The Holy Book of Muslims was written in the second half of the seventh century. It is specifically the Qur’anic version of Arabic that is perceived to be the highest form of the language and, theoretically, it’s a base for the modern Arabic spoken today. So, can we actually say that Arabic remains unchanged for almost fifteen centuries? That the residents of Maghreb speak basically the same language that is used by their brothers in the Fertile Crescent region? That the Arabic, except for few regionalisms, is one, specific and universal language? That the well-educated Arabist is able to translate the speech of all Arabs all over the world?

The Qur’anic Arabic is called Fusha and, in particular, it’s considered to be the language of literature and media. After the process of evolution lasting several hundreds of years, it became the tongue that is known today as the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) – that is the real, original Arabic language, currently spoken in 22 states. Although it’s regarded as a kind of a bond connecting Arab lands deployed on two continents, its understanding is limited to educated individuals. Regarding the level of illiteracy in some of these countries, it is the very first problem of universality of Arabic language. The second one is the practical usefulness of MSA because, in fact, Arabs don’t communicate with each other using the pure Fusha, choosing the dialects above the MSA – dialects which (sometimes) don’t even resemble the Qur’anic language!

But the Moroccans would understand the Syrians with no problems, right? Because… how… after all, they are all Arabs! Come on! The Arabness of Moroccans may be contested, but their official language is actually Arabic. It wouldn’t be logical if they didn’t speak it. However, the Modern Standard Arabic is taught mainly in schools and its overall usefulness is – as it was mentioned before –limited to reading the Holy Qur’an and the literature, sometimes also to watching the TV or listening to the radio. Why? Because in every single region of the Arab world there is a different dialect, that is simplified, mixed with other Arabic languages, varying from the MSA in phonics, lexis and even syntax! Basically, the dialects are the tongue of daily conversations. Unfortunately, the situation is constantly worsening as a result of a growing number of TV or Radio shows produced in dialects, as well as the books written in regional forms of Arabic.

The amount of differences between the dialects can effectively put off a potential Arabist student, killing his or her internal enthusiasm for translating. That awareness of learning a language that is used theoretically sneaks into the mind and poisons the ambition. A perfect example is a Moroccan dialect called Darrija, being situated miles away from the original Qur’anic version. A huge portion of vocabulary in Darrija comes from French and Spanish (former colonisers’ languages), creating language monsters, impossible to understand even for the brotherhood neighbours! In this manner, instead of using the correct Arabic word ghurfa (ar. room) they say chambre (fr. room); instead of saying sayyara (ar. car) they say tunubila (fr. car; automobile), and so on… Translating all these linguistic borrowings may be sometimes difficult even for Moroccans themselves! How do you say “washbasin” in Arabic?, I once asked my Moroccan friend. – Lavapo (fr. lavabo), he replied, having no clue what was the original MSA word for it.

It has to be stressed that a translation agency (or translation bureau), if it actually offers translations of the Arabic language, mainly deals with translating texts written in Modern Standard Arabic, i.e. the original, contemporary language. Specialist texts, like writings of a legal nature (as well as the literature), are composed in MSA. Therefore, the Arabic language students should never surrender – after all, Arabic, although being difficult and challenging, is one of the most beautiful tongues on earth. And knowledge of the dialects… well, it will come over the next few journeys.


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