Is the Arabic language one language, or is it in reality a family of languages? I was recently at a linguistics conference in Europe, and I heard lots of people express the point of view that the difference between the local dialect in Iraq and the local dialect in Syria and the local dialect in Morocco was very big, as big as the difference between the languages of the Romance language family. The Iraqi dialect might be like Romanian, while the Moroccan dialect might be akin to Spanish. Well, I think this is not true. And I told these people that I, in Dubai, at the American University in the Emirates, every day I see and I hear people from all the different Arabic countries speaking to each other in the same Arabic language with no difficulties. And so I don’t understand why you might think that the Arabic language is not a unified language. And these people also think that there is no benefit in studying the Standard Language (Modern Standard Arabic – MSA). They think you cannot speak the Standard Language in daily life, and the people don’t understand it and don’t want to talk it. And I say to them, well I speak it every day. But they don’t seem to believe me, or they just say, well, that’s your opinion. And so for that reason, I have asked two of my students — here is Fatiha, from Algeria, and here is Sana, from Syria — to talk about this subject. What is your opinion about this matter? Could you please clarify the situation? My opinion regarding the Standard Arabic Language (MSA al-fussha) is a language that everybody understands, young and old, from Morocco to Iraq to the Gulf, we all understand and can speak al-fussha 100% And when it comes to dialects of course there are some differences, for example Emirati, Syrian, Iraqi, we all have our accents, but we still can easily understand and communicate with each other. First of all we have our “White Language,” and secondly if we don’t understand a word or two, we can get their meaning from the context of the conversation afterward. And we so don’t have any difficulty at all in talking to each other. And regarding al-fussha, I was surprised to hear from Dr. Alexander that people think we don’t use and understand it. That is just not true. Al-fussha, we all understand and use it from children to adults And it is the link between us, and I think, for example, that the Holy Quran gives us the Arabic language and keeps it on the right path even in the shadow of the various dialects, it keeps the Arabic language understandable by all. I agree with you completely. In the current day, not everyone can talk al-fussha, but everyone understands it. It is not possible to speak al-fussha and not be understood, that is incorrect. There is the “White Language” today, we use it a lot in our media, for the sake of everyone understanding the subject we are discussing I am from Syria. And if I speak using Syrian words, everyone understands it because popular Turkish soap operas are dubbed into it.. And that’s an effect that we can feel to this day. That these Turkish soap operas that everyone watches use the Syrian dialect. And the same thing is true of the Egyptian dialect. Because of its widespread films, it has become easily comprehensible. For example, the dialects of Algeria and Morocco and Tunisia are a little hard to understand. The Arabic language in the Western Arab states — Algeria, Morocco, Tunis — other people do find it bit hard. It is Arabic, but your ear has to get used to the sounds of the dialect, it makes it hard for people But if you are Arabic and you speak the language, even if you don’t understand this or that word, you can understand Every language can take in some foreign words, for example Emirati has Hindi words, and the same is true for us in Algeria, under the Ottomans we took Turkish words And it is possible that those from other regions won’t understand those words because they are not Arabic And nonetheless it is Arabic, and al-fussa is used a lot in Algeria. Despite the reputation of Algeria There was French literature, and the question of Free Algeria, Algerian identity, there was — so we in Algeria have some great Arabic writers Such as writers like Wasini al-Aruj, like Ahlam Mustghani, And so I feel that we have preserved Arabic language despite the French colonial attempt to suppress the identity of the language And nonetheless we have kept the Arabic language in Algeria, and it is been preserved, for example by studying the Koran. Fatiha, you’re from Algeria, so you speak French just as well as you speak Arabic. Yes. Have you ever been, say, to Spain or to Italy? Yes. And when you hear Spanish as a French speaker and when you hear the local dialect of Iraq or Syria as an Algerian dialect user, is it the same… No, no, no. There’s an enormous difference. French is a very different language from Spanish. I can’t understand Spanish and I can’t speak it. It is possible if I look at something written to recognize lots of words, but to understand it, no I can’t. I feel that they are two different languages and French is fundamentally different from Spanish. And the Arabic dialects? It is all the same in every place — Syria, Iraq, the Gulf, Saudi Arabia — we speak the same language, I understand everything, 100%. Good. It is possible that there are some non-Arabic words in each dialect, but there is no real difference, no real difficulty. Let’s talk about this “White Language.” Sana, when you, as Syrian, speak with someone from Algeria, what is this “White Language?” Do you know subconsciously that if you use a certain Syrian word, she won’t understand, so you don’t use it? Is that it? The White Language consists of a mixture of formal language and colloquial speech. When I arrived in the Emirates from Syria, I had a little bit of difficulty understanding Gulf dialect. For they use a number of different words, and their pronunciation is different, I needed a little bit of time to be able to understand Emirati perfectly. Now I understand it thoroughly As far as Algerian is concerned, when I speak… I have a friend from Algeria and I have a friend from Morocco. When I speak with them, I know, I cannot use the Syrian word “ba’tha,” for they won’t…. For example, if I want to say “how are you?” (MSA), I can still say “how are you?” (Levantine), it makes it easier to understand, but I can’t say “how are you?” (Syrian) Do you know what that means? You don’t know. It is a thick Syrian word, we only use it in Syria, I only use it with my relatives. I think this is very interesting. When I was a trip through northern England, in the countryside, I didn’t understand a thing the people said. That was an English dialect and I didn’t understand anything. And yet people don’t think that English is not a unified language, but rather a language family. And yet when I hear people — not only from India or Nigeria or Singapore — but from England, I don’t understand very much… It’s not the same thing. For instance, if I went to Algeria, and I didn’t understand Algerian dialect and couldn’t speak it, I could speak MSA, and I would be capable of communicating with everyone any person, even a small child. If I can’t speak his dialect, I can communicate with everybody in every place using MSA. This question, Dr. Alexander, is the same thing as, say, someone from New York City, whose pronunciation is not standard, and is very different and hard to understand and I feel there is a big difference between that and, say, someone from Texas in the South. These are dialectical differences in the same country, and while we have different countries, it is about the same degree of difference. It is the same language, but with little differences. You can still communicate. For example right now I’m speaking the White Language and you are speaking MSA. That is the White Language, a mix, a simplification of MSA that simplifies communication. The Arabic language, the White Language, like we said, is a mix of colloquial speech and MSA. and we use it more and more these days since we don’t use MSA much because we are under pressure to learn English, to teach English to children as the global language and for that reason we use the White Language more and more these days as a language that everyone understands. If you are from Algeria, if you are from Iraq, if you are from Egypt — if you hear this language, you understand it It is not a standard language that you can study and learn it, and at the same time, it is not a dialect but takes from all of them in such a way that all can understand. Why do you need this White Language if MSA already exists? Why don’t Arabs speak MSA to each other all the time? Well, it is demanding, you have to be precise in MSA, and we have been influenced so much by English and other languages, so I feel that people find it hard to put all the grammatical markers on the words in MSA speech, so the White Language is easier. But are there any books in the White Language? No. Every book in Arabic is in MSA. It is easier, that is all… Concerning MSA, as I told you earlier, these days schools stress on teaching children other languages from the time they are young, Whereas MSA should be the foundation, and even when I was studying in Syria, MSA was the basis and it was present everywhere. But we didn’t speak it with our friends when we were studying because it is thick, it is heavy, and unfortunately these days, many people can’t speak MSA because of all the rules, the grammatical endings, there are so many rules, it is hard to employ them, so we use the simpler White Language. But when you, when you personally, when you write, you write MSA, don’t you? Yes. And you, personally, when you read a novel, you do it in MSA and you think in MSA when you are doing it, don’t you? Yes, of course you are right. Look, I personally love the Arabic language, it is very beautiful — I agree completely! — And when I read it, it transports me to far places. Even when I read books translated into Arabic, they seem richer than when in original English or French. I read all three languages fluently and I feel that Arabic is somehow richer, wider, more beautiful. “bas”… sorry, means that means “only” in MSA — that’s a dialect word in White language — only when we speak MSA — we could do it in the past — but with time, we lost the practice, and not all can do it For example, in Algeria, we just don’t use it in our everyday life. There is the question of the influence of a Berber language, Amazigh. We could speak MSA if we wanted to, but… it’s hard. Thank you, thank you very much. Good. Let’s go back to the main idea: people think Arabic is not a single unified language. Is that true? That is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It is one language. We all understand it. It unifies us and it will continue to do so. I think so too. Good. Thank you, thank you.