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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 7 January 2016

Guess what? You know some Arabic already

In the town where I grew up, there is a perpetual debate about the fairness of bilingualism.  An underlying theme is that English is the dominant language, one even francophones understand, so it's really pandering to special interests and impeding unilingual anglophones to insist some positions, like doctors, be bilingual.  A sense of cultural loss also fits into that.

This is a big thing in Quebec, too, where the preservation of "pure laine" French and culture is seen as a battle for survival.

As the idea of learning Arabic or more about Syrian culture creeps into the conversation around onboarding Syrian refugees as new Canadians, similar themes of cultural erosion, imposition and that shadowy fear of The Other conspiring to replace our language, culture and customs with their own are surfacing.

Which, to me, is bananas.  

Language isn't static.  Culture isn't static.  To try and shut out external words and ideas is like trying to keep your genepool pure through inbreeding.  The results aren't purity, but weakness and eventual collapse.

Besides, the things that we try so hard to preserve unchanged are themselves only snapshots in time of change.  French is a bastardization of Latin, which itself incorporated words from other language, including Arabic.

English is even worse - it's a crazy amalgam of words, concepts and differing grammatical rules from Nordic, Germanic and Romance base languages.  

That's how languages work; they evolve, they adapt, they incorporate, they lose - they evolve.  They're meant to change.  Lots of factors can impact how and why a language changes - colonization is a huge factor, as is immigration, but trends play a role too - as does innovation.  If you've ever had a rendez-vous or googled someone or eaten sushi, you have essentially been a willing accomplice to the bastardization - or evolution - of the English language.

Back to Arabic.

While the popular, ignorant narrative looks at Arab-speaking people/Muslims/brownish skinned people as barbaric (a word derived from Ancient Greek), the truth of the matter is that the Arab world has played a massively important role in the evolution of science and culture.

The English language has been a happy recipient of many terms and concepts that originated in Arabic.  Which means that learning Arabic is less of a new thing than you might think:

ADMIRAL - from the Arabic word Emir.

ALCHEMY - which is a predecessor to CHEMISTRY. Both Arabic.

ALCOHOL - who'd a thunk it, right?

ALGEBRA - of all the things people worry about being imposed upon them, they keep missing this one...

ALGORITHM - a name turned into a concept.  Kinda like Google.

It would kill American xenophobic gun-nuts to know their ARSENAL of weapons has Arabic all over it.

AVERAGE - which comes from a word for "partially damaged".  I find that funny.



Ever sit on a SOFA eating something doused in SUGARy SYRUP?  You've been enjoying some Arabic roots.

See?  You know some Arabic already.  Some of your favourite things, or things you take for granted, have Arabic origins.  

Of course, words are different than values, which is where the argument will go next.  Sharia, extremism, mysogyny and whatnot will be raised as "over there" things we don't want imposed here. Except, those are all things that exist in domestic forms already.  And ironically, many of those who come here from elsewhere are trying to get away from the systematic forms of oppression that we say we don't like (and in many cases, actually do) over here.  Ideally, what makes what we have special is a robust democracy that helps strike balance between standardization and special needs.

It's funny, isn't it?  We focus so intently on the differences, on jockeying for position and superiority and whatnot that we easily forget the basic truth that we all want the same thing - and we can only have it when we strive for it as one.