Arabizi


by Molly Courtney

Arabizi is a form of writing which occurs when Arabic speakers, “in order to ease communication transliterate…Arabic text into English.” [1] The term Arabizi also refers to the habit of some native speakers to mix English and Arabic in conversation,[2] and is also known as “Arabish.”[3] Arabizi users often say that they use it because they are more familiar with an English keyboard or for technical reasons.[4] It has become controversial, as many in the Arab claim that it is “destroying the Arabic language.”[5] Despite this claim, the decline of the Arabic language is caused by much broader factors. Throughout the Middle East, “Western” languages are viewed as the languages of the educated elite[6]  to the extent that failure to speak one of these languages can carry a social stigma,[7] and globalization, which has made English the “lingua franca of the world,”[8]  encourages parents to educate their children in language schools, [9] where they do not graduate with professional fluency in Arabic.[10] Once these societal factors are examined, it becomes clear that Arabizi is not a cause; it is an effect, a result of much larger factors. In a society where English is viewed as the language of the educated, the young are driven to drop English words into their daily conversations, or write Arabic in Roman letters in order to show their peers that they are members of the “educated elite.” [11] In a society where globalization has forced parents to prioritize their children’s English learning over their studies of their native language, many youth simply do not have an advanced Arabic vocabulary and are forced to express themselves in English. Arabizi is not destroying the Arabic language; it is merely a product of the forces which are.

Arabizi was developed in the Arab world in the 1990s, when “Internet, chatting, and cell phone text messaging were first introduced,”[12] as many of these new technologies did not support Arabic script. In order to represent Arabic letters which do not have an equivalent in the Roman alphabet, a system of using numbers was developed. For example, letter ع is represented using a 3 (for an example of Arabizi, see Appendix A). Arabizi is a combination of the Arabic words “araby” and “inglizi” which translate to “Arabic” and “English.”[13] It is used informally, usually on internet instant messaging, social media sites, or by text message. However, “in the last few years advertising agencies and media outlets have begun to use it.”[14] It is particularly popular with Middle Easterners who have been educated abroad, or with those who have studied in private language schools.[15]

            When asked, young Arabs often state that they use Arabizi because they are able to type faster using an English keyboard[16] or because typing in Arabic “is not as technologically friendly.”[17] A survey of Arabizi using students at Zayed University in Dubai found that 55% of responders find writing using Roman letters easier “because we type most of our projects, homework etc. in English”, while 30% cited “technical factors, specifically lack of support for Arabic script.”[18]

            Many protest that Arabizi poses a threat to Arabic, or to Arab identity. Wassim Hammori, a telecom company employee, stated that Arabizi is “destroying the Arabic language” and that “If you ask anyone who uses [Arabizi] to write a well-formed paragraph in standard Arabic, they would fail.”[19] Mohammad El Salman, “an associate professor of sociolinguistics at the Balqa applied university” stated that young people should be made aware of “the dangers of [using Arabizi]” and that “We should rescue Arabic.”[20] An associate professor of Arabic at a Jordanian university warned that Arabizi will do “irreversible damage” to Arabic and that “it might weaken the users’ Arabic grammar in the long term.”[21] Furthermore, an online survey of Arabizi users conducted by students at the University of Texas at Austin found that 40% “feel that the use of Arabizi negatively impacts their identity, leading them to feel that they have become more westernized.”[22]

            Despite these criticisms, Arab identity and the Arabic language are threatened by forces far larger than Arabizi. One of these threats is the “positive social connotations”[23] of speaking a Western language, usually English or French. In Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, French is viewed as being the language of the “learned and sophisticated,” and being fluent in French is absolutely necessary to become successful professionally.[24] Speaking Modern Standard Arabic fluently is unimportant; “In some circles, it is fashionable to make mistakes in modern standard Arabic and rather chic to be unacquainted with the meaning of a word or expression.”[25] During his first speech to parliament, the former prime minister of Lebanon, Saad al Hariri, stumbled over his speech in Arabic, mispronouncing words and clearly having difficulty reading Modern Standard Arabic.[26] In Morocco, “Arabic is the official language of the nation, but one can hardly tell, because the facts on the ground prove otherwise. Everywhere you go, whether it [is] private or public, French is the language in Morocco.”[27] Arabic is increasingly being viewed as an unnecessary skill throughout the Middle East. In the UAE, state run universities no longer offer an Arabic major,[28] and many “show off the fact that they don’t know how to read or write their own mother tongue.”[29] King Abdullah II of Jordan was born to a British mother and educated in England due to political instability in Jordan.[30] He is rumored to not speak Arabic fluently, and has been said to delegate “away his need to speak Arabic as a means of covering his inability to speak it.”[31] Students at the American University in Cairo are ashamed to be caught speaking Arabic, “since lack of fluency in English is equated to a lack of social status or wealth in Egypt.”[32] Although colloquial Arabic is still used in daily life, knowledge of Modern Standard Arabic, the language of literature and the media, is increasingly deemed less important than fluency in a Western language, which carries “positive social connotations.”[33]

A minority of Arabs acknowledge that these “positive social connotations”[34] are a reason for using Arabizi. Although most students surveyed at the Zayed University in Dubai cited more experience using an English keyboard or technical reasons for their Arabizi use, 10% mentioned “positive social connotations” as a reason for using Arabizi, and stated that “people who are higher educated use this way of writing.”[35] A post on an online discussion board described Arabizi as “the hip new language of the elites, the ‘Western-educated bunch’” and further stated, “It is simply an image thing, it’s cool nowadays to speak foreign languages but not your native [language].”[36]  In a society where Western languages are so highly regarded, it is easy to understand why Arab youth use Arabizi. Using the Roman alphabet or dropping words from Western languages into conversation is a way of showing their peers that they are a member of the English or French-speaking “educated elite.”[37] Arabizi did not create societal perceptions of English or French speakers being educated and sophisticated, it is a product of those perceptions.

            Although many share this view of the superiority of Western languages, there are a number of Arabs who resent this view and seek to change it. For example, the Egyptian band CairoKee, which rose to fame through songs such as “Sout al Horeya” (The Voice of Freedom), about the Egyptian revolution, recently released a new song, “Salam ya Man”,[38] mocking Egyptians who mix Arabic and English, take on American names, etc. The song title itself is an example of Arabizi: “salam” is an Arabic greeting and “man” is the English word “man.” The song urges those who attempt to pretend to be Western to stop doing so. A Jordanian comedy group, N20 Comedy, released a video making fun of those who mix Arabic and English in order to seem intelligent or educated, even if they do not know what the English words they use mean.[39] The comedian tells his audience towards the end of the clip, “You’re Arab, speak Arabic!”[40] A scathing post on a discussion board for Moroccans living in America reads, “I thought, we got rid of the colonizer some 50 years ago. Now, we are allowing them back to colonize our tongues” and urged Arabs living abroad to maintain their fluency in Arabic.[41] Although not all Arabs subscribe to the idea that Western languages are superior, the population which does do so is the clear majority.

The view of Western languages being superior is not the sole cause of the devaluation of the Arabic language and the rise of Arabizi; globalization has also played a role. Globalization has not only led to the spread of Western clothing, movies, and ideas; it has also made English “the lingua franca of the world.”[42] English has become “the main medium of world trade, information technology, global universities, and globalization.”[43] In order to have a successful career, learning English is becoming more and more necessary. This places a great deal of pressure on parents to ensure that their children can speak English and obtain a successful career. This pressure leads to so much emphasis being placed on fluency in English that professional fluency in Arabic is often sacrificed. This leads to the use of Arabizi because Arabs who are more comfortable using English than Arabic are more likely to write using Roman script and drop English words into conversation.

Sending children to private school to ensure their fluency in English is common throughout the Middle East. Although some of these schools are theoretically bilingual, emphasis is placed on Western languages over Arabic to the extent that graduates of these schools are not professionally fluent in their own language.[44] Furthermore, many of these schools are not bilingual at all; their entire curriculum is taught in English.[45] Language schools are common in Egypt, where it is generally believed that “attending an English-speaking school will perpetuate one’s social and economic mobility.”[46] For a year, I attended the Islamic Language School in Fayoum, Egypt. Modern Standard Arabic was taught only sporadically, perhaps once a week. English class, in contrast, was held every day and French class was always held two days a week. Many of the students received private tutoring in English and French, some spoke English at home with their parents, and many use Arabizi. As a consequence, many spoke Standard Arabic poorly.

Similar issues exist in the Gulf Region, where wealthier parents “’send their children to private schools [where] everything is taught in English,’” [47] resulting in university students who are not fluent in their own native language. Many of these parents also speak English to their children at home.[48] At Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, “more than half [of students who come from an Arab background] ‘never get to professional fluency in their own language.’”[49]  Private universities in this region often teach in English.[50] This fluency in English has encouraged the use of Arabizi: Arabs who are fluent in English have the means to use Arabizi, as they know English words to mix into conversation and know the Roman alphabet, and have the desire to use Arabizi as writing or speaking solely in Arabic is challenging if one cannot spell well or express oneself clearly in Arabic.

            In many Middle Eastern countries, education officials are increasingly faced with the seemingly ludicrous question of how to improve the Arabic of Arabs. Numerous efforts are under way to promote fluency in Arabic among the youth. The Abu Dhabi Education Council recently “introduced a new Arabic language curriculum” for public schools in order to “encourage fluency in Arabic.”[51] The Abu Dhabi Education Council has also published a “Parents’ Guide to Arabic Language Learning”, which is intended to teach parents how to develop their children’s Arabic skills at home.[52] At Northwestern University in Qatar, the administration has proposed measures to improve its Arab students’ Arabic, including “more instruction in Modern Standard Arabic” and requiring Arab students to take an “Arabic for Media” class.[53] These officials recognize the decline in fluency in Arabic as being a problem independent of Arabizi, further evidence that Arabizi is an effect of a lack of fluency in Arabic, not a cause of it.

            Evidence of this can also be found in Germany, where a phenomenon very similar to Arabizi exists. English words are commonly mixed into German conversation, primarily by the younger generation.[54] This new way of speaking, known as “Denglish” (a combination of the word “Deutsch” meaning “German” and the word “English”),[55]is not only named similarly to Arabizi, but is caused by similar factors. While in the Middle East, Arabizi is caused by a view of Arabic as being inferior, in Germany Denglish is partially caused by a view of the English language as being “cool.”[56] Germany is bombarded by English media, including “television programmes, films and music.”[57] As a result, “nearly half of the German young people have a positive or very positive view of Britain, with the English language…being especially popular.”[58] In fact, “more German youth dislike Germany (17%) than dislike Britain.”[59] As in the Middle East, many young Germans are educated in English to some extent, and “German businesses and government…wish to prosper in a globalized economy in which English is the dominant language.”[60] Although this education in English is not causing a decline in fluency in German as it is in the Middle East, perhaps partially due to a lack of a divide between Standard German and Colloquial German as there is in Arabic, some feel that Denglish “will ultimately alienate younger Germans from their cultural and linguistic roots” or endanger German.[61] Here again is a population of young people mixing their language with English in a country where studying English is common, increasingly desirable professionally, and perceived positively. As similar societal forces exist side by side with the mixing of English and another language in both Germany and the Middle East, it stands to reason that these societal forces are related to the mixing of English and another language in both regions.

            Those who fear that Arabizi is “destroying the Arabic language” [62] are correct in one respect: the Arabic language is at risk. Arabizi, however, is not to blame. If Arabs were not taught English, they would not have the knowledge required to drop English words into conversation or write using Roman script. If speaking a Western language did not carry social benefits, there would be no reason to drop English words into conversation or write using Roman script. Arabizi could not have created societal perceptions of Western languages as being superior or the increasing emphasis of education in Western languages: without these factors in existence, Arabizi would not exist. Arabizi exists only because societal pressure provided the motive to use Arabizi and globalization provided the means. Once the societal context in which Arabizi is used is examined, it becomes clear that Arabizi is not a cause but an effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix A

D: السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

D: مرحبا حمده،، شحالج؟

F: w 3laikom essalaaam asoomah ^__^

F: b'7air allah eysallemch .. sh7aalech enty??

            [pause]

D: el7emdellah b'7eer w ne3meh

D: sorry kent adawwer scripts 7ag project eljava script w rasi dayer fee elcodes

F: lol

D: Hello there.

D: Hi Hamda, how are you doing?

F: Hi there Asooma ^__^

F: Fine, God bless you. How about you?

         [pause]

D: Fine, great thanks.

D: Sorry, I was looking for scripts for the java script project and my head is swarming with code.

F: lol

Palfreyman and al Khalil, 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

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Bukhash, Moadh. “Arabish.” The Mind’s Eye. 5 June 2009. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.              <http://moadh.com/2009/06/05/arabish/>

Burnett, Erin. “The Problem with the Arab World’s Love Affair With English.” CNN     Money. 4 May 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.      <http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2012/05/04/arabs-english-business/>

Elshamly, Nariman, and Abdel-Ghaffar, Nady. Summary of Arabizi or Romanization:    The dilemma of writing Arabic texts. Jil Jadid Conference, University of Texas at  Austin. 18-19 Feb., 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.              <http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/mes/events/conferences/jiljadid2011/papers/Fina                  lArabizSummary_JilJadid.pdf > 

Eyadhh. “Arabizi.” YouTube. 4 May 2008. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.                <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SotOp07Fig>

Hamdan, Hady. “Text Message Transliteration Threatens Arabic-Linguists.” The Jordan            Times. 14 Sept. 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2012. <http://jordantimes.com/text-message- transliteration-threatens-arabic---linguists >

Guttenplan, D.D. “Battling to Preserve Arabic From English’s Onslaught.” New York     Times 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.              <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/11/world/middleeast/11iht-educlede11.html > 

Langley, Edward. “Denglisch-The German Language Under Attack?” Omniglot: The     Online Encyclopedia of Writing Systems and Languages. Web. 23 Nov.  2012.              <http://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/denglisch.htm>

McKenna, Francine. “Denglish-Germany’s Mix of Deutsche and English.” German        Pulse. 6 June 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.germanpulse.com/             2012/06/06/denglish-germanys-mix-of-deutsche-and-english/>

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N20Comedy. “N20 Comedy: "عربي انا مع محمد زكارنه YouTube. 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 13    Nov. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCA7O37362U>   

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 العربية : How We Use Arabic  Today. 9 Sept. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012.

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Said, Fatma.”9aba7 2l5air! Texting, Arab Style.” Arabizi-اللغة العربية :How We Use Arabic           Today. 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.     <http://arabizi.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/gulfnewsarabizi/>

Sperrazza, Lelania. “I Am Not My Tongue.” American University in Cairo Teaching      English as a Second Language Journal (2011): 95-104. Web. 20 Nov. 2012.              <http://www.aucegypt.edu/huss/eli/TESOL/issues/Documents/Special%20Edition          %20of%20AUC%20TESOL%20Journal%20Fall%202011.pdf#page=99>

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Tariq ez alden. “فضيحة الحريري و اللغة العربيةYouTube. 14 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.               <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY2Re8IxH7w&feature=related>



[1] Said, Fatma.”9aba7 2l5air! Texting, Arab Style.” Arabizi-اللغة العربية :How We Use Arabic  Today. 18 Apr.                               2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.  <http://arabizi.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/gulfnewsarabizi/>

[2] 9aba7 2l5air!”, Said 2012.

[3] Bukhash, 2012.

[4] Palfreyman, David and Muhamed al Khalil. “’A Funky Language for Teenzz to Use’: Representing Gulf   Arabic in Instant Messaging.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication  9.1 (2003). Web. 13 Nov. 2012.  <http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol9/issue1/palfreyman.html>

[5] Hamdan, Hady. “Text Message Transliteration Threatens Arabic-Linguists.” The Jordan Times. 14 Sept.

2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2012. <http://jordantimes.com/text-message-transliteration-threatens- arabic---linguists>

[6] [6] 9aba7 2l5air!”, Said 2012.

[7] 9aba7 2l5air!”, Said 2012.

[8] Bersamina, Froilan Vincent. “English as Second Language (ESL) Learners in Saudi  Arabia.” Yahoo!    Voices. 24 Mar. 2009. Web. 20 Nov. 2012.   <http://voices.yahoo.com/english-as-second-language-esl-learners-saudi-arabia- 2899149.html?cat=4>

[9] Sperrazza, Lelania. “I Am Not My Tongue.” American University in Cairo Teaching English as Second Language Journal (2011): 95-104. Web. 20 Nov. 2012.  <http://www.aucegypt.edu/huss/eli/TESOL/issues/Documents/Special%20Edition %20of%20AUC%20TESOL%20Journal%20Fall%202011.pdf#page=99>

[10] Guttenplan, D.D. “Battling to Preserve Arabic From English’s Onslaught.” New York  Times 27 Sept.   2012. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.  <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/11/world/middleeast/11iht-educlede11.html > 

[11] [11] 9aba7 2l5air!”, Said 2012.

[12] 9aba7 2l5air!”, Said 2012.

[13] 9aba7 2l5air!”, Said 2012.

[14] 9aba7 2l5air!”, Said 2012.

[15] 9aba7 2l5air!”, Said 2012.

[16] Elshamly and Abdel-Ghaffar, 2011; “9aba7 2l5air!”,Said 2012

[17] Elshamly and Abdel-Ghaffar, 2011

[18] Palfreyman  and al Khalil, 2003.

[19] Hamdan, 2010

[20] Hamdan, 2010

[21] Hamdan, 2010

[22] Elshamly and Abdel-Ghaffar, 2011

[23] Palfreyman and al Khalil, 2003

[24] “Arabic Deserves a Better Chance of Survival”, Said 2012

[25] “Arabic Deserves a Better Chance of Survival”, Said 2012

[26] Tariq ez alden. “فضيحة الحريري و اللغة العربيةYouTube. 14 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.            <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY2Re8IxH7w&feature=related>

[27] Radi, Talal. “Arabizi.” Wafin: Moroccan Connections in America. Web. 13 Nov. 2012.                  <http://www.wafin.com/printarticle.phtml?arttype=art&artid=226 > 

[28] Burnett, 2012.

[29] Said, Fatma. “’We Arabs are Killing Arabic’: A View Shared by Many.” Arabizi-اللغة

 العربية : How We Use Arabic  Today. 9 Sept. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012.

< http://arabizi.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/we-arabs-are-killing-arabic-a-view-shared-by-many/>

[30] Pavgi, Kedar. “Talking the Talk:A guide to world leaders who have overcome language  barriers to rule.”   Foreign Policy. 12 Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.           <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/12/12/talking_the_talk?page=0,5>

[31] Kedar, 2012.

[32] Sperrazza, 2011.

[33] Palfreyman and al Khalil, 2003

[34] Palfreyman and al Khalil, 2003

[35] Palfreyman and al Khalil, 2003

[36] Radi, 2012.

[37] [37] 9aba7 2l5air!”, Said 2012.

[38] Mostafa Goubail. “Salam Ya Man-CairoKee سلام يا مان-كايروكيYouTube. 12 June 2011.  Web. 14 .2012.  <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXYMnceNkzU>

[39] N20Comedy. “N20 Comedy: "عربي انا مع محمد زكارنه YouTube. 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 13                 Nov. 2012.  <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCA7O37362U>   

[40] N20 Comedy, 2012.

[41] Radi, 2012.

[42] Bersamina, 2009.

[43] Bersamina, 2009.

[44] Guttenplan, 2012.

[45] Burnett, Erin. “The Problem with the Arab World’s Love Affair with English.” CNN  Money. 4 May                         2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.  <http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2012/05/04/arabs-english-business/>

[46] Sperrazza, 2011.

[47] Guttenplan, 2012.

[48] Said, Fatma. “’We Arabs are Killing Arabic’: A View Shared by Many.” Arabizi-اللغة

 العربية : How We Use Arabic  Today. 9 Sept. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://arabizi.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/we-arabs-are-killing-arabic-a-view-shared-by-many/>

[49] Guttenplan, 2012.

[50] Guttenplan, 2012.

[51] “New standards in teaching and learning Arabic language for Cycle 1 school children.”  Abu Dhabi                                                           Education Council. 4 Oct. 2011. Web.                    <http://www.adec.ac.ae/english/pages/newsdisplayaspx?ItemID=434>

[52] “ADEC introduces ‘Parents Guide to Arabic Language Learning.” AMEinfo. 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 21 Nov.

2012. < http://www.ameinfo.com/adec-introduces-parents-guide-arabic-language-318079 >

[53] Guttenplan, 2012.

[54] McKenna, Francine. “Denglish-Germany’s Mix of Deutsche and English.” German  Pulse. 6 June 2012.   Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.germanpulse.com/2012/06/06/denglish-germanys-mix-of-deutsche-and-english/>

[55]McKenna, 2012.

[56] Langley, Edward. “Denglisch-The German Language Under Attack?” Omniglot: The  Online  Encyclopedia of Writing Systems and Languages. Web. 23 Nov.  2012.  <http://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/denglisch.htm>

[57] McKenna, 2012.

[58] “Tainted Love: Survery of UK/German Youth Reveals Mutual Mixed Feelings.” British Council. 3 July      2003. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.britishcouncil.de/e/about/pressrelease_030703.htm>

[59] “Tainted Love: Survery of UK/German Youth Reveals Mutual Mixed Feelings,” 2003.

[60] Langley, “Denglisch-The German Language Under Attack?”

[61] Langley, “Denglisch-The German Language Under Attack?”

[62] Hamdan, 2010