Arabizi phenomenon: Double-edged sword

By Fadia Alrefai

In the last two decades, a new phenomenon called the Anglo-Arab alphabet (Arabizi) has spread throughout the Arab world and reached Arabs all around the world through smartphones and social media of many (if not all) age groups, especially the youth.

This modern alphabet uses English numbers and letters to write Arabic words and sentences and started appearing in the late ‘90s, when the devices that were newly invented at that time did not have the technological capacity for the Arabic alphabet. At that time, the use of this language was understandable, but now, with the technological advancements we have today, the question of why this alphabet is still being used must be asked.

At the time this alphabet began to expand, the term “global village” was hard to believe and denied by many of the older generation, as each identity wanted to take care of its uniqueness and independence. But today, as the wave of globalization brushes past every country on this planet, and especially intellectual globalization, the world has truly been reshaped to that of a global village.

There is no doubt that this intellectual tidal wave of globalization has a strong impact on the Arab world, especially in countries like Kuwait, where students who go to non-Arabic schools represent almost 20 percent of the population, while English is a mandatory subject in school. Thus, because language is nothing but a cradle of its speaker’s mentality, way of thinking, identity, costumes and traditions, the reshaping of our language has evidently altered our mentality and identity, which is a double-edged sword.

In my humble opinion, with the strong role globalization plays, as well as the power of media that has witnessed its strongest period in history because of social media and because of the weak Arabic language syllabus in schools which makes it difficult to love or enjoy the Arabic language, the youth are now holding on to the English language like never before. Not only are they doing that, but they are incorporating it into different languages such as Arabic so it can match the global simplicity of the modern world even more.

Now, the incorporation of different ideas into any society is key for it to progress, and the development of language cannot happen unless new variables are introduced, but the issue arises when the language does not match its identity anymore, as Arabizi sounds like Arabic but nowhere in the Arabic language does the number three have a meaning other than the number three!

In addition to that, because there are very minor components of modern societies that have not been drastically changed due to globalization, it is important, rather vital, to hold on to the Arabic language and the symbolism it holds. Whether this is through restructuring the Arabic syllabus to attract students rather than repel them, or by making sure every young family is raising their kids to value, appreciate and almost sanctify their language, which at the end of the day is their identity!

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