[Foundation-l] How to dismantle a language committee

Ray Saintonge saintonge at telus.net
Mon Jan 12 10:38:10 UTC 2009

Marcus Buck wrote:
> Tim Starling hett schreven:
>> Marcus Buck wrote:
>>> In the Arabic world there's a prevalent POV, that Arabs form one nation 
>>> united by the use of the Arabic language. But in reality Standard Arabic 
>>> is something like Latin. With the difference, that Latin fell out of use 
>>> to make place for the Romance languages. So Egyptian Arabic vs. Standard 
>>> Arabic is like French vs. Latin. 
>> I have heard this before, but I am not convinced, because I have heard
>> conflicting things from Egyptian people. I don't suppose you have a
>> credible reference where I can read more about this, and which supports
>> these claims?
> There's no obvious or agreed-upon measure for the proximity of dialects 
> or languages nor for identity attitudes. All findings are inherently vague.
> What did you hear conflicting things about? About the big differences 
> and problems with mutual intelligibility of Arabic dialects or about the 
> notion of "one Arabic nation"?
As one attended Wikimania in Alexandria I found that Egyptians were 
quite proud to let it be known that they are not Arabs.  The notion of 
"one Arabic nation" seems more like an imperial Saudi attitude.
> Well, that Arabic has a wide variety of different dialects, is obvious, 
> if we look at the basic facts. Arabic is spoken over an area that spans 
> thousands of kilometers. Arabic spread from its central area in Arabia 
> in the 7th century due to the spread of Islam. 
Islam as a religion, or as a political force?
> Since then the dialects 
> developed different from the standard that didn't change much since then 
> due to it's liturgical character (just like Latin). Latin was in vulgar 
> use since about the 1st century. So Latin Vulgar had 2000 years to 
> change and Arabic Vulgar only 1300 years. Therefore Latin Vulgar should 
> be roughly 50% more diverse than Arabic Vulgar (Please put the emphasis 
> on "roughly" cause language change is of course not linear). 
In Egypt Latin only had about 700 years beginning in the first century 
BC, and even then it had to compete with Greek and Coptic.  The 
introduction of Latin in Egypt was also more imperial than religious.  
Similarly the roots of Latin in Europe were with the Roman conquests.  
Ecclesiastical Latin only became a factor after the fall of the Roman 
Empire, and in more countries than the ones who now speak Romance 
languages. Islam succeeded in Turkey and Persia, yet these countries 
retained their languages.  It could very well be that Islam conquered 
Egypt at a time of linguistic instability.  In the rest of sparsely 
populated North Africa there wasn't much of a literate environment to 
put up any resistance.  With all the foreign invaders wanting a piece of 
Egypt over the centuries, with the British meddling in Egyptian affairs 
as late as 1956, they deserve credit for their efforts to distill their 
own language from a very noisy background.
> [English is 
> spread over a very wide area too and does not show that much variation. 
> But English spread from England only 400 years ago and most of the 
> speakers shifted to English only in very recent times. So outside of 
> England there are no real dialects (and even England is no country with 
> a pronounced dialectal landscape). Therefore the whole subject of 
> "dialects" is a very obscure thing to many speakers of English.]
Dialects don't need so much as 400 years to develop.  In the US there 
can be remarkable differences between the way of speaking in the eastern 
and western parts of Tennessee.  Ebonics is viewed by some as a separate 
language.  In the some parts of the US the influence of Spanish causes a 
great deal of concern. In French visitors from France can find it 
difficult to understand some Québécois, and it is only 250 years since 
the Conquest. 
> The notion of the "one Arabic nation" is even more vague. We have to 
> keep in mind, that mentalities do not necessarily differentiate between 
> different identity-building elements. Identity can be based on 
> ethnicity, on language, on religion, on common history, on citizenship 
> or on arbitrary mixtures of these aspects. The most important connecting 
> element for people in the Middle East is religion. The Islam. The Islam 
> connects them to people with entirely different languages too. But the 
> Standard Arabic language  is connected to the Islam also, cause it's the 
> liturgical language of the Islam. Saying, that Arabic is a macrolanguage 
> can easily touch religious feelings. That's irrational, but happens. So 
> there are many different levels of identity and interconnections between 
> those levels of identity. It's possible, that you talked to Egyptians 
> and they said "those damned Syrians" or otherwise showed few "Panarabic 
> loyalty". But that doesn't mean there is no common identity. 
What common identity? Just because both speak a form of Arabic, and both 
are predominantly Muslim doesn't stop them from being Egyptians and 
Syrians first. 
> I'm sure 
> you will easily find New Yorkers saying "those damned New Jerseyians" or 
> US Americans saying "those damned Canadians". 
Canadians are more likely to say "those damned Americans." Americans are 
more likely to ignore us, which in many ways is a good thing.
> It's normal to have 
> animosities with the people you know best, your closest neighbors (cause 
> there's few reason to be angry about people you have no contact to). But 
> if it comes to identity or loyalty, New Yorkers and New Jerseyians, 
> Americans and Canadians, and Egyptians and Syrians will stand close and 
> stick together.
That's an outrageous assumption.  Canadians who attend an international 
sporting event between Americans and any other country will most often 
cheer for the other country.  Since 1959 Canada has never broken 
diplomatic relations with Cuba, and has not participated in the US 
adventures against Vietnam and Iraq.


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