Arabs and Arabic

Further to my blog on a new Arabic language translation center, .languagehat has blogged a Politics, Language and Cultures of the Arab World blog which seems to link to mainly English language sites.

Interestingly, the site’s headline term language is in the singular; yet surely there are more languages than Arabic (even with its various dialects) in the Arab world – Aramaic in Lebanese churches, Kurdish in Northern Irak, Coptic in Northern Egypt, Berber in Maghrebi countries etc. We don’t seem to use the expression Arabic-speaking countries – which would extend the geography to parts of sub-Sahara Africa – but do often tend to confuse Arabic the language with Arab (or even Islam) the culture.

I may be over-influenced here by French which has one word form arabe for the language and a person from the Arab world. But I notice a lot of slippage in the use of Arab/Arabic among English speakers too. Arabic is a language of the Arab world, albeit the dominant one; and the religious language of the Islamic world; but some Arabs are not Muslims and Arabic may be spoken outside of the ethnically Arab world.

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.


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