As I was curating data for the class’ tumblr, I stumbled upon this brilliant TEDxBeirut talk from November 2012 by Suzanne Talhouk titled “Don’t Kill Your Language.” Suzanne Talhouk is the founder of the Non-governmental Organisation Feil Amer (Arabic for ‘Order Verb’) that seeks to save the Arabic language and rise it to where it was a couple of decades ago.
The Arabic title for the video is “Meen ‘al iza hkina arabeh mn battel cool?” and it hits the nail right on its head seeing as the majority of Lebanese people avoid speaking Arabic so that they don’t sound old fashioned and uncool. It’s not just in business meetings; even the closest friends and family members would rather speak a broken French or English than be heard say a full sentence only in Arabic. Talhouk starts her talk by asking the audience if any of them wrote their name on their nametag in Arabic. No one says yes. She then goes on and starts telling a story about how one time she was in a restaurant and she asked the waiter for “leihit al akel” instead of saying “menu.” He didn’t understand her request. When she explained even more, still only using Arabic, he accused her smugly of not knowing what it’s called, and pulled a disgusted face, “You don’t know what they call it?” He said. They. Who they? Us? The Arabs? It’s funny because she knows more than him what they call it. While he only knows the international word, she knows the Arabic term, and that by itself is rich. The waiter is Lebanese mind you, in a restaurant in Lebanon. The diners were Lebanese too. All from the same Arab country. And yet he judged her. He assumed that she’s uncultured, uneducated, illiterate, ignorant…
“I’m not allowed in my own country to speak my own language?”
This video made me sad. It made me feel ashamed. Ashamed of the fact that I was just last night boasting to dad about how my mate told me that he thinks my French accent is impeccable! Ashamed of the fact that instead of fixing my first language, I’m looking forward to learn a fifth (Japanese). Ashamed that my favourite hobby is reading yet I can’t read novels in my mother tongue. And I cried. This might sound like I’m exaggerating but I did in fact cry as I typed the last words of this post.
Ironically enough, the course entitled History of the English Language has made me gain interest in the Arabic language and wish to empower myself through it. And I will make actual progress.