Lebanon is a very small yet multi-cultural country on the border of the Mediterranean and Middle East, and prides itself on the multi-lingual nature of its residents. A common Lebanese greeting (now a popular T-shirt and bumper sticker slogan) goes “Hi, kifak? Ça va?” (“Hi, how’s it going? OK?”) – a mixture of English, Arabic and French in just four words.
It seems that most of the young people in the cities, however, have dropped the local Arabic dialect in daily conversation almost entirely, relying instead on English and French. These Western languages are considered to be far more ‘cool’ by the majority of Lebanese youths than the traditional Arabic, which is looked down upon as being distinctly out of fashion. There are many reasons for this, though perhaps one of the chief concerns is that the vast majority of Arabic literature does not address or appeal to today’s youth.
Leila Barakat, the World Book Capital programme manager, says “we must support and encourage Arabic literature for young adults, which is today underdeveloped”.
According to various sources and surveys, there were a worryingly large proportion of Lebanese university students who were unable even to recite the Arabic alphabet. If Arabic is spoken, a lot of the time it is a very light, informal “Facebook Arabic”, far removed from the formal version of the language taught in schools, and often punctuated with numbers (2s, 3s and 7s) to mark phonemes that do not exist in the Roman alphabet.
As a result, an organization has been set up to try to preserve Arabic amongst the country’s teenagers – “Fael Ummer”. This organization has recently decided to impose an annual day of celebration on March the 1st to celebrate the Arabic language – an attempt, they claim, to “preserve the heritage of the Arab nation in the face of globalisation”.
However, this is not to say that having a second language is not still considered a great advantage to the Lebanese – Fael Ummer are simply trying to preserve the traditional dialect of the country. In my mind a noble act, but I believe that this organization is certainly going to have its work cut out to promote Arabic throughout the younger generation.