Celebrating the Arabic language in the digital age
Khadija Hamouchi

The world celebrates the Arabic language, which has 6 million root words and a more than 20 million-word vocabulary, on December 18.

Perhaps “celebrate” is an overly strong term to describe the mixed feelings of non-Arabic speakers towards a language that signifies a unified Arab culture. From 2002-09, the study of Arabic among US university students rose 231% but that had more to do with studying a perceived adversary than admiration for the language.

At least Arabs seem increasingly sold on Arabic. With the rise of the Arabic internet and an Arab digital millennial generation, Arabic has proven its resilience. It has adapted to changing social norms and technological innovations. The Arab Development Portal, a database on the Arab world, said content on the Arabic internet has grown more than 7,000% in seven years.

“Thanks to the many young members of our collaborative community, the Arabic Wikipedia has been growing six-fold in terms of new pages in the past seven years,” said Samir Elsharbaty of the Wikimedia Arabic Foundation.

The involvement of young people in the quality and quantity of content, as well as its reach to the online masses, has made Arabic reconsider its grammar rules to reflect all social identities.

Farah Barqawi, a member of the feminist initiative Wiki Gender Arabic, agreed that Arabic is changing. “We have made an active decision to take the initiative to discuss, try and practise new words and gender-neutral pronouns each day to reach a more representative, inclusive and smoother open Arabic language that is not afraid of trial, error and change,” Barqawi said.

Much of the Arabic language’s lexical development has revolved around attempts to catch up with internet and technical terminologies such as “social plug-ins,” “embeds” and other geeky terms.

Social Media Exchange, a Beirut-based NGO that speaks for digital rights in the region, recently released its Arabic language technical glossary. It did so in collaboration with the Arab Digital Expression Foundation, an NGO in Cairo that has called for Arabic internet stakeholders to come together.

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