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Sunday, June 13, 2021

More Flexibility with Foreign Words Might Help Arabic Flourish

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The Arabic Language Academies in Egypt and Damascus in particular were able to coin many of these new words, some of which were accepted and widely spread, because they have synonyms in Arabic, were easy to use and close to the words’ foreign meaning, as in mas’ad (elevator), hatif (telephone), and barid electroni (email). Meanwhile, some derivatives of new coinages became more popular that the new words themselves. The word madhiae (radio), for example, went popular in forms like mudhie (broadcaster) and idha’a (broadcasting/ broadcast station), while the foreign form radio remained the most commonly used word to describe the instrument in Arabic.

In contrast to these common terms, some of the newly coined terms and nomenclatures were not accepted into everyday speech, and the Arabized words remained confined to the papers on which they were written, as was the case with nasookh (fax), al-ra’i (television) and al-shabika (Internet). In these cases, people preferred using the English words.

Preserving the purity of Arabic and protecting its grammatical and morphological rules undoubtedly requires the concerted efforts of specialists in different fields of language, so that the newly coined Arabic term comes out close to the meaning of the original term, even if it is not identical, in order to be able to compete with the original term.

Yet the key problem is that not every translator is capable of understanding all the sciences, and whenever the linguists and Arabic language academies try to find an Arabic synonym for these terms through livable and usable derivations, they will not be able to achieve what they aim for without cooperation among the academies to review the terminologies they coin, accepting what they agree upon and amending what faces a major disagreement. Then, they can print the standard terms to be in the hands of scholars and translators.

If we are not able to do that at the present time, then I do not think using some extraneous vocabularies detracts from our language, especially for terms whose connotation becomes common and difficult to be replaced by others, or for terms that were derived from proper nouns, scientific names of some chemical elements and compounds, or names of foreign units and measures. This might be better than filling Arabic with vocabularies nobody would use.

For our language to prove its existence and position in the various fields of scientific research, I think Arabic language academies and scholars need to be more flexible in accepting changes to some of its morphological rules, in order to allow its development and help it meet the requirements of our current era, in a way that helps it spread more widely, and also facilitates teaching it to native speakers first and non-native speakers second.

Issam El-Koussa is a professor with a Ph.D. in Arabic grammar and morphology at Al-Baath University in Homs, Syria. He is also a former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities there.

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