Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Go to Arabic, Thou Sluggard

Salman Masalha

Go to Arabic, Thou Sluggard

We often hear about the bleak situation of the Hebrew spoken by students in the schools. In a document published after the latest matriculation exams, senior Education Ministry inspectors once again sounded the alarm. The report also included recommendations to teachers for improving the situation by focusing on thinking and analysis, in order to give students tools for dealing with tasks through deep understanding of the material.

Reports and recommendations of this sort are published from time to time and we often encounter statements to the effect that students have difficulty with questions requiring analysis and understanding or fail to accomplish tasks because they do not understand words and concepts and the like. However, despite all the reports, papers and recommendations submitted in recent years, there has been no improvement. These documents have not succeeded in causing a turnaround because they are off the mark.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” according to Proverbs 18:21. It could be said that all human creativity, in all areas of culture including the exact sciences, is dependent on language. Language is the tool for thinking and the richer a person’s language is, the richer his thinking will be, and vice versa. Moreover, it is not enough that language be the province of the few. Richness of language, including grammar and syntax, must be the province of every student in the schools.

To what is this comparable? To a society in which the wealth is in the hands of the few while the majority of the citizenry is living in poverty. Such a society will be considered poor because the wealth is not spread through the entire society. The same is true of richness of language. Without instilling richness of language into the society as a whole, there is no meaning to the dictionary wealth standing on the shelf or in the hands of a few.

The deterioration of the level of young people’s language in recent years is in part caused by the media, in which companies and individuals with commercial interests and their chase after ratings dictate the content. The captains of the broadcasting networks put the emphasis on various sorts of voyeuristic programming. When instead of bringing on the air intelligent, knowledgeable individuals and scientists whose language is rich and whose minds are acute, they highlight feeble-minded and inarticulate celebrities – so it is no wonder the level of the language of young people who flock to the follies of celebrity is so low.

The growing gap between spoken Hebrew and standard Hebrew is pushing the language into the corner Arabic has been inhabiting for generations now. The duality in the Arabic language plays an important role in delaying the development of Arab societies – as noted, complex thinking and creativity are not possible without rich, precise language.

The Hebrew language is undergoing a process of desertification similar to the desertification that has been experienced by the Arabic language. This processes is causing the achievements in the schools to deteriorate. As the gap between the spoken and the standard language grows wider, and as long as richness of language is not instilled in everyone in the society from an early age, scholastic achievements will continue to deteriorate.

To reverse this process, the language wilderness must be made to bloom and richness of language must be instilled in all the students and teachers in Israel, both Jews and Arabs. The spoken language, be it Hebrew or Arabic, is not only distancing and alienating the population from the rich, precise language of creativity – it is also leading to shallowness of thought regardless of age.
To those who are seeking the root of the problem it can therefore be said: Go to Arabic, thou sluggard, consider its ways and be wise.

Published in Haaretz Online, Opinion, May 16, 2010

For Hebrew, press here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Salman Masalha


When cats decide to sleep
nothing disturbs their night.
It's we who make the noise
going from fight to fight.

When cats decide to dream
nothing can change their minds.
It's we who spoil their night
with snores of many kinds.

One snores as if he speaks.
Sometimes it sounds like French,
but you who sleep so deep
on a bed made of a bench.

-- no way for me to try
to show you my cat's revenge.


Middle East
  • The Arab world's quagmire

    Only a society that can engage in introspection and self-examination can emerge from its dark past and march confidently to a different future. Otherwise, it will continue to sink into the same marshy swamp.

    Read more

    A Feeble Middle East

    The West learned on its own flesh that this region conducts itself by other codes. Iran has continued to entrench its standing by means of its religious ideology. The toppling of Saddam Hussein shattered the illusion of the existence of a unifying “Iraqi identity” and gave an encouraging shot in the arm to Iran, which is forging ahead.

    Read more

  • The decay in the Arab world

    With great sadness, it can be said that in the absence of a sane civil alternative, the Arab world will continue along this path.

    Read more

    Neither Arab nor Spring

    The vicissitudes that have, for some reason, been collectively dubbed the "Arab Spring" are neither Arab nor Spring. One can say that they are actually living proof of the identity crisis and reverberating bankruptcy of Arab nationalism.

    Read more

  • another title

    المتابع من أبناء جلدتنا لما يجري في هذا العالم الواسع يجد نفسه أمام ظاهرة فريدة. فلو نظرنا إلى ما يحصل من أحداث نرى أنّ القاسم المشترك بينها هو أنّ غالبيّتها هو مواقع وقوعها الجغرافية. إذ نرى أنّها تحدث في الأصقاع التي توصف بانتمائها إلى العالمين العربي والإسلامي.
Israel - Palestine
  • Our troubles come from us

    And so we have reached a situation in which every Arab is concerned with his own problems and everyone talks about what preoccupies him personally – that is, his own troubles.

    Read more

  • Never-ending tragedy

    The Israeli right, in all its forms, wants exclusively Jewish control over all of the Land of Israel. To the Palestinians who live in this space, it promises residency – temporary, of course, on condition that they keep their heads down, accept their designated status and behave accordingly.

    Read more
  • Solomon’s Mosque

    Religion, every religion, is the No. 1 enemy of nationalism. But under conditions of tension, such as tribal warfare, these polar opposites combine into a toxic soup that consumes all common sense.

    Read more

  • They see not, nor know

    The term "neutralize" is very popular with people who have served in the security and expulsion forces. The question to be asked is, What did the poet who spoke of "neutralization" mean in this plan?

    Read more

    For Jews only

    From the moment the pundits followed in the footsteps of the politicians, both large and small, they carried this noxious melody everywhere. They were part of legitimizing the illegitimate in Israeli politics.

    Read more

  • With yearning soul

    The Zionism that aspired to establish a "Jewish home" in the Jews' "ancient homeland" did not take into consideration the fact that the land was not empty. It thus adopted the principle of population transfer, based on the same ancient biblical tradition.

    Read more

    Rabbis of the Dry Bones

    Racism surfaces when a society loses its self-confidence and turns to seeking ways to defend itself against what is different and perceived as increasingly threatening.

    Read more

  • الحلم

    أنّي في سجن جدران بيضاء
    حيث لا يعرفني أحدٌ، وأصواتٌ
    تختفي في الرّدهات، وأضواء تستنشقُ
    جمجمتي اللّاهثة.
    تتمة الكلام

Press photo to Email



Site Archive

Selected Topics

  • The pit and the pendulum

    In those days, we did not drink four goblets of wine, because everything that gladdens the human heart is not a part of our custom.

    Read more

  • Welcome Back to History

    Islam, like other imperialist ideologies, still needs enemies to flourish. Enemies have served Islam in the past as fuel for its wagons. Without enemies Islam declines and stagnates...

    Read more

  • another title

    المتابع من أبناء جلدتنا لما يجري في هذا العالم الواسع يجد نفسه أمام ظاهرة فريدة. فلو نظرنا إلى ما يحصل من أحداث نرى أنّ القاسم المشترك بينها هو أنّ غالبيّتها هو مواقع وقوعها الجغرافية. إذ نرى أنّها تحدث في الأصقاع التي توصف بانتمائها إلى العالمين العربي والإسلامي.
  • Balkrishna Sama

    Man Is God

    He who loves flowers, has a tender heart.
    he who cannot pluck their blooms,
    has a heart that's noble.

    Read more

  • Martin Niemöller

    First They Came

    First they came for the Communists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the Socialist
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Read More

  • Salman Masalha

    The Song About the Child

    Boston Gospel Choir

    Text: Salman Masalha
    Composer: Stephen Feigenbaum