Sunday, September 24, 2006

Egyptians Speak A Language They Don't Respect and Respect Another They Don't Speak --- A Book Review of Sacred Language, Ordinary People by Niloofar Haeri

Niloofar Haeri is an Iranian American; she studied Arabic Language in the USA and went to Egypt to further her studies. On arrival she realized that the language she learnt "modern Arabic" is very different from the language spoken by the Egyptians. The difference was more than just accent or dialect; it was far more fundamental than that. Haeri set out studying the Egyptian "Arabic" language in great detail and studying its role in the society.

Haeri describes contradictions galore in the way the society deals with the language issue and the way the whole language question is suppressed virtually by the entire nation. Egyptians are trapped unable to develop their language because any such development would be a departure from the sacred language of the Quran; a language the Egyptians never spoke and need to learn. Even the Copts, Egypt's Christians see Egyptian Arabic as an inferior language. Some of the amazing findings of Haeri include her analysis of the language of the newspapers which follows the sentence structure of Egyptian Arabic, political speeches and language on the TV. It was interesting to see how presidential speeches in Egyptian Arabic are often "translated" into proper Arabic for official news purposes.

I first heard of this book from a very negative review of the Al Ahram Weekly that was written by an American woman living in Egypt. The negative review was front page of the book review supplement of the Ahram. I was fascinated by it, so on my return to the US I ordered and truly loved it. Outstanding work, very highly recommended!

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