P.S.: Is Colloquial Arabic Destroying the (Literary) World? Or Is It the Internet?

This week, Qantara explores the sometimes-literary Arabic bloggers’ magazine, Wasla. The magazine culls from blogs around the Arab world and publishes them in a free print magazine; it’s being billed as a bridge between online and offline worlds.

The Qantara piece notes that while Elias Khoury and Sonallah Ibrahim have lauded the activities of young bloggers—Al Masry Al Youm reported that both were interested in being a part of the venture—it quotes other writers, notably Rifat as-Saїd and as-Sayyed Yassin, as calling blogs the result of “political uncertainty and intellectual impoverishment.”

Yes, “intellectual impoverishment.”

Perhaps these are two separate issues, but this split reminded me of a p.s. to a Tanjara report on a discussion between fos’ha Arabic defender Bahaa Taher and colloquial defender Elias Khoury.

During the event’s Q&A:

A young woman in the audience asked Taher what he thinks of new Arab fiction writers. During a recent visit to Egypt she had picked up examples of a novels by young Egyptian writers produced by a small publishing house. Such writers are, for example, “really experimenting and improvising in fus’ha and dialect.” When Taher asked her for an example, she mentioned Ahmed Alaidy’s “Being Abbas el Abd.”

Interesting that Taher focuses here on his “good relations” rather than the art of Being Abbas el Abd, but anyhow:

“That’s a very good novel” he responded. “There is a very promising new generation of writers in Egypt in their early twenties: they are presenting a new wave in Egyptian writing which is very welcome. And I can say I have very good relations with all of them including Alaidy.”

Then he tacked on a strong warning:

“They face a problem in a way. They are very talented, they are trying to do things, they are trying to be new blood in Arabic literature especially in Egypt, but they are facing a problem which you have spoken about now – this writing in slang sometimes, and not mastering their own language. Writing in slang they are defeating themselves. Why? I know writers who write in slang and they were very popular like Yusuf Idris [1927-1991] for example, he wrote in slang and he was read all over the Arab world. At that time Egyptian slang was understood everywhere because of Egyptian films, because of Umm Kulthum, because of Abdel-Halim Hafez – the famous Egyptian singers Egyptian slang was common in all the Arab world and could be understood.

“Now the situation has changed. I don’t think that Egyptian slang can be understood in Morocco, Tunisia, as it was before. So they are restricting their readership, this generation of young writers. They wouldn’t have the possibility to address themselves to Arab readers everywhere, they are addressing themselves only to Arab readers in Egypt – or if they are writing in slang in Syria, they are addressing themselves to Syrian readers.”

And, in the other corner, the venerable Elias Khoury:

“I write colloquial, what my friend calls slang. I use colloquial, and I don’t agree with him – I think we have to use colloquial. And when I read any novel in any language there are some parts which I don’t understand – you make an effort, if I am reading an English novel I make an effort. So if you are reading an Arabic novel why not make some effort to understand that the Tunisians say nejim [?] to mean I can? It seems very bizarre to us in the Levant.” (To laughter to he said that ‘ma nejimish’ means “I cannot” and that he knows Tunsian very well). So I don’t agree about this point.I think the only way a language will be alive and renew itself is through the spoken , we cannot write without the spoken. I think one of the merits of what we can learn from the Egyptian novel actually, from writers like Sonallah Ibrahim and others is the use of colloquial.”

More on this from Tanjara.

Also: There was a seminar at the London Book Fair about the Internet and Arabic literature, but because of volcanic ash, two of the speakers were missing. It apparently talked about sites such as Kikah and Arabic Short Story, discussion forums, the role of blogs in taboo-busting, increased ability to criticize literature online (including satirizing the big names). And—this is my addition—perhaps an increasing use of colloquial, and experimentation of colloquial? Panelist Ghazi Gheblawi writes:

Some estimates that there are more than half a million blogs in Arabic, not all are active and there are indications that the blogging wave is receding, giving way to new internet inventions, like social networks and micro blogging, Facebook and Twitter, but one thing for certain is that blogging made it possible for many Arab writers to express their opinions and ideas and manage to publish their literary works freely and without restrictions.

Also: By The Firelight talks about Young Spanish-language Writers on the Internet and Writing.



Categories: blogging, colloquial / classical, the so-called decline of Arabic, Uncategorized

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  1. Colloquial Arabic & literature « champollion st.
  2. Internet destroys Arabic language or is it the slang? « Arabizi- اللغة العربية
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