File this one under “historic loss.”
Among the casualties in Mali’s internal conflict is a library containing thousands of historic manuscripts from as far back as the year 1204. The manuscripts had for survived through the centuries, hidden and preserved by Timbuktu residents through both peaceful and difficult times.
The vast majority of the texts were written in Arabic. A few were in African languages, such as Songhai, Tamashek and Bambara. There was even one in Hebrew. They covered a diverse range of topics including astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women’s rights. The oldest dated from 1204.
Seydou Traoré, who has worked at the Ahmed Baba Institute since 2003, and fled shortly before the rebels arrived, said only a fraction of the manuscripts had been digitised. “They cover geography, history and religion. We had one in Turkish. We don’t know what it said.”
He said the manuscripts were important because they exploded the myth that “black Africa” had only an oral history. “You just need to look at the manuscripts to realise how wrong this is.”
Timbuktu’s mayor called it “a devastating blow.” And it really is. We’ll never get that human history back.
Is the Arabic Language Becoming History?
Arabs just don’t think speaking Arabic is cool anymore. Lebanese activist Suzanne Talhouk noticed this as she observed a shift among several age groups from speaking primarily Arabic to English.
“I realized that Arabic was becoming extinct,” she says.
Why? She sees a few solid reasons:
Arabic is perceived as old-fashioned while speaking English is a sign of cultural superiority. (“I saw that even people from poor families would speak only in English just to prove that they are from a certain culture or maintain a certain image,” she says.)
Arabic hasn’t kept up with neologisms. The words “CD” and “Internet” never made it into the language. (“Even if the terminologies are there, they are not easy to digest and are not marketed well.”)
They associate Arabic with terrorism. It’s a national case of identity conflict, where people would rather be heard saying “Thank you” rather than “Shukran.”
In response, she has founded an NGO to encourage Arabs to to get back into it, offering the following tips:
What parents can do:
1. Never tell your children that Arabic is not important and that they won’t need it.
2. Talk to them in Arabic.
3. Make sure they read in Arabic.
4. Tell them stories that relate to their life in Arabic.
5. Explain to them that one’s identity is related to the language and culture and that it’s important to preserve it.
1. Engage your students in cultural activities outside the school premises.
2. Encourage your students to be creative in Arabic.
3. Use new teaching methods that associate Arabic with being “cool”.
4. Discourage your students from writing Arabic using Latin letters and numbers.
1. Talk, involve and address the youth in a language they can relate to.
2. Create a space where youth can express themselves.
3. Focus on linking creativity to revitalising the language.
4. Support youth initiatives to preserve the Arabic language.
We’d like to add one more to the list: SEND ‘EM OVER TO GLN! Our inspiring community of Arabic language enthusiasts is always looking for conversation partners.
We know that words act as a double-mirror to our society- they shape the way we think and we simultaneously give them meaning too. The term “homosexuality” was coined in the late 19th century by a German psychologist and was used until a few decades ago in the West as a designation for medical illness. So it’s no surprise that our counterparts in the Middle East have reserved similarly negative connotations for the gay community, considering it sodomy, a medical condition…and the now commonly used sadj, which means “peculiar.” Here’s to hoping gay Arabs will soon reclaim it as their Anglo-speaking counterparts did with queer. Although they may just stick to mithli.
Read more on Slate Magazine’s Explainer column.
Happy May and Lei Day, everyone! Now that we’re entering a new month, you know what that means…a new edition of the GPS! And along with the GPS come the stories of some of our wonderful teachers and students. Read on to learn about their experiences with GLN, and if you’d like to submit...Read more →
Happy Monday wonderful GLNers, and welcome to April! Did you play any April Fools’ jokes on your friends? It occurred to me that it would be a great prank to “teach” somebody to say something in another language, yet actually teach them something very different from what they think they’re learning to say…not that...Read more →
Welcome back, GLNers! As many of you probably know, the latest edition of the GPS is hot off the (digital) press today! We’ve decided to start releasing the GPS at the beginning of the month rather than at the end, so be on the lookout. If you have no idea what I’m talking about,...Read more →