What would you do if your language was too limiting for the genre of writing you wanted to write. If you had to write Shakespearean English to write a modern thriller? Or your native brogue was spoken by so few that your audience would be tiny? For those of us luckily enough to be able to write freely in our own flexible tongue – we never have to think about this but what would you do if you had to? That’s the dilemma facing one aspiring author.
Today’s article is written by a beautiful woman who I’ve been lucky enough to call my friend for around 15 years. We worked together way back – where her natural talent and keen intelligence contributed to making her quite the marketing protégé. In a recent conversation she shared some of her thoughts and I was fascinated and begged her to write an article for Novel Experience. So I’ll pass you over to the capable hands of Lina Shahal Tayara.
Arabic or English? – A Language Dilemma.
“Just write!” said my friend. “The ideas will flow once you start!”
Little did she know that the ideas are all there, in my head; they have been there for so long, one after the other, waiting patiently to come out to the world, but which world? Which language?
I am a Lebanese wife and a mother of three residing in Dubai. Being Lebanese means in most cases you are bi-lingual and in many cases tri-lingual (French is very commonly used in everyday life.) Living in Dubai, one of the most popular cities in the world, means that I am forever exposed to a myriad of nationalities that the only common language we can use is English.
“Just write whatever comes to your mind!” she repeats.
“Look, you have to understand that my dilemma is not how to start or what to write; I haven’t even gotten to that point. I need to decide in which language to write,” I explained. Having been forever exposed to the English language all through school and university years, the books I read, the movies I watch, my work then my life in Dubai, it has become impossible not to think in English. Don’t get me wrong! Arabic is still my first language. I am most comfortable thinking and speaking in Arabic; however, when it comes to visualizing an idea for a book, I find myself shifting to ‘Inglizi’!
You may advise me now to write in English, but it truly feels like I am betraying my own tongue, my own language, the people who lived my stories and the places where everything happened. Had it not been an attempt to write my first book ever, it might have been a much easier decision. It is this first book, the hope of a first success, that first feeling of pride that you would want to share with the closest to your heart that makes it all a predicament.
Why not write in Arabic?
So why not in Arabic? For those of you who are not familiar with it, I have to explain that Arabic is a beautiful language. No one can argue that it has such a rich vocabulary; it is so majestic and poetic. After all, Arabic is the language of the Quran. Yet, when it comes to being funny or light, it kind of fails you. My reasoning behind that is that each of the various existing dialects is so different to the written, formal Arabic (fosha) that we ended up having more or less different Arabic languages! Accordingly, you cannot write a joke in formal Arabic because it is not how you would say it in your everyday life. If you do, it comes out all boring and rigid. On the other hand, you cannot woo a girl more romantically than reading to her a poem in ‘fosha’!
So many dialects…
As an Arabic writer, you will not face a problem if your topic is serious, but when it is meant to be light and funny, you may have to resort to your own dialect. The problem with writing in your own dialect is that you will end up catering to your own people. You will rarely find Egyptian readers interested to read one whole book in Lebanese or Saudi dialect and vice versa. The Arabic dialect of North Africa, for example, is almost unintelligible to all Arabs of other dialect because it has been invaded by many words of Spanish and French origins, which were “arabized” in some instances.
So you see, it is a dilemma! I cannot “just write”. I have one step to decide upon before I hold my pen (It is truly my laptop, but I wanted to be more romantic.) What language shall I use, and which aspect of my writing should I lose?
Thanks to Lina for sharing this – there must be many aspiring authors struggling with a similar issue in this world of global book stores. What would you do in Lina’s shoes? Both of us would love to hear your ideas.
Bye for now