Arabic language in light of change: Difficulties and challenges
Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, UAE Author and Director-General of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research/Gulf News
The strength of any language stems from the power of its people
In recent years, the Arabic language has witnessed a gradual decline in the Arab world. Technological and scientific transformations, and the ensuing inventions and scientific advances in a multitude of fields, constitute a serious challenge to this language. This challenge is demonstrated through numerous aspects. The majority of new technological and scientific advances in the world are supported through languages other than Arabic; therefore, there is an increasing tendency in the Arab world to learn foreign languages, mainly English considering it is the language of science, and the language through which all forms of modern sciences can be learnt.Indeed, the scientific output in Arabic is almost non-existent in the fields of applied and experimental sciences, and very scarce in the fields of social sciences and the humanities. Moreover, publication activities in the Arabic language are very low when compared with other languages, as indicated in statistics published in 2005 by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Culture, stating that the Arab world publishes 1,650 books a year, while the US alone publishes 85,000 books a year. In his book Age of Science published in 2005, the late Egyptian scientist, Ahmad Zewail, a winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1999, said that the Arab world’s contributions to published scientific papers worldwide ranged between 0 per cent and 0.03 per cent, compared to 1.3 per cent for Israel. To this day, I believe that this percentage still accurately reflects the reality of the Arab world’s contribution to scientific publications, despite the 13 years that have passed since the book was first published.
As a result of this minimal contribution to the modern sciences by Arabs, the Arabic language cannot keep pace with evolving scientific terminologies. Also, the translation of such terms into Arabic cannot, in many circumstances, convey accurately their meaning, which altogether drives specialists and scholars’ interest away from Arabic toward other languages. There is no doubt that Arabic language academies are exerting their efforts with regards to the translation and Arabisation of scientific terms; however, it is beyond their current capacities given the accelerating rate of scientific advancement, and the constant progress and expansion of scientific terms, which makes it very difficult for these academies to keep up with.In addition, the amount of Arabic content on the internet, which has become the principal platform for publication, sciences, culture, and information worldwide, is very insignificant when compared with other languages. In this context, it is estimated that Arabic content consists less than 3 per cent of the overall content on the web, which forces Arabs to use the English language, in particular, in order to follow all that is published on the internet, especially as most Arabic websites are of poor standards and do not offer content that can adequately compete with websites in other languages.Social media platforms are also viewed as a source of threat to the Arabic language, due to the hybrid languages employed by users of these platforms, including the use of Latin alphabets, numbers, or symbols to write Arabic [also known as Arabizi]. This hybrid, or invented language has gained popularity among younger internet users in particular. Arabic-language media is certainly shouldering responsibility for partly contributing to the deterioration of the Arabic language.