21 February, 2007

Watch your language

Link - Gulf News - Nation's Mother tongue loses in the race of languages

Languages are like computer operating systems. The more people who use them, the more useful they become and the more people who adopt them. English has become the Windows of languages - And similarly loved and hated. Individual decisions on adoption affect everyone.

Culture and language are closely interwined. What happens to a culture when a language falls into disuse? Certainly many of those in the culture will feel threatened. And when threatened there is a desire to place blame. Does the blame reside in the encroaching language? In fellow members of the culture who have switched to the new language?

Can the native language be protected without closing the culture to economic exchange with the outside world?


goldenlegs said...

this is great dirhams, just came back from burj dubai

Lirun said...

i dont believe it is guaranteed to last..

while china is discussing a brain drain it is not a clear cut trend as many second gen chinese are returning also for purely personal reasons - ie to enjoy the boom and advance careers..

through china's isolation it has long identified its need to set its own standards for economic information logistic and militaristic security.. for example - denied access to super comupters and mainframes china has become the server networking guru..

and many of its larger companies have begun setting standards that do not necessarily align with euro-american tradition..

my guess is that english will not be the lingsuitic hegemon for too long..

i think the smart business person will know

english but also chinese arabic and spanish..

(and hebrew hhahahaha)

Anonymous said...

What island are they talking about?

bklyn_in_dubai said...

much ado about nothing. arabic as a spoken language is not going to disappear anytime soon. and if it is peppered with english words (and hindi/urdu, farsi, etc), so what? languages change, cultures change. that's inevitable.

this discussion reminds me of that regarding urdu's status among muslims in india. the muslim cultural elite there insist that urdu be "preserved", in large part by sending kids to urdu medium schools -- though the elite themselves send their kids to english medium, for obvious reasons.

english is the global lingua franca, and to get ahead, you need to know it. someday soon perhaps mandarin chinese will displace english as the language of business and we will have to learn it. but until that time, the game is played in english, not arabic or hindi or mandarin. this isn't to say that one should not know these other languages, but it is wrong to fault kids especially for not being as fluent in "pure" arabic (or farsi or mandarin or whatever). it may not be of as great use to them as to their parents' generation.

i remember my mother's uncle, an urdu poet, was complaining to me that his kids, doctors and IT guys, could barely read urdu, and could not speak in that poetic voice that pure urdu speakers always rave about. but the kids were unapologetic -- in a country and state where hindi, telegu and english are the languages you must know, what's the point of speaking pure urdu? in iran speaking pure farsi makes sense -- you're surrounded by other pure farsi speakers (i imagine.) but in dubai, a linguistic polyglot, what's the point, other than just making a statement, and enforcing a hierarchy of locals over others? and which arabic is to be preserved anyways?

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