30 August, 2006

The Power of Language

What is the role of language in questions of security, identity, and civil rights?

Today's BBC World news reports that a passenger was harassed and forced to change clothes on a Jet Blue flight from NYC to LA for wearing a T shirt with an Arabic slogan on it (actually an anti-war slogan). Passengers have also been reported to be restrained for speaking Arabic on planes and there was an incident with a UAE couple speaking Arabic on the London Eye as well.

In the UAE, there's an opposite issue going on right now with expat residents claiming that emergency services should not just be limited to Arabic as it is a multi-national society despite the strong restrictions on naturalization.

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6 comments:

secretdubai said...

Regarding the UAE: the government is certainly trying to train all nationals to speak English, and many public sector jobs require competency in English.

However - many jobs here are filled by non-Emirati Arabs, and they don't necessarily have the free training options available. It's one thing for an Emirati to go to a school here, where they will learn English, but quite another for a Yemeni policeman, or Syrian ambulance driver, or whatever. Are these people trained? I honestly have no clue.

I do know that I found it almost impossible to communicate with a doctor at a government clinic, even though I knew the Latin name for my condition. I said it several times very slowly and clearly, but he just didn't understand. Eventually the nurse repeated it, with a slight accent, and he instantly understood. He then repeated the word with such a heavy accent that I could barely understand it, so no wonder we were having problems. Next time I'll take a notepad and write words down instead.

John B. Chilton said...

Language is adapting, and so is dress.

Returning from the summer through Heathrow on Aug 21 I observed that the proportion of travelers in the airport in their native dress seemed to way down. Likewise on the flight from Heathrow to Dubai I saw no one in the UAE national dress. This is unusual. My sense is that people are changing their dress in hopes they will encounter fewer hassles and fewer hard looks.

ArabLady said...

Knowing that they are coming to an Arab country they should have thought of this issue…

It’s their problem!!!

Veiled Muslimah said...

Assalam Alaykum,

The case of the man being stopped really riled me up. I mean honestly... It's just a shirt and their 'uneasy' about it. They won't be effected by the innocent lives that have been effected by the wars' that have been going on, but they'r effected by a shirt because a) it's in arabic b) it's anti-war. The shirt read 'We will not be silent.'

Ma'asalamah

nativeinformant said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
nativeinformant said...

sorry, Arablady, I have to disagree. These people are being recruited to come here to help build this country and do the jobs that nationals won't. Without them, there would be no UAE as we know it. Sure locals should not be expected to be fluent in immigrant languages, but providing basic services in the most popular ones is common sense, if not common courtesy. Indians make up half of UAE's population, whether you like it or not, and it doesn't seem like that's going to change any day soon.

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