The strength and weakness of a language and its respective nation are closely linked, when one falls, the other too, and vice versa.
Asked about the most horrific events of the 18and century, German leader Otto von Bismarck replied, “The English colonies in North America adopted English as their official language”, expressing his disappointment that colonies with large German communities adopted English as their official language. instead of German.
Language is what marks a nation’s cultural identity and defines the allegiance of its people, as most nations are united by a mother tongue that creates or represents the strongest bond between their citizens. It concerns many nations in the world in which a mutual exchange of being named after the language or the language being named after the people exists, such as Chinese, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian , Spanish, etc.
Since language is a tool for other nations to transfer their cultures and a reservoir for their thought, literature and history, it is a matter of pride for every nation, and the Arab nation is no exception.
Arabic plays a central role in the cultural, intellectual and psychological development of the Arab character in the past, present and will continue to do so in the future, and as the language is the anchor of the unified identity of a nation, its loss foreshadows the disunity and potential of a society. disappearance.
The Arab’s journey through history
A powerful and versatile language in the pre-Islamic era, Arabic, in which the Quran was revealed, grew exponentially as a sacred language, expanding beyond being the language of a nation to become the language of all nations that have embraced Islam as a religion. And so, Arabic became the vernacular for religious observance and deeds in Islam, and the fundamental medium for a better understanding of the Quran; a unique feature that is rarely found in other languages.
Historically, the spread of Arabic was linked to Islamic conquests. I refer particularly to the remarkable status of the language at the height of Moorish rule in Andalusia (present-day Spain and Portugal). Universities, literature, art, music and distinctive Arab architecture flourished at a time when the rest of Europe was suffering from medieval decadence and church control.
Members of the royal family, rulers and elites sent their children to study in Arabic-speaking universities in Andalusia. Scholars such as Ibn Rushd, Al-Khwarizmi and others were well known throughout Europe and formed a springboard for the Renaissance. Centuries later, things relapsed: the Islamic domination of Andalusia collapsed, then the Arab countries fell victim to an era of Western colonization, during which, naturally, the Arabic language declined.
With the reversal of the relationship between conqueror and conquered, the tide turned against the Arabic language and the Arabs began to feel pressure to learn the language of their colonizers.
The aftermath of colonization
With technology dominating the economy of the Arab world and politics being controlled by Western powers, many Arabs in recent decades have educated their children in English, as a prerequisite for employment and access to technology.
In Arab countries with medium or high population density, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and others, Arabs have been relatively able to withstand language challenges. The situation differs, however, in countries with small populations such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, whose citizens represent 20% of the total population, the vast majority being expatriates from different countries of the world. And so, alarm bells are ringing to warn of threats to our mother tongue.
In Qatar, we have always been strongly rooted in our Arabic identity and our belonging to the language, which embodies our past, our present and our future.
As a country and as a people, we understand the threats to this beautiful language. The responsibility that our identity and our history place on our shoulders compel us to act to combat the threats to our mother tongue, in particular due to the growing number of universities and schools offering foreign language education for meet unavoidable scientific, economic and political expectations. .
It is for this reason that Qatar has enacted Law No. 7 of 2019, which obliges everyone to use the Arabic language in their daily business transactions and meetings.
The decree is excellent in principle and its implementation would indeed help to increase the presence of Arabic in the community, but it has not been fully implemented to achieve the desired objectives.
One of the first topics addressed by the first-ever elected shura council in Qatar was the challenges facing the Arabic language. I was invited to the plenary session on this subject and I stated categorically that language should be our cultural security. Everyone responded positively to this proposal, and it resonated strongly with public opinion in both traditional and digital media. The issue is still subject to ongoing debate and discussion.
Arabic is not only a tool of communication, it is rather our identity, our past which preserves our heritage and the history of our ancestors; it is the language of our faith, without which our religious observance would be incomplete; it is our future, without which we lose what distinguishes us as a nation and what connects us to our past; and it is our present, without which we cannot be described as a nation.
Arabic has influenced several other languages, in fact, its impact far exceeds that of many others. many languages are written in Arabic letters and contain a myriad of Arabic vocabulary, such as Urdu, Persian, and Swahili. There are other languages which contain thousands of Arabic words and structures, such as Spanish, Portuguese and Maltese. A more limited impact of Arabic is also seen in other Indo-European languages.
The call to preserve the vernacular in no way means that other languages should not be learned. It is a fact that learning foreign languages is a necessity, due to the plethora of developments in all sectors and the transformation of the world into a global village. Ultimately, languages are a living organism that interacts, influences and converges with each other; it has been throughout history, and it should remain so.
The deep concern we have about our mother tongue being replaced or weakened by foreign languages, especially English, is shared by many other countries. The French, Germans, Spaniards and others have the same concern and have taken steps to preserve their national languages to become fragile or lost.
Since 1973, Arabic has been one of the official languages of the United Nations, along with English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese, which testifies to its position and impact in the world, as well as the rigor and demand that more efforts be made to preserve and promote it.
Arab expatriate communities living abroad who are at risk of losing their mother tongue need to keep all these dimensions of the Arabic language in mind and be more active in maintaining this great vernacular by teaching it to their children as their commitment to their past and their future. .
Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari is a Minister of State with the rank of Deputy Prime Minister and President of the National Library of Qatar.
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