Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why the Arabic language is problematic in the Sudan

Is colonialism really over? A question asked many times by the Southern Sudanese and other marginzalied ethnic groups. Officially, Sudan is no longer Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, but it is still a colony. A colony of the Arabized Northerners.

The colour of the colonial masters is different, but their actions are not.

Our new masters speak Arabic, practice Islam and read Naguib Mahfouz. They wear the toub and look down on "tribal" languages and custom.

My father learned the Arabic language at the age of 7. Before that, he lived with his grandmother in a village in Nubian-sudan and spoke Nubian.
Then came the move to Port Sudan. His father was working there at the time, so he left his village to join them. School was difficult, it was in another language. You couldn't speak a language other than the Arabic language there. If you break the rule, teachers beat you.
You are abused into learning a language.
He never taught me Nubian though. We always spoke Arabic at home.
I grew up believing it was for my own good. I lived in the Middle East most of my life and speaking Arabic made me less of an outsider there.
The official language of the Sudan is Arabic or so they tell us. There are currently 142 langauges spoken in the Sudan. Eight are extinct.
In the future, the Nubian language is going to be extinct too. I don't speak it , I can't pass it on to the next generation. Most Nubians my age don't speak it.
Language represents a big part of culture. If you speak a certain language, you start reading books in it, listening to music in this language and so on. Your cultural entity becomes unidenitifed.
I don't speak Nubian. I don't like listening to music in the Nubian language, it sounds weird. When I visit the ancient pyramids and monuments built by my ancestors, I wouldn't be able to understand what's written on them.


optimist said...

I believe that the entire world is ever-changing, and history is always evolving, so we shouldn't dwell on the fact that Sudan is "Arabized." Sudan has a rich heritage and its embrace of the Arabic language should be welcomed, as I do believe that Arabic is one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Moreover, there are many tribes in Sudan that speak Arabic exclusively, and the majority of people in Sudan speak Arabic, and that is why, today, Arabic is the first language. I am decidedly opposed to the view that Sudan is "colonized" by Arabs. We ARE Arabs. Most Arabs are mixed, namely Belad al Sham, and most North African Nations. We were all something else before the spread of Islam. Now, we are Arabs. We share a fantastic culture and a rich language which we should be proud of.

My father also speaks a version of Nubian language (Rutana.) The one thing that worries me is that our generation is not exposed (and not interested in most cases) in combating the extinction of Nubian languages. I would love to see those languages preserved and passed on...

Crushed said...

Its a shanme when cultural heritage is lost like that.

Would you ever be tempted to learn your native tongue?

optimist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Ok I totally agree with you .. my father can speak rutana but I neither can my siblings so the language cant be passed on. But still ok just imagine if everyone spoke with his native language only imagine having 142 languages spoken in Khartoum how can people get on with their normal lives ?
I believe that we should alienate ourselves from our pasts and start thinking about the future.. when will people stop saying I am ja3ali or Mahasi or so on. by the way actually the Arabs are leaving the Arabic language currently you cant find a job anywhere in the "Arab world" without knowing English.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, African languages in general are dying. My parents both speak 6 different languages. How many do I speak? One, English. Africa is colonized. That's why I have started learning my Mother tongue so I can pass it on. Language is a big part of culture and we need it to identify with our culture. My advice would be try learning your language. It will take a while and might be hard, but if you really want to learn it. You will in no less than a year. AFRICAN PRIDE.

jmb said...

This is a very thought provoking post Kizzie and it is featured at the Blogpower blog where you are Wednesday's blogger for this week.

Tom Paine said...

My late grandfather was beaten at school in Wales, not for speaking Welsh (although that happened too in Welsh-speaking areas) but for speaking his local dialect. Recently a friend of my grandfather died with no-one to comfort him in his native speech, as the dialect died with him.

Welsh, however, is enjoying a revival and many countries manage well with more than one official language. Belgians for example will very often be able to speak French and Flemish plus German and English. Swiss are often able to speak two out of three of their country's official languages. I see no reason why Sudanese couldn't sustain Arabic, English plus a "hearth language" like Nubian. I think you should learn some words of it to teach your own children, Kizzie. Unless someone is actively preventing you from doing so, it's harsh to use the dramatic word "genocide." A language lost is a culture abandoned.

Anonymous said...

A language will also depend on the culture of the people. When cultures change, there will be a lot of sacrifices to be made. That sacrifice that was made when the culture changed is the language. It seems harsh when a language becomes extinct but a group of people probably need a unity in language to better understand everybody. To think that in one land locked nation would have more than 120 languages and eight would be extinct, that seems quite difficult for people to adapt to, no wonder they really have a very long war, people tend to stay in their own tribe and develop their own languages. I hope that this helps, I have found a site Emma Academy Project that aims to build a school in Sudan. This school will be the backbone of the learning process of the children of Sudan, not only it is the backbone but also the bright future for the children of Sudan. With this school, I am sure that the children there in Sudan will not be beaten, embarrassed, or harmed in any way, instead, they will learn who they are as a people, they will also learn their heritage from their ancestors

Kizzie said...

Are you Emmanuel Jal?

Mandino said...

Kizzie, I am not, but I happen to be supporting The Emma Academy Project. They will be building a school there in Sudan. We would also be needing your help too. I will be with them until the last part of the school is built. I really do hope that the war will end soon. The government of Sudan should have done the same instead to creating war with its own people.

fake consultant said...

this story has been a part of american history as well, and in my own little corner of the world there are efforts by the tribes to preserve and revive their languages.

we are beginning to realize the benefits of incorporating not just the language, but the related culture, into our "melting pot"--and i would suggest to you that there is a lot that the sudan could gain by having smaller cultural groups within the structure of a larger nation.

"african pride" and a functional sudan do not have to be mutually exclusive; and i hope your country can find a way to keep the old cultures alive--and to find benefit in doing so.

Anonymous said...

Salam Kizzie,

I think your blog and the subject matters you present are very interesting, keep up the good work.

Allow me to present my take on this since I thought about this matter recently. I think its an issue of culture. In sudan there are many ethnic groups who speak many languages. Many of these groups have generations that were brought up and lived in Khartoum, yet they continue to speak their original mother tongue as well as Arabic, both very well. However, I noticed that strangely many Nubians, even older ones do not speak their original languages and even if they do they speak them only slightly.
I think it is something that should be discussed within the Nubian community.

Communities such as Dinka, Flata, Nuba and Fur tend to be very successful socially, academically and economically in Khartoum yet they can hold entire conversations in their own language.

Even in countries like Oman, you have many ethnic groups who speak a number of languages, yet the language of the country is Arabic and no other langauage is taught in schools. However, all these groups continue to speak their languages very well, even though they may have never been to their ancestral land e.g. Zanzibar, Bluchestan.

I also noticed that many Nubians refer to their language as rutana. I think that it is very unfortunate that people will refer to their own language in such a deregatory manner. Rutana in collequial sudanese means gibberish/nonesense. If people have that kind of attitude towards their own culture, it is expected that others will have a similar view.

SudanEASE said...

Fortunately for me my father has extreme pride in his heritage,as a kid he used to force me and my siblings to practice speaking in our native Nubian tongue. Nevertheless, that was a long time ago, and my Nubian speaking ability and I have grown apart with time.

Well Optimist I believe you gave up our heritages to fast, you are right that living under the shade of a single language manages to inject a sense of unity among multi-cultural nation. But the presence of different cultures would add colour to our already colourful nation.