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.
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.
What teachers can do:
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.
What NGOs can do:
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.