Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Linguistic consternation

Posted in Arabs and Arabic, Society by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on August 23, 2008

Spellings continue you fascinate me for a number of reasons. The most recent one is this amusing story from an article in the Economist about modernizing English spelling:

Residents in Cologne once called the police after a hairdresser put up a sign advertising Haarflege, rather than the correct Haarpflege (hair care).

In my younger years I used to argue with my English friends about the superiority of American spelling. As I lived in the USA and learned more, I saw plenty of inconsistencies fossilized in American spelling as well. Connecticut and Tuskegee spring to mind, but even centre seemed more attractive than center because it preserved the French origin of the word. I guess I got more sentimental with age.

But this excellent article from TechCrunch UK was a timely wake-up call as it discussed starting a company in the UK and aiming it as US customers.

5. Always write in US English

Dates, spelling and phrases – UK readers are generally used to reading both UK and US English. Many US readers aren’t so don’t make understanding your product harder for them. Also US English will be better for your SEO.

So, from today I hope to stop writing in British English on my websites and stick to the American spelling. This is not so much modernizing as as it is pragmatism, as I make my US hospital CIO customers more comfortable with my company’s products.

But modernization of languages is also important as I consider my experiences teaching Arabic in DC. One student was particularly reticent about telling me where she had learned her Arabic.

In the end, she confessed that she had studied in Israel. I was fascinated to contrast her experiences in learning Arabic and Hebrew. Apparently, because of the migrations of Jews from all over the world who did not speak Hebrew, Zionists tried to modernize the language to ease its study. The result, my student and friend told me, was that she learned Hebrew much more quickly than she did Arabic.

This is a shame for Arabs need friends now more than ever.

But it is also a difficult problem to solve. One of the wonderful principles introduced in Islam is that the every Muslim should be able to read and understand the Quran. Long before Luther demanded that Christians be able to read the Bible without needing help from Latin-speaking priests, Muslims all over the world were learning to read so that they could understand their religion.

But such a progressive principle requires a conservative approach to enforce it. If the Quran is sacred text that no one must change, and all Muslims must understand it, then their language must not be allowed to change lest they cease to understand the Quran.

This is a serious issue, one that continues to hamper the learning of Arabic even as it rightly preserves the continuity of the Quran.


One Response

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  1. Lubi :) said, on August 30, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Subhan-Allah 🙂 this makes me want to reaffirm my desire of learning the Arabic language yet again…thank you for this interesting post!

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