The importance of language to the development of human civilization and its cultural face can be laid emphasis to the fact that “language is purely human and non-instinctive methods of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntary produced symbols.” (Lyons, 1991, p. 3) However, taking note from the above belief, we feel that there is much more to language than just meet the eyes. In another sense, the definition and description of language as stated above also suffers from some defects, and has its limits, given that languages is broader in its cultural forms. Add to it, communication through languages also can take many forms and formats, not just the sole consideration that limit itself to ideas, emotions and the likes of desires, which are beyond the voluntarily produced symbols. To put language in a proper sense, we can relate that “language is a system of vocal symbols by means of a social group co-operation.” (Lyons, 1991, p. 5)
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Understood so, we can add that it will be proper to make a brief analysis on the subject of ‘language and culture’, so as to come to the conclusion on the role language played in the culture sphere, and its impact. But what encounters us in these analytical segments is the basic question, what is culture? From a scholastic point of views, “culture has several related senses, which means that culture itself is synonyms with civilization. And in the second sense, culture is often employed without any implication of unilingual human progress from barbarism to civilization without any prior value judgment being made as to the aesthetic or intellectual quality of a particular society, be it in arts, literature, institutions, which defines its own distinctive subculture.” (Lyons, 1991, pp. 301-302)
The role of Arabic Language in Islamic Culture
Right from the outset and when we relate to culture in conjunction and juxtaposition with language, and assimilating their meaning, there is some sense of relevance that adds up, and which raises the question central to this essay and its arguments.
To be precise, what concern the essay proposal and attempt made in that regard can be laid emphasis to the notion and ‘the role of Arabic language in Islamic cultures’, which are as follows:-
Threats that impact Arabic language
The strength of Arabic language and the Islamic culture in particular
Problems that the Arabic culture faced.
Thus, subject to these assumption that relates to the subject matter, the following discussion describes the same in their subheading so as to drive home the value judgment and criticisms from an objective point of view.
Threats that impacted Arabic language and culture: The past, present and future
Before we turn to the threats that impacted the Arabic language, it will be proper to analyze Arabic language, and as literature relates to “Arabic belongs to the groups of languages collectively known as the Semitic language, which constitutes groups of the Middle East region and North Africa. And the earliest known Semitic spoken language is the Akkadian, spoken in Mesopotamia between 2500 BC and 600 BC.” (Versteegh, 2001, p. 9) What we can drive home from this brief absorption can be premised in the ethnic and regional boundaries of the past. “And as scholars relates to, there is nothing much that is known on the earliest stages of Arabic languages and when the Arabian nomads came to the Arabian peninsular, besides the language they spoke also is hard indeed to predict, assumed that Arabic was mostly spoken, given the inscription in the civilization of that era, that is to say the available Arabian civilization.” (Versteegh, 2001, p. 23)
In addition, “Arabic in the pre-Islamic period that is revealed through the Quran and its manuscripts in all its essence describe the language and its forms,” (Versteegh, 2001, p. 37)which till today commands its space and that which register readily with scholars. Besides, what is most significant to the development of the Arabic language constitutes “the periods of the Islamic conquest, just after the death of Prophet Mohammed, where a drastic sea change was brought about to Arabic language and its forms that significantly spread from Syria to Egypt and where Islam took centre stage in the cultural development of the region, where Arabic spoken people were united under Islamic domination.” (Versteegh, 2001, p. 93)
However, as human civilization and in particular Arabian civilization progressed, threat to its language and cultural forms also increased. And relevant to such a scenario is “the emergence of modern standards in languages, wherein, Arabic and French had to compete for the status of language of prestige and from the language reformer perspective, it means to devalue the classical language by debasing it with dialect influence or the abolition of grammatical rules.” (Versteegh, 2001, p. 186)
Moreover, what we can analyze from a modern perspective, “the biggest threats to Arabian language also came from foreign languages and their domination in the Arab world when European imperialism was spreading fast. Thus, English, French, Italian and Spanish, and the fact that English also commands a significant place in the colonized region of the Arab world,” (Fishman, 2001, p. 385) make it more reliable to place these languages as a threats to Arabian language in the Middle East region. Apart, “the 21st century also presents the Arab world the challenges that may determine its future for generations, be it in maintaining their cultural identify and the danger that comes it due to abundant influence of the western world.” (Najjar, 2005)
Strength of the Arabic Language and the Islamic culture
Assimilating from the aforementioned statements and its arguments, we can’t deny the facts that languages be it English, French or Arabic and the threats in their own domains defines it own extent as and when human civilization progressed across national boundaries. In fact, Arabic as a language is known to be a great influence to the cultural face of the Arab world and Islamism in particular.
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Take for instance, “the ties that connect the Arabic language to its history also places it in a unique position among major world languages of the contemporary world”, which also defines the strength. Add to it, “the historical connection of Arab language also brings both strength and weakness, which does not devalue the importance of historical connection; rather it serves as the fundamental consideration when setting guideline for the future.” (Kassem M. Wahba, 2006, p. 386)
The tradition that relates to Arabic language can be laid more emphasis to the notion that “the centrality of the Arabic language in contemporary context of the Arab world is the result of the continuous foreign presence in Arab speaking countries in the modern era. As a result of it, a threatening feeling among Arab nationalist and intellectuals grew who views such development as an attempt to alter Arab cultural identity and its heritage.” (Kassem M. Wahba, 2006, p. 386) Add to it, “Globalization and its impact also deeply concerned Arab intellectuals and the disinclination of the western world and their Islamic biases.” (Najjar, 2005) But, we can add and conclude that Arabic language in the contemporary context is rich in history, which links together its culture, traditions and that which defines the Islamic world at large.
Problems that the Arabic culture faced
From a modern analysis to Arabic cultural issue, “the countenance of globalization bridged a way to Islamic threats.” (Najjar, 2005) And as scholars have related to, “culture are timeless and omnipresent, which exists and influences all nation at all time and draws a fine line to augment cultural dominance, which also grants individuals their full personal, social and cultural character.” (Lewis, 2007) However, in the face of globalization and western influences, “Islamic heritage and Arabic language and culture faced the dangers of being sidelines.” (Najjar, 2005)
Moreover, how to “preserve Muslim cultural autonomy in the face of many recurring western influences also constitutes another relevant problem. Add to it, intellectual cultural differences between Arab masses and elitist are also one such problem that posits, plus the cultural issue of free Arab thinkers and free cultural expression,” (El-shibiny, 2005, pp. 63, 65) that is thought to be under constant restraint from outside elements.
Conclusion and recommendation
Linguistic or languages as we know of in general assumptions is said to have played a dominant role in the development of culture and human civilization across the globe. Thus, it can be recommended that “incorporate Arab culture in the face of globalization and its influence can be reinforced through the spirit of brotherhood, develop common Arab cultural trends and most importantly reviving the idea of Arab culture itself,” (El-shibiny, 2005, p. 76)
Furthermore, it can be concluded through a recommendation that an “interest in the development of modern language education technology as a means to strengthening the participation of Arabic in various aspect of global activities is also a must. Add to it, efforts to develop Arabic education, plus research that gives importance to language and cultural heritage is also a need of the hour,” (Kassem M. Wahba, 2006, pp. 385-86) which is what we can finally conclude on how the role of Arabic language can significantly bridged and reforms Islamic culture.
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