[Foundation-l] On Arabic and sub-language proposals.

Muhammad Alsebaey shipmaster at gmail.com
Sun Oct 5 08:04:28 UTC 2008

Hi everyone,

The following is my belated, rather long, 2 cents regarding the creation of
wikipedias for languages/dialects/whatever-you-want-to-call-them that stem
from Arabic, this is mainly relevant to the creation of the Masry (Egyptian)
Wikipedia, the Masry Wikitionary proposals (by virtue of the fact that I am
Egyptian, and thus I can relate to those two projects with a better degree
of confidence), but probably is still relevant for the proposals that
subsequently stemmed for Morrocan, Lebanese, Sudanese and more will come I
am sure.

Let me state first though, that even though it will be obvious from my
concerns below that I am against such a division (slightly oppose, to be
precise), I have no opinion as to whether those languages or dialects (as
proponents and opponents would call them) are really separate languages or
not. I have some issues and worries, which is what I will expand on below,
but ultimately, I don't know if what I speak is actually classified as a
separate language or a dialect (yeah I am that ignorant :P ) so from the
specific rules-based linguistic-jargon point of view, I am sadly out of my

That stated, here is what basically worries me:

I have read most of the (rather heated) arguments for and against the
proposals, here is what I understand (from a layman point of view) about my
language: I speak Egyptian, which is a form of Arabic, it is not the same as
'formal' Arabic, however, it is only spoken in most of the cases. I think
the majority of the body of literature written by Egyptians is written in
formal Arabic. I simply come to this conclusion because as an avid reader I
must have come across only one or two literary pieces written in Egyptian
Arabic as  'pioneering experimental' works (as one author called his stuff).
Also the way of writing is not agreed upon by egyptians themselves, for
example: words that contains the letter Kaaf (ق),  I saw some of the authors
who tried writing a word containing it in 'Masry' would keep it as is and
other people would convert it to 'Hamza' as it is actually pronounced but is
rather foreign to read. I can safely assume that almost all literate
Egyptians who read and write in formal Arabic (actually that *is* the
definition of being literate in Egypt) will find reading their own every day
talking language rather alien (kind of ridiculous, but is the case IMHO).
The point I am trying to make here is : For a language/dialect that has only
been spoken till now for the most part, Wikipedia turning it into a written
language would be 'original research' and this is what I actually observed
in Wikipedia Masry, people write as they please, and the result is sometimes
palatable and some times very foreign and alienating (as a method of
delivering information). I suspect the same would be the case for at least
the Lebanese and Sudanese proposals for example, ditto if there will ever be
a proposal for the gulf dialects (Saudi, Yemeni, etc.), the Egyptian Sai'di
(upper Egypt dialect), etc...

My second concern is, I am worried about duplicating the efforts in the name
of language separation, granted, I speak something that is not similar to
formal Arabic etymology-wise maybe. However, there is not one literate
Arabic-speaking person who can claim he understands written
Egyptian/Lebanese/etc. and not understand formal Arabic (by virtue of the
the above argument that my language is mostly spoken, and what is taught in
schools, and used in everyday written communication is formal Arabic). I
dont know if it is good, given the already low participation level in my
area of the world, to let people have Egyptian/Lebanese/Saudi/Yemeni
mini-wiki projects, keeping in mind that all users of those will be
perfectly comfortable reading the information in the Arabic corresponding

Finally, I think the division is not purely language related, there is a lot
of socio-political issues at work, taking the Egyptian wikipedia again as an
example, there has been a considerable debate in Egypt about getting the
Egyptian language to be adopted writing-wise (and to make the grammar more
solid so as it would overcome the current problems in writing) to bolster
the national identity of Egypt, while this proposal is currently going
nowhere, it wont be hard to imagine groups interested in promoting this
canvassing just to prove their point, do we want to get involved in such an
argument? is it wikipedia's place to? isnt such a statement already made by
Wikimedia creating one of the first bodies of written text in the language?

I understand that it may be too late for Egyptian Wikipedia, the decision is
apparently already in, but I am currently seeing a slew of similar
proposals,so I thought there should be some kind of discussion regarding the
broader topic and not restricted to the proposal pages. I hope I haven't
spammed this list with this email  :).

Best Regards,
Muhammad Alsebaey

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