Will Arabic be the Latin of the future

The end of this century could well see more than half of the world’s 7000 languages vanishing,
according to National Geographic’s Disappearing Languages project. At a recent conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, alarm bells have started to ring that Arabic may well be one of them.

The Arabic language developed in the 6th century AD in many areas of the Middle East and North Africa. Today, the only official form of Arabic is called Modern Standard Arabic, which is utilised at formal occasions such as in government institutions or in the news. The language knows many different dialects and accents, varying from country to country, some varieties cannot be understood by others. Therefore, if one would address the linguistics of Arabic, it would likely to be
considered to include more than just one language. Measured as a single language, Arabic is spoken by approximately 280 million speakers worldwide.


Interestingly enough, although the language knows many speakers, fears are spreading in the UAE about the demise of Arabic in this modern era. According to The National, an English-language newspaper in the UAE, there is a very real threat to the future of this ancient language.


The National claims that some areas of the UAE have started to show a preference for adopting English and are turning their back on the language of their forefathers. In this day and age, this trend is quite understandable, considering that the UAE has become such a cosmopolitan and globalised country. Speaking fluent English has become a necessity to communicate and to secure a good job in a country where 80% of the population are expatriates.

During the aforementioned conference in Dubai, a similar trend was discussed, namely that of a hybrid language popularly known as ‘Arabizi’. Especially among young Arabs, this is Arabic heavily mixed with foreign words (predominantly English) and for many represents coolness, modernity and sophistication.

So what can be done to counteract this seemingly out of control nose-dive of the Arab language?

There are a few simple steps that should be undertaken to increase the knowledge of Arabic in the UAE. For example, corporations could start by introducing mandatory Arabic lessons for its employees, getting not only Arab nationals but also expats familiar with the language.  Furthermore, Arabic speakers should encourage others to use the language at work but also in
their free time. But according to Dr Al Saheli, a professor of literature at Benghazi University in Libya, one of the most important issues is that of the education of young Arabs in their language: “When students study Arabic, they feel that they have entered a time machine and have been transported into a bygone era,” he says. “The curriculums used are highly detrimental to the
development of the language, disconnecting it from the present and reinforcing the idea that Arabic is archaic and belongs to the past and not the present. "

Should no action be taken, then sometime in the very near future the Arabic language may well face the same fate as Latin.

A. Hoefnagels | 21-06-15 | 18:37 | Permanent Link