Photo published on the blog of Dany Awad.

Arabic is dying… that’s the message spread across the streets of Beirut by a new campaign designed to raise awareness of the plight of the language.

In several quarters of Lebanon’s capital, an Arabic letter lies ‘dead’ in the middle of a crime scene. On the security perimeter tape, one can read: “don’t kill your language”.

Spoken by more than 300 million people in the world, Arabic is the official language of 23 countries, as well as several international organizations – including the UN, the Arab League, Unesco, WHO, Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and others. It’s also the religious language – learned in order to read the Koran – in several non-Arab, Muslim countries, including Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Photo published on the Facebook page of the  "Fiil Amr" association.

Photo sent by our Observer Suzanne Talhouk.

It's not just students who have problems reading Arabic

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saadeddine Hariri, mocked for his difficulties in reading his speech before the parliament, during a confidence vote. Edit posted on YouTube by libneni.

The campaign to save Arabic in Beirut

Photo published on the Facebook page of "Fiil Amr".

Photo published on the Facebook page of "Fiil Amr" .

Photo published on the Facebook page of "Fiil Amr".

A poster from the campaign to save Arabic. Image published on Facebook.

"The youth think that speaking this language isn’t ‘cool’ and don’t hesitate to mix foreign words in their conversation"

Suzanne Talhouk is the president of the "Fiil Amr" ("Act Now!") association, which is leading a campaign to protect the Arabic language, along with the Arab Thought Foundation.

Arabic had been for centuries the language of culture, philosophy and science. But when the Arab world began to weaken, its language also lost its glow. Today, Lebanese who boast of being polyglots are ashamed of speaking Arabic. 

'Hi, kifak ? ça va ?'

The youth think that speaking this language isn’t ‘cool’ and don’t hesitate to mix foreign words in their conversation. The best known example is definitely their way of greeting you with their ‘‘Hi, kifak ! ca va ?’, where ‘kifak’ is the only Arabic word.

No Lebanese sends his CV in Arabic. In a restaurant, we mix our Arabic dialect with foreign words to make it chic. And finally, in literature, poetry and theatre, there are fewer and fewer Arabic works.

The problem starts at school: many students have difficulty reading their maternal language. Some don’t even hesitate to write Arabic in Latin characters, in the ‘sms’ language.

This phenomenon of acculturation is unfortunately not limited to Lebanon. Most of the Arab countries submit to the hegemony of English, whether in conversations or in ads. Only Syria still resists.

'It's sufficient to take the example of the French who spend enormous sums yearly to promote their language and culture'

Our language is an integral part of our culture. To master and save the Arabic language will not go against progress and an opening to the world. It suffices, for this, to take the example of the French, who spend enormous sums yearly to promote their language and culture.

Today, we need a second Arab renaissance [the Lebanese and the Egyptians led a first Arab renaissance, called the Nahda, in the 19th century]. Lebanon, always the standard-bearer of reform in matters of language, must again lead this movement.

Our campaign featuring these scenes of "linguistic crimes" has been welcomed. This leads us to predict a very strong participation in the first Festival of the Arabic Language that we’re organising in Beirut, 26 June.