Terms Translated From French to Arabic Change Meanings

The segment of the Multilingualism Across Disciplinary Borders conference that I chose to attend was “Milestones toward a linguistic policy” by Ramzi Abou Chacra. It fell on the second day of the conference, Tuesday April 8, at 11. Professor Vermy was taking his class to it and seeing as I didn’t have anything to do at the time, I asked him if I could join them.

Halfway through the talk, it was too late but I realised that I might have picked the wrong talk to attend. I found myself literally not understanding anything being discussed by the host and the guest speaker even though I speak both languages that they were using: Arabic, my mother tongue, and French, my second language.

The talk was mainly in French, English translation was provided, but the point behind the talk was to point out French terms and the way their definition is used by teachers in Arabic.

Abou Chacra started by stating that philosophy is taught in both French and Arabic in Lebanon. He jokingly said that it’s because the Arabic language cannot handle the heavy material by itself. In my opinion, it’s the opposite. Philosophy cannot handle how heavy the Arabic language is and that’s why it’s required to be taught in a less complicated language alongside with Arabic.

The first example discussed was the word Axiom. You can rest assured that I had no clue what this word meant. He said that it’s impossible to understand what axiom is if it’s not translated to Arabic. I let out a sigh and for a moment I believed him. He translated it to Arabic, the word in Arabic is بديهية, and laughed a bit when he saw the confusion on the faces in front of him. I’d heard that word before, numerous times, but I still didn’t know what axiom means. He went on about how sometimes we translate things to Arabic thinking we will understand them because it’s our first language and I concluded something: just because a word is familiar to you and you know how to use it, it doesn’t mean that you know how to define it. If you’re still wondering, axiom is what is obvious, but it doesn’t mean the word obvious; it’s what we shouldn’t seek an answer for.

The second example he gave was “le tiers exclu,” another expression I wasn’t familiar with. He didn’t explain it either because that wasn’t the point of his example. What he was trying to get across is that the terms from inclu and exclu in Arabic are مجموع and مرفوع. From one look, you can tell that these terms don’t have anything to do with each other. They’re not opposites even though they are literal translations of two opposite terms. مجموع means added and مرفوع means elevated. Upon digging deeper, we concluded that it’s elevated because it’s excluded and therefore it is far, and it is added because it’s included and it’s close.

Bilingualism is necessary, fruitful, and it gives more value to our mother tongue seeing as knowing another language helps us understand words from our own language better. My proficiency in both languages seems to be less advanced than I thought it is. What a shame.