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My poor and humble opinion.

Reader comment on item: Arabist Snobs
in response to reader comment: Sun Tzu

Submitted by Peter Hall (Australia), Nov 24, 2011 at 01:03

I am relatively new to the study of the middle east and Islam. However I find it amusing when so called experts act all pompus of Arabic. It may be true that 1000 years ago Arabs wrote beautiful poetry. However, all languages change and develop with time and according to its uses and needs placed upon it. I believe that the reason ancient Arabic is so difficult to interpret is that it never has had to evolve like English and French and Spanish or Chinese. It has trouble conveying complicated ideas, because it is and has been used by simple people and uneducated people who have never placed many demands upon it.. This is the main problem, it is not the language used by creative people or by the sciences. Modern English bares little resemblance to the written English of 1000 years ago. Imagine trying to write a paper chaos theory and factals using the English of 1000 years ago.

It is the same with Arabic, the reason there are 20 meanings for each word is that they did not have the need for the 20 words, we are trying to use a primitive language to describe complex ideas that did not exist in the minds of people using ancient Arabic. The vast bulk of the Arab speaking world until the 1950's were uneducated and primary producers living a subsistence existence. The development of The English language and progression in knowledge and education went along a parallel curve. English grew as the demands upon it increased. After an initial flourish in the 10th century, Arabic has not really progressed until recently. That is why there are so few books translated into Arabic each year, that is why there are so few Universities that teach in Arabic. I read a paper recently that English and French words are being introduced into the Arabic languages are a faster rate than any other language. That this adoption of English and French words to due to the shortage of Arabic words to use to convey modern concepts and descriptions. Also the limitations of both modern Arabic and ancient Arabic are one of the reasons that so few books are translated into Arabic every year, it is just too difficult to do.

One perfect example is the Qu'ran. The reason why the Qu'ran doe not make sense upon translation, is to a modern mind, is that it does not make sense even in Arabic. It is the lack of application of Arabic to complex needs, has resulted in its lack of development. Islam and Muslim attitudes have a big factor in the stagnation of Arabic, as the goal of Islam is blind obedience and not to question, just to follow. If you do not need to enquire or question, obviously the need for new words or methods to convey new ideas is very much reduced. So my view of the persons who claim to be experts in Arabic and have that arrogance about them towards other, is that they are the same as being an expert flint knappers. It may have been handy in the past, but bears very little purpose in the current world. I hope I have not bored you all too much.


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