It has had some influence. You sometimes see people using MSA words to sound more formal or intelligent. But generally a lot of people have a passive understanding of MSA and greatly struggle to speak in it. You can even see this in the Lebanese parliament (Saad Hariri). Many (not all) people find it archaic and find it difficult to apply to the modern world, so for formal communication and communication with other unintelligible dialects they use English, and for communication with each other they use their specific dialect.

    Again, this is VERY dependent on the individual and can't be described as the rule, but this is definitely the biggest trend that I observe.

    I should also note that I am speaking about my own age group (under 30).
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 9, 2013
  6. barkoosh Senior Member

    Well, maybe to make life miserable for foreigners who are learning Arabic :)

    Children spend their early formative years talking dialect, way before going to school. So the basis is not MSA. Also, I can't imagine any parent teaching their preschool child MSA (that is, if the parent knew how to talk MSA in the first place); the child won't be able to communicate easily with others. Besides, MSA grammar is very complicated compared to dialect. In dialects, dual is generally not used, there's no مرفوع or منصوب or مجرور, no تنوين and no ممنوع من الصرف, no difference between mas. pl. and fem. pl., etc.
  7. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    I think in large urban environments at least, the dialects will converge onto a set of common features of the Urban Mashriqi dialect. This will reduce the differences between dialects and many dialects will disappear but there will always be multiple dialects nonetheless. Egypt will always sound Egyptian and Syria Syrian, etc.
  8. Tracer

    Tracer Senior Member

    Wadi Jinn
    American English
    I recently read an article comparing the development of the Romance languages with the Arabic dialects. It pointed out that it is generally believed that the Romance languages began to develop into separate languages in a serious way about 500 years before a similar trend appeared in Arabic.

    It concluded that in this respect, Arabic dialects are more or less 500 years behind the Romance languages in divergence from one another.

    Bottom line: In about 500 years, the Arabic dialects will have become separate languages similar to what the Romance languages are today…….some mutual intelligibility, but not enough to be called the same language.

    One could even argue, of course, that Maghrabi is already nearly a separate language as is the case with Maltese. And written dialect is becoming more and more common in my estimation.

    In view of these developments, chances are each of these new Semitic languages will not only be spoken, but written in their own specific Arabic script. MSA will have become a relic similar to what Latin is today.

    (Of course, I’m talking about a distant future…….several hundred years hence).

    (A similar fate awaits Indo/Pak English. Already in many cases, for example, native US English speakers are unaware they are hearing English when a sub-continental attempts to communicate in a US situation).

    Might I also mention that it’s becoming common (in the US) to see language subtitles on TV programs featuring British speakers (!) :) So much for globalization.
  9. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    With all due respect, that is what Islamic lawyers would call القياس الفاسد. The Romance languages (or dialects as they were at the time) did not have to contend with 24 hour media access, 90%-plus literacy rates, airplane and motor vehicle travel, mass migrations like the ones caused by the oil boom and a host of other technological and social factors. In many ways, the Arab world today is a much smaller place than was Western Europe during the Renaissance, so using those languages as a model simply does not work.
  10. Ihsiin

    Ihsiin Senior Member

    There are many examples of dialects being normalised by standard Arabic. One which really bothers me (sometimes) in Iraqi, is the first-person, singular (and second-person, masculine), past-tense verb form becoming fa3alit, rather than f3alit. This kind of normalisation tends, of course, to be more metropolitan.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2013
  11. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    I agree somewhat. I think the dialects of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan for example will become more influenced by each other over time but will still remain different; maybe similar to the Gulf. Will MSA have a big part in it? I highly doubt it. As I said before, some features have crept in, but today people are generally far more concerned with themselves or their children learning English. In Lebanon for example most of the youth speak such perfect English (and often French) that they use it amongst themselves socially - especially on the Internet and for electronic communication. I even have friends in all these countries (including Egypt) who do not have Arabic keyboards on their computers or phones because they either write Egyptian/Lebanese in the Latin alphabet or English. They usually do understand news broadcasts in MSA but would never read books or newspapers in it (though many say they would read in their dialects) and speaking is literally out of the question - a great sense of nervousness arises when the need to use even a tiny amount of MSA arrives, along with hundreds of mistakes, mispronunciations, giggles and then dismissing the whole idea. My Gulf friends and Moroccans are slightly less uncomfortable but still talk about the "formalness" of using it and find it a huge effort. Conversely, Lebanese and Egyptian features have certainly crept into other dialects and speakers of Gulf Arabic generally feel a high degree of comfort and ease making their speech sound Egyptian or Lebanese in order to be understood.

    Of course others may have completely different priorities and experiences. I know this is a sensitive issue and I'm not trying to be political. I'm just explaining what I see amongst people of my age group.
  12. bearded

    bearded Senior Member

    I am surprised by the situation described by k8an, especially when he says ''friends in all these Countries....that would never read books OR NEWSPAPERS written in MSA''. Does that mean that there are large numbers of (young) Arabs who are not able to (or find it too difficult to) read an Arab daily newspaper?
    Do they read only the foreign press or do they not read newspapers at all...?
    Here in Milan there are a great many Arab immigrants, and I see them often (e.g. on a bus or underground) reading Arab newspapers, apparently without big problems: and please consider tha the majority of them are fruitsellers, pizza-shopkeepers, butchers etc. from various Countries, and not professors...
  13. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    They are able to read it! Don't mistake me.
    The great majority of people are able to understand MSA, even if they are not confident at speaking or writing in it. Basically, most people who are literate can use MSA.
    They just prefer to read in English a lot of the time. Keep in mind that a large number of these people have attended English or French-language universities and high schools either in the Middle East or abroad. Additionally, English is a compulsory language at a lot of the other schools, and English music, TV, movies, social media and other Internet communication has saturated most of this part of the world too. Also, Arabic-language movies, TV shows and music are nearly always in dialects, with MSA being an extremely rare exception.

    Again, I am describing the situation I observe amongst my peers (educated, under 30). This is a very sensitive political issue for some people who have completely different views, which I do not wish to conflict with. Others are welcome to voice alternative opinions.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2013
  14. aisha93

    aisha93 Senior Member

    This is an interesting topic. I totally agree with what (barkoosh & k8an) said.
    I'll talk about my experience and the situation in my country (Bahrain).

    Here, public schools teach all subjects in Arabic except of course English which is taught from Grade3. But when students go to college things are the opposite, everything turns into English (except for those who choose majors like Arabic language or Islamic studies...etc).

    So by the time they graduate (with bachelor degree after 3 or 4 or even 5 years depending on the university) they will have become used to English and feel more comfortable communicating in it (in comparison to MSA of course, not the local dialect).

    Private schools are the opposite, everything is in English except Islamic and Arabic lessons but less people register their children in these schools due to their high fees.
    I personally studied in a public school till grade 9 and then my parents registered me into a private school (starting from high school). English language is more important for the workplace (especially in the private sectors).

    So for most educated people, English is their written language and informal Arabic is their spoken one.
    Also, we should not forget that many people here are of Persian origin (like me) or Baluchi or Pakistani who are Bahraini citizens. So these languages have their influence on too though they are not taught in schools.
  15. القرطاجني

    القرطاجني New Member

    بعض أزقة تونس
    Tunisian Arabic
    What lacks to MSA to be as common as French in France or English in UK is "an army and a navy" and a "structure" to give common norms and some uniformity.
    These options being rather improbable in the near future, I think that MSA will be contained in some literate circles. Globalisation, Mass-media, etc. may ameliorate the understandability of MSA and to some degree its fluency in the mouths of Arabs. That's a fact I do not deny, but I do not expect much of it.

    In Tunisia, some people, by ignorance or by bigotry, find MSA kitsch or backward. It's not "à la mode". Others are simply ashamed for they cannot understand it. I have friends that read translations of Koran in English or in French to understand some verses. More than often, I had to translate some day to day MSA words, that I had the insanity to use, to French to be understood.

    Arabs do not read for pleasure in Arabic or in whatever language. That's sad but that's also true.
    For that, I blame the educative system, not for the lack of Arabic courses but for it's inadequate and pedantic.
    Let's have an example:
    An Arabic little girl reads in her book: Rami Closed the window : رامي أغلق النافذة
    When her teacher ask her to close the window he says in colloquial: سكر الشباك . The teacher uses then 2 'different' languages. Although both forms are correct with some declinations, The girl will never meet the common colloquial/MSA form in her books she will only encounter the pedantic form. And the teacher will always switch between the two registers. The examples are so many like قدام / أمام، مغرفة /ملعقة and so on.
    The teacher don't speak the language of the book and rare are those who speak it and then nearly no one speaks it fluently in daily basis, reducing the chance of being heard and used by youngsters. By this fact MSA becomes a foreign language, in concurrence with other languages like French, English and various dialects. A 'noble' one may it be, a praised one in some circles, but always a foreign language.
    That is a situation a little boy in Surrey (UK) may never live, for when he goes to school he "speaks" the language of the book. He will gain vocabulary but then, what is required from him is to learn information not the language of the information. That is not the case of the Arabic little girl, and it causes disaffection between the youth and the books and many other problems for their future studies.
    What a waste of energy!
    I'm not good in english, so sorry!!!
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2013
  16. Hemza

    Hemza Senior Member

    Paris, France
    French, Mor/Hijz Arabic (heritage)
    I encounter exactly THE SAME PROBLEM in Morocco... People have (at least, urban people) "un complexe d'infériorité" (sorry, don't know how to say in English), vis à vis to French people and language and they want to show they speak French and add French words everywhere, and look at MSA with disdain... And I really don't like to use French words in Moroccan (especially when those words are there since 1912, due to colonialism) so I use MSA words or Berber, it depends. And my cousins look at me weird or mock me when I don't use the French words, like if it's "normal" to use them. Of course, I don't care if someone speak with me in Arabic dialect and mix with French, English, or whatever, but this problem is also because of education and what surround people: at least, in Morocco (may be, it's the same case in Tunisia, and Algeria, who is the "worst") people are surrounded by French, everywhere and it's a "cool and modern" language which means that people are educated (when they master it, not when they use 3 French words in a sentence). May be, it's also a question of school system, which doesn't make people want to learn MSA, I don't know... I was born in France, raised in France, so I don't know exactly which are the causes of MSA disinterest, but it's sad...
  17. Aloulu Senior Member

    Tunisian Arabic
    French is in all Francophone Maghreb countries by at least the elite and most of the young considered to be more "civilized" and "educated" compared to MSA. Although many actually do acknowledge that Arabic (MSA) is a much richer and difficult language when discuss this topic with them. Dont forget that almost all French speaking Maghreb countries are much more focussed on Europe than the East (Shaam, Khalij etc). Apart from that has French also been pushed as a second language by governments/regimes after colonialism, most university studies in Tunisia are in French. Unless you study journalism, history or Islam all your books, your presentations and end-of-studies projects will have to be written/presented in French. And France also wants to keep those countries Francophone + the elite is very France-orientated. The same is the case in Morocco and Algeria. So French also becomes a "status thingy".

    On the other hand there is also a difference if you leave the elite for what it is. My family is from rural Tunisia (Sfax province) and the line of thinking that is prevalent among the "upper class" that "speaking French is civilized" is almost non existent. Even some of my cousins who ended up as doctors after having studied in the bigger cities have not (yet) adopted this attitude, they still speak in our own rural Tunisian Arabic with a "g" instead of "qaaf" (as they do in the cities) etc. French is also used much less in the south (rural Tunisia) compared to the amount they use it here in Tunis (the capital). I myself grew up in Europa and do not speak alot of French for example, quite often I ask them here (in Tunis) to give me the Arabic word when I dont understand the French word myself.

    There is one small difference now in Tunisia after the revolution. And that is that most political discussions and political parties are trying to come off as "Tunisian" and therefore prefer to speak Arabic and often mixed with MSA on tv. It has become an identity issue because all of them want to show they are "truely Tunisian" and is a big change compared to how it was before the revolution. So now if you actually watch one of the many political discussions on a tv channel or other shows it is much more (99%) Arabic language focussed. This has kind of created a problem for politicians or intellectuals that are more comfortable with French instead of MSA/Arabic, they are kind of forced to adapt to the new status-quo if they appear on Tunisian television for example. I know some persons myself that are very Francophone but also involved in politics and because of this reasons started taking MSA lessons again because they know it is now kind of necessary to be at least decent in it as a (future) politician and to keep up with the latest news/discussions etc in Tunisia.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2013
  18. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I am grateful to everyone who has responded to my question. I am somewhat perplexed that Arabic speaking people find English or French easier to communicate in than in MSA! But perhaps, I should n't be that surprised. The phenomenon involving English (or another language such as French) is not just restricted to the Arab world but it also exists in Pakistan and India. When I hear a British prime minister speaking with great fluency in the parliament, it saddens me to hear (most) politicians from India and Pakistan struggling to make an impromptu speech in their respective national tongues. They have to write down the full speech and read it out like a child in a school! Apparently the last president of Pakistan could not even write Urdu!

    If the teachers teaching MSA in school don't speak in MSA with the children, the children are likely to grow up struggling in MSA. But, frankly, I find this reasoning a bit difficult to believe. Did Naguib Mahfouz's parents speak in MSA? Do all the broadcasters, for example those employed by Al-Jazeera have some special talent for MSA that they have managed to conquer this complex language but the rest of the Arab world can't quite manage it? In my part of the world, 3allamah Iqbal's parents spoke in Punjabi, he wrote his world famous poetry in Urdu and Persian and he was a Professor of Arabic at Punjab University, Lahore. He translated a few lines of Classical Sanskrit poets into Urdu and his Ph.D was written in German! He wrote, "Six lectures on the reconstruction of Islamic thought" in English. My mother tongue is Punjabi and my teachers almost without fail spoke to us in Punjabi whilst teaching subjects in Urdu. Yet I and millions of other Punjabis from Pakistan are able to not only converse in Urdu but we do write it to an acceptable level of competence. So, I can not accept that the situation is as simple as it is made out to be.

    Around 1996 I spent 10 days or so in Egypt, three days being in Cairo where I used the services of the same taxi driver. In Pakistan, most of the taxi drivers would be playing film songs for themselves and their passengers' entertainment. This gentleman would always play recitation of the Qur'an. He had a foldable chair in his taxi and whenever he got the chance, he would sit on this chair and read the Qur'an, in Arabic of course! I was curious to find out if he actually understood the language of the Qur'an or whether he was doing what most of us non-Arabs do. We just read it in Arabic (as accurately as we can) and then read up its translation. I drew some courage and in my broken MSA Arabic I managed to ask him if he was understanding what he was reading. He gave the most emphatic "Yes" as an answer. I do not believe he was a man one would describe as "highly educated". I have been to a number of other Arabic speaking countries from Morocco in the west to a Gulf country in the east. I have always attempted to practice my MSA and have found people who not only could understand me but also replied back in MSA.

    Languages have regional variations or dialects but there is always a "standard" form of speech, be this in the UK, USA, France, Indo-Pak Subcontinent, or anywhere else. I fail to see what is so different about MSA that Arabs can not get their tongues around it. Give me 6 months absorbed in MSA environment and I shall be as fluent as the professors in Al-Azhar!:) If the Israelis are able to give life to a dead language and bring mass literacy in it, why can't Arabs keep hold of a dying (?) language and promote mass literacy in that?

    One needs to learn French, English and other influential languages of the world, if one is to find suitable jobs in the ever competitive job market. But surely, can't MSA be accommodated at the same time? Has any of the many colloquials produced a Naguib Mahfouz? If MSA is such an obstacle, why not abandon it and start writing in the colloquial language and treat it as the national language of the country? I hope my MSA learning is not in vain.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2013
  19. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    Mastering Standard Arabic - outside of the (Arab) tribal areas at least - is very much an individual choice, rarely triggered by upbringing or circumstance alone. This has long been the case, and has allowed many non-native speakers to become masters of the language, teaching the natives how it should be done. In this sense, Arabic is quite unique.

    And in the same vein, I would encourage non-native speakers, especially from Iran and Turkey where learning Arabic is seen as a taboo even today, to see this phenomenon as a driving force motivating their personal journey in learning Arabic. If a berber-speaking or a nubian-speaking or kurdish-speaking or even colloquial-speaking person is exposed to Arabic in their daily lives, and learns it that way, you have the internet to learn the language and prepare yourself for real immersion. Not only is it doable, there is a proven record of learners becoming experts.
  20. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    Well, now we are truly getting into the uncomfortable game of language politics :) I will post my understandings of these issues with the knowledge that these are highly controversial issues. I will be careful and hope not to offend anybody.

    With the pan-Arabism era, MSA was promoted to a higher degree. Some people embraced the idea and proficiency and literacy highly improved, whilst many others defied it. In the "Arab world", there are of course extremely large and significant populations of non-Arabs (Berbers, Kurds, Assyrians, Jews, Arameans, Persians, Turkmen, Baluchis etc etc) with their own languages and cultures who hold them very dearly and resist Arabisation to certain degrees. For example, as part of the Arab Spring movements, Berber groups in Morocco campaigned so strongly for recognition that Berber was made an official language of the country alongside MSA.

    As well as these, there are also large groups of people who do actually speak Arabic dialects as their first spoken languages but do not consider themselves as Arabs in the ethnic or cultural sense. This is highly controversial and cannot be clearly defined around national borders but includes some segments of the Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian, Sudanese, Somali, Iraqi and North African populations. Some of these people also retain non-Arabic languages for religious uses (the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon using Syriac Aramaic, Assyrian/Chaldean Churches using Assyrian Aramaic etc). Of course, many of these people do consider themselves as Arabs, but there are are many who do not.

    Regarding using the colloquial languages as national languages, this has been raised in some circles and is again highly controversial. I am aware that many Lebanese scholars insist that Lebanese is a distinct language to Arabic and treat it as such, whilst I have heard the same claim from certain Egyptian and North African scholars. Proponents of making dialects national languages often state that whilst MSA is "Arabic", dialects are distinctly specific, organic and authentic to the country itself (whether its identity be Arab, other, or mixed) and thus can accommodate the identities of all citizens of the country. On the other hand, the ideas of pan-Arabism and Arab Unity conflict with this, claiming that all of the speakers of Arabic dialects are Arabs and need a unifying language (MSA) to maintain this identity. In this way, abolishing the language at an official level would be extremely controversial to some and seen as a direct attack on Arab unity. This is not something many people wish to do. As you can see, not too many people at the high level are prepared to cause that level of controversy.

    Another issue is the fact that large segments of the dialect-speaking populations do not consider their dialects as "real languages". Since they have been brought up to believe that MSA is a "real language", they are taught that what they speak is slang or street talk. Sometimes when we talk about this, people get confused and claim that dialects are a "part" of MSA. This is prominent even amongst people who cannot (and do not wish to) make a correct sentence in MSA. Whilst this view is changing, it is another reason that dialects are not more prominently considered for official use.

    It goes back to what aisha93 said - proficiency in English (or French) is more important for education, communication and employment. When combined with music, movies, pop culture, and the fact that most of the internet and international communicaion is in English, it is easy to see why parents and children focus on it so heavily. This is not unique to the Middle East in any way, obviously. Global trends are truly global, for better or for worse. When you already have a "cultural" language to fulfill your cultural needs and speaks directly to the national psyche (the local dialect), as well as English or French, it is often enough for some people to have a passive understanding of MSA to comprehend and somewhat communicate in news, official documents and religious contexts.

    Again, I hope I have not offended anybody with this post.

    Qureshpor, regarding your "in vain" comment - definitely not! MSA is held in high esteem in many circles and as stated, can be communicated in by most people at least to an extent. You will have access to so much literature and other written material and also be able to communicate with millions of people across a huge and very important region of the world. Speaking one dialect will not get you that. Then, if you decide to learn a dialect, you will have an extremely strong base to go from and it will be very easy to do so. I strongly encourage continuing on your journey to learn MSA!
  21. suma Senior Member

    English, USA
    I think you understate the diversity of native English speech. I imagine it would take you some time to get understand and pick up the native English speech of places like the Carribbean, Australia, and even rural parts of the UK.
    That being said, Arabic is similar. But I do believe that widespread satelite TV and internet are having a homogenizing effect on Arabic dialects. It's only natural that the younger generations growing up watching/listening to Arabic from all over begin to speak more neutrally.
  22. vinyljunkie619 Senior Member

    algerian arabic/american english
    Because MSA is extremely difficult, even for Arabs...
    As well, 9 times out of 10, the texts aren't vowelled/nunnated/etc; since you aren't getting the case endings, nunnation, etc, you're just getting a very formal colloquial rather than MSA... As a matter of fact, I always laugh when I hear someone speak MSA as written.
    More people watch TV than Read, as well... TV is HARDLY in MSA... 90% of shows are in dialect, either Egyptian, Syrian, or Gulf.
  23. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    This talk about the Maghreb for me is very peculiar. If anything I've found maghrebins more keen on speaking modern standard than mashreqis. For example i accidentally came across a gaming channel by a tunisian today and he forms his entire sentences in modern standard. This is almost unheard of in the mashreq but with tunisians i meet it seems quite normal, and also a number of moroccans and algerians i met. They feel they overcome dialect differences by doing this while mashreqis are rather more lazy or arrogant to expect that others should understand their dialect.
  24. Hemza

    Hemza Senior Member

    Paris, France
    French, Mor/Hijz Arabic (heritage)
    It depends of the people and where you live also. In Paris, there is a lot of Egyptians (in my neighborhood) and as they live with Maghrebians, they understand them with no problem. It depends how much you're exposed to other dialects.
  25. suma Senior Member

    English, USA
    Of course when the one party understands the other's dialect then there's no need to speak in more "cumbersome" MSA.
    But I think Iskander was referring to situations when that is not the case.

    I think many maghribis often assume that their own dialect is not widely understood so they are accustomed to using MSA in the public sphere.
    On the other hand most Egyptians, Levantines and others presume that their dialect is widely understood and the idea of speaking in MSA is unfamiliar to them.
  26. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Yes, it might take me a while to understand these varieties but a little time spent getting oneself familiar with them will remove any short time problems. And, any educated Australian, Afro-Caribbean native or a rural inhabitant of the UK will understand their prime minister speaking in their respective parliament! None of them will find Standard English "cumbersome"!
  27. suma Senior Member

    English, USA
    That's debatable.
  28. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Frankly, I find this incredible and perhaps even laughable. Beyond Arabic itself, two major languages that employ the Arabic script, namely Urdu and Persian, also make do with a mode of writing that does not employ short vowels. I assure you both Urdu and Persian speakers read their respective languages with complete ease. If the majority of Arabs are unable to provide the correct vowels whilst speaking MSA, then all I can say is that there is a serious issue within the Arab world over the quality of education being provided.

    If people are not reading much, then I am not surprised if their language reading and speaking ability inclines towards illiteracy.

  29. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    Very much so.
  30. vinyljunkie619 Senior Member

    algerian arabic/american english
    Could you quote me where I said they were unable? No. I said since most texts are unvoweled, they are not being forced to use case endings, which is fact. Most people read fos7a as a formal colloquial...
  31. aisha93

    aisha93 Senior Member

    The reasons you mentioned are sadly true.
    But the difference between MSA and colloquial dialects is wider than that of, say, formal Persian (or English) and informal Persian (or English). That is probably true for Urdu too. You know better of course.
    (see post #6 by barkoosh, it mentions the huge differences very nicely)

    I don't know if this is related, but even in pronunciation, very few people pronounce the letters 100% correctly.
    If you're familiar with all dialects then you can tell where an Arab person is from even when they speak in MSA (except for professional journalists and presenters or clerics of course).

    If you give us a paragraph (in MSA) and ask us to point out the diacritics, then the majority of us are bound to make a few mistakes although we perfectly understand what the paragraph says. My point is that very few people are aware of all the ins and outs of Arabic grammar. I am certainly not among them but I am trying to learn or re-learn it though English is of more importance to me because of my major.
    I hope you get my point. :rolleyes:
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2013
  32. suma Senior Member

    English, USA
    The case ending (declension) vowelization is one thing.
    But the voweling within the body of the word is something different, and I believe native arab speakers have no problem with that aspect; taking also into consideration grammatically acceptable variations.
  33. vinyljunkie619 Senior Member

    algerian arabic/american english
    Ok, you guys are not getting my point.... You guys are focusing too much on READING vowels as opposed to acknowledging them...
    the biggest difference between MSA and dialects is the lack of case endings, verbal mood markers, etc which are allllllll shown by voweling.
    The difference between adhaba, adhab, and adhabu is all in voweling
    The difference between kitaabu, kitaaba, and kitaabi is all in voweling
    The difference between 3aada and 3aadatan (adverbially) is all in voweling
    Nunnation is all in voweling...
    Without voweling, these words all look identical, and when I read a vowel-less text, I read it as if it were colloquial, just with more lofty language.
    All of these features have been lost by dialects except nunnation in certain instances in Gulf Arabic.
    If you are not acknowledging, i.e. pronouncing these vowels, you are technically NOT speaking MSA but a highly collegiate formal colloquial.
    If vowelling were compulsory, people would have a much better understanding of the technicalities that separate MSA from Dialects, and be able to adequately reproduce them. MSA is more of a language that is understood than reproduced... A lot of Arabs are losing confidence in MSA, especially in the eastern countries, where only a passive understanding is required, as opposed to people in the west being able to reproduce it to a higher accuracy due to being more necessary so that Arabs in the west can understand them.
    Furthermore, a lot of times when I hear Arabic on TV that is SUPPOSED to be Fos7a, I hear it without all the case endings/nunnation/verbal mood endings/adverbial markers.
    I feel that these easily deleted/unacknowledged things, stated above, are what make fos7a, fos7a... Similar to enunciating in English.

    This does not, and I repeat, does not have anything to do with literacy/reading ability as it pertains to Arabs, or any group of people who use Arabic script.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2013
  34. analeeh Senior Member

    English - UK
    I don't think this is the case outside the Francophone countries though, where it's not particularly surprising - widespread bilingualism + lack of prestige for MSA tends to produce that sort of result. In Jordan - the only mashriq country I have any real extensive experience of - plenty of people are able to communicate in a kind of MSA, and often do. They don't produce case vowels, but then who does? Syria is apparently even more MSA-heavy; in Jordan many people want to learn English (but not that many actually speak it that well), in Syria apparently that impetus is absent and MSA is highly prestigious. Very few people speak MSA as very narrowly defined as having case endings, but most Syrians I've met and many Jordanians have no problem whatsoever producing high-register language I would identify as MSA. By some definitions izdād aṣ-siḫṭ tijāh al-ġarb intišāran or whatever is not MSA - but they certainly aren't what I'd call colloquial either.

    The thing is there is no 'MSA environment'. You are imagining MSA as analogous to standard English - which it isn't. There are, arguably, speakers of standard English - especially in the domain of pronunciation - and even the colloquial speech of these people does not differ enormously from the literary language. Obviously there's a register difference, but ultimately they are speaking much like they write. There is an enormous gulf between MSA and colloquials which makes learning it much more like studying a foreign language. At the same time, though, I wouldn't say that MSA and the colloquials are different languages - they're more like extremes of a particularly wide continuum of registers.

    Well this really depends what you mean by MSA. I would say that even read without most of the case endings (except ـًا and a few lexicalised ـةًs or whatever) MSA is still very much distinct from colloquial in structure and vocabulary. Obviously there is considerable blurring between very pedantic, elevated colloquial Arabic and lower-register MSA, but this is to be expected - they're not two distinct languages. Whilst I know that the Arabic tradition generally views any linguistic change from the Qur'anic period as errors (since traditional linguistics is based heavily on jāhili poetry and the Qur'an) and thus not MSA (= فصحى), from a 'western' linguistics perspective I think it's pretty easy to distinguish MSA as normally read, without most ḥarakāt, from colloquial.
  35. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    There are MSA environments, but its a matter of personal choice. Ew people grow up surrounded by the queen's English all their lives either, but attending a grammar school and tuning in to radio four will affect the way they end up speaking. Even having said that they will still address their plumber in a different register.

    to make it clear, the big deal with msa not being speakable is indicative of a lack of exposure to the arab world at length, few people speak it as a first language but most educated arabs acquire it to some degree. In egypt just as much as anywhere else.
  36. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    We could but it won't serve any useful purpose. So, we'll agree to disagree.

    We have a comparable situation in Pakistan. There are regional languages such as Pashto. Sindhi, Balochi, Punjabi and others. I as a Punjabi speakers would have to resort to Urdu to communicate with people of other ethnicities within Pakistan.
    Once again, the Punjabis, Pashtuns, Balochis, Sindhis are distinct ethnic groups with their own languages. And sure there is resentment from some groups against Urdu. But, if there are adequate educational policies in place to preserve and promote these regional languages, there is no reason why a language such as Urdu could not act as a unifying force. The same wold/could hold true for MSA.
    Are you aware if Lebanon's colloquial has produce anyone comparable with the statue of Jibran Khalil Jibran? I wonder why he did n't choose to write in the "distinct Lebanese language". Have any of the Lebanese and Egyptian scholars written anything of note in their respective colloquials? Or is this just scholarly talk? People should not be compelled to give up their colloquial dialect as a matter of state policy. This would surely be counter productive and therefore work against the spirit of Arab unity. If the colloquials are not going to go down the route of languages to be used for the purpose of education, then what choice do the Arabs have but to promote mass education in MSA? Surely not English or French?
    A better solution then might be to remove MSA from the Arab scene altogether and employ the local colloquial for everyday use and use English and French "for education, communication and employment" and anyone interested in reading material such as the Qur'an, Classical Arabic literature and modern MSA literature can do so in translation, if one is available!
    Thank you.

    Apologies if I misunderstood your post. I thought you meant that Arabs find written Arabic difficult to read because of absence of short vowels.

    I don't think case endings are the be all and end all. Not every "un", "in" or "-an" needs to be pronounced to keep the information unambiguous. The language can still remain MSA without a lot of the nunation.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 24, 2013
  37. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I think colloquial Persian is quite different from Formal Persian. As far as British English (for example) is concerned, there are regional variations in pronunciation and at times vocabulary differences but for the latter one has only the odd word here and there. Geoffrey Boycott speaking in his typical Yorkshire accent is understood by cricket lovers worldwide just as easily as they understand Henry Blofeld at the other end of the English speech spectrum.
    Well, variation in the way consonants are pronounced does not take a language further away from what is considered "standard" speech. Take the letter "d" for example in "murder". A Scotsman will pronounce this quite differently from a typical English person. And the Scottish person could be a professor of English language. Americans pronounce one or two consonants differently. But Obama's English is still standard English and not colloquial.
    Yes, I follow your thinking. Unless one has interest or "business" in the field of grammar, not many natives of any language will be able to explain to you the "ins" and "outs" of their language. In this sense, Arabs are going to be no different from anyone else.

    analeeh, thank you for your sober comments (Post 34). I can see that MSA and Standard English are not exactly analogous. But you would agree that the only reason why an ordinary English speaking individual is able to become part of the English speaking world is because s/he is taught to read Standard English from nursery school on wards, watches TV and listens to Radio that is in the Standard language and reads material (magazines, newspapers and the like) in a language that is Standard English.

    There is nothing wrong whatsoever for Arabs or for that matter any other peoples to learn English, French or any other global language which they feel serves their purpose. But, if it means that in pursuing this goal, they could lose another global language, namely their own, then this would indeed be a high price to pay.

    I have always spoken to my plumbers in no different a register than I speak with other people. Unless of course my plumbers are the same as the ones the Queen employs or they have all attended grammar schools and are avid listeners of Radio 4!:)
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 24, 2013
  38. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    So I've been told by my Pakistani friends. Seems to work quite well. :)

    Not really. Many people in these minority groups actually see Arabic as a language of their oppression and a threat to their culture and livelihood. For right or for wrong.

    There aren't any such policies. People are taught that their entire dialect is "slang" and cannot be taught/written because they have "no grammar or rules". These are highly highly politicised issues.

    Yup! Said Akl from Lebanon is one of the country's most famous poets. He is an absolutely fierce advocate of the Lebanese language, which he claims is a Phoenician/Aramaic/Syriac language with an Arabic influence. He is known for being opposed to an Arab identity of Lebanon and claimed that MSA would disappear from Lebanon. He designed a Lebanese alphabet based on the Latin system and also published a newspaper in it. You can read about him on Wikipedia.

    About the idea of giving up colloquial dialects as a matter of state policy, from what I understand, this was one of the goals of the Nasser era. Since that period and its ideology have drifted into the past, the use of dialects again increased. But as far as I know, they are not official or encouraged or protected in any country.

    As stated, this is highly controversial. It would be seen as a direct attack on the ideals of Pan-Arabism and Arab unity. This could have severe repercussions; so even though many people probably feel this way, they fear the consequences of raising the idea.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2013
  39. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Reply to Post 33

    If I am not misunderstanding you, your post implies that if Arabic was written with all the relevant vowels, people would begin to vocalize correct Arabic and then MSA would reign supreme everywhere in the Arabic speaking world.

    [Sorry, Cherine. I've failed again in my attempt to join this with my other posts!]
  40. vinyljunkie619 Senior Member

    algerian arabic/american english
    Not, reign supreme, but people would be more competent in it... most lazy people have the mindset as "well, they didn't write it that way, so we don't have to say it that way," without repetition, there is no way of actually committing it enough to memory to faithfully reproduce it with any level of fluency. That is why MSA for the most part is universally understood, but your everyday Arab would scramble for the correct words and grammar to put together a fully cohesive MSA sentence, that's why you see most educated folk use MSA styled words without grammatical inflection - mainly Fos7a-isms
    people using the word Dhahab instead of Rou7, but making no distinction of Present indicative/subjunctive/jussive (Adhhabu, adhhaba, adhhab)
    people using the word Ra instead of Shaaf (only tunisian dialect and maltese still use these words)
    Pronouncing the letter Q when in formal situations
    un-deleting vowels - msa3da to musaa3ada, raqsa (dancer) to raaqisa, ketbet to katabat, etc.

    MSA became lessER and lessER of a requirement when dialects reigned supreme on radio and TV.
    In Lebanon, you will never need Fos7a unless you go to an Arabic school.
  41. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    And they have no trouble understanding you? If so, they certainly won't reply in the same sort of English as the one taught in school...
    In any case, it's merely a demonstration of what registers are, since most people are unaware they use them all the time. It's not an exact analogy with Arabic, though if you pay enough attention you'll realise that even the English spoken on chat shows is different from 'standard' English.
  42. Hemza

    Hemza Senior Member

    Paris, France
    French, Mor/Hijz Arabic (heritage)
    My native languages are French and Arabic (Moroccan and 7ejazi dialects) so I learnt English at school (formal English). And I can assure you that when I watch some films in USA English, sometimes, I don't understand because words are sooo different from formal English!!! Fortunately, I have subtitles (in French and English) and sometimes, I watch English subtitles and some words were unknown for me, because of the difference between "colloquial" USA English and formal).

    I also agree with "اسكندراني", you can't compare formal English and varieties and colloquial English, with Arabic (fu97a) and dialects, it's not the same case.
  43. Schem

    Schem Senior Member

    Najdi Arabic
    This may be the case in the Maghreb or the Levant but definitely not the case in Arabia! I've actually been noticing the emergence of an opposite phenomenon here lately where fairly Westernized youth, fluent in both English and Arabic, will prefer to write even the English parts of their speech in Arabic letters (with borrowings from Persian/Kurdish representing /p/ and /v/ respectively). Tumblr is a prime example of this where entire subcultures (e.g., hipster culture) are being "translated" into dialectal Arabic with "gif's" of Arab and Gulf-based artists often made with dialectal Arabic captions. There (and in Instagram, FB, etc.), you'll find the comment sections filled with mixed English-Arabic comments being written entirely in the Arabic alphabet because it's usually easier to do so than to switch between scripts which ends up with the word order for the Arabic part being messed up the majority of the time.

    It's true I've noticed this mostly with GCC youth (who are already building their own heavily American-centered yet heavily Arabized popculture as opposed to French or British-based with hints of American globalism) and less so with Lebanese or Egyptian youth but you can still find similar examples from the latter two. One amusing example is the script used for writing credits in Arab Pop music videos where only a few years ago having the credits written in English/French/Arabizi was the norm but now the norm is to have them be completely in Arabic and even incorporated into the theme of the music video (Myriam Fares's latest "Keefak Inta?" is an example of this). The "hi, keefak, ça va?" paradigm never held ground in Arabia though so it's expected that the regions will diverge on the way they deal with foreign influence. Loanwords are received differently here where you'll find them usually conjugated (shower> atarawash, yitarawash, tetarawash) and large segments of the population that use them will not realize the words are actually loanwords. Yet still, I find this new phenomenon of Arabic gaining back prestige in the underground circles to have a promising effect on the status of the language even in Lebanon or urban Egypt.

    Also, when you say "one now hears people in the Gulf using "msh" instead of "moo" or "mub" for example" in your other post, I tend to think of Ahlam or other Gulf personalities who for some reason will resort to a mixture of their whitewashed dialect and a broken Lebanese or Egyptian dialect but who, in no way, represent the majority of Gulf Arabic speakers. Most Gulf and Hejazi speakers feel comfortable enough in their shoes to speak Gulf/Hejazi unless they feel they're not being understood. Speakers of Najdi and Yemeni Arabic (with the former representing about a third of all Saudi citizens), on the other hand, tend to shy away from using their dialect in pan-Arab settings which has more to do with that (i.e. their dialect not having enough cultural weight) than it has to do with the fear of not being understood or with the creation of a new mishmash of dialects. The overwhelming majority of Gulf and Najdi speakers would never substitute their mub's and mou's in favor of mush/mish because of a supposed transition to a pan-Arabic dialect.
  44. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    Yup, also true. I do think that the reverse is more common, though, as the Latin alphabet is much more prominent on the internet and on gadgetry. But you are right that it does happen both ways.

    Also true, but I don't think the phenomenon can totally be generalised. "Keefak Inta" is a kind of "traditional" song, so the Arabic text kind of fits the theme in my eyes. This is especially true as compared to the more "westernised" music coming from the Middle East. Again, both occur.

    Yes, definitely true. I was speaking about people like Ahlam and non-celebrities who feel that they're not being understood, or just to be "funny". I'm certainly not claiming that these will become standard in Gulf Arabic! But still, the fact that it creeps in from time to time might be a sign of things to come. I do think they are slightly becoming less different to each other. However, I personally do not think a pan-Arabic dialect will ever form, simply because the cultures of each country are so extremely diverse and unique - not to mention the actual physical size of the region and the barriers that poses.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2013
  45. analeeh Senior Member

    English - UK
    There are definitely changes in some Arabian dialects though, right? Like I'm sure I read a study talking about the loss of feminine plural inflection in Arabian dialects under the influence of Egyptian and Shami.
  46. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Absolutely. Drastic changes, in fact.
  47. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    Can you possibly elaborate? I'm getting more familiar with khaleeji and am quite interested.
  48. dkarjala Senior Member

    English - America
    Interesting stuff in your post - thanks. Btw, we usually call this kind of loan (where there is no loanword but rather a translation) a 'calque'.
  49. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I believe in Prophet Muhammad [Peace be upon him]'s time parents used to send their infant children to be cared by desert Arabs. Apparently this was not only to make them "rough and tough" in the harsh environment of the desert but also for them to learn the tongue of the desert Arab. This it seems was considered much more prestigious than city speech. I assume language of the city could be equated with "colloquial" language and that of the desert Arabs, fusHaa or at least a language thought to be of higher literary merit.

    What I am hoping to convey in the above preamble is that the concept of ordinary everyday language vs a higher register language is not new but even in olden times people were striving for a language they felt had more value for them and the two varieties lived side by side. Things have not really changed that much. We have a variety spoken at home whichever Arab country one happens to be in and another taught in schools, spoken during religious sermons, on radio and TV.

    I still think that mass education in MSA over a period of time could bring a kind of equilibrium between the colloquial and MSA.

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