Thoughts

[3/365] The Perils of Believing Everything You See

Twitter is a place for petty people, me included. Depending on who you follow, Twitter can be a pretty dangerous place to be in. It’s vindictive and a little heavy on roasting some poor sod who didn’t think twice before tweeting something particularly (and some might say unforgivably) stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really feel anything’s wrong with that. Sometimes you just have to correct people, particularly when they’re being horrendously erroneous. Think of it as a social responsibility, like. Someone goes around talking about how global warming is a conspiracy, you gotta set the record straight. Set him straight while you’re at it. Some things you just can’t ignore.

Like saying the entirety of the English language is derived from Arabic, for instance.

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This account’s been deleted by now, so thank god for screenshots.

When I saw this tweet on my timeline people were already beginning to roast the poor sod, and there I was just looking at my phone, incredibly offended and vaguely disappointed in humanity.

There are a lot of things wrong about this tweet, aside from the obvious fact that no, the English language did not lift 100% of its vocabulary from the Arabic language. English is a West Germanic language (alongside Dutch, German, Afrikaans, Yiddish, and Scots), its ancestor being Proto-Germanic, and while English does in fact borrow plenty of loan words from various languages it is evidently NOT derived completely from Arabic, which is a Central Semitic language. They’re from two different language families, even – West Germanic languages belong to the Indo-European family, while Central Semitic languages to the Afro-Asiatic family. They’re two completely different and discrete language families.

All this can be discovered by a three-second Google search.

No, that’s not really the reason why this offended me, apart from the fact that it’s wrong. It has to be said that certain educational institutions pride themselves on a certain aspect of their institution. UKM prides itself on being the national university of Malaysia, the Guardian of the Nation, the stalwart bastion of the usage of the Malay language in tertiary education and beyond. The International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) prides itself on, well, being the most well-established international Islamic university in Malaysia. It prides itself on being Islamic, and for most people that means an overwhelming love for Arab culture.

I must note here that Arab culture does not equal Islam. It’s a common misconception that anything Arabic must automatically be connected to Islam, which is not the case. The Arabic language is used by people of various creeds from atheists to Muslims to Christians to Jews. There are Arab Christians, there are Arab Jews, there are Arab atheists. A culture does not automatically equate a religion. It’s a point worth remembering, but not one very commonly understood.

And the fact of the matter remains that for most people, Arab does in fact equal Islam in their minds. It is the other way round, perhaps – the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was of Arabic lineage, therefore anything Arabic must be Islamic, therefore we must uphold Arab culture to the highest degree because Islam = Arab and we all must uphold Islam to the highest degree, don’t we? We do, but not to the extent of glorifying a culture.

That’s what most people do, unfortunately. Not to be stereotypical, but one has to admit that there is a significant number of those who study in Islamic-focused institutes like IIUM that fall prey to this mindset. When they glorify everything Arabic to such an extent, they end up being blind to years of research and history, and you get someone talking proudly about how the Arabic language is so great, even the English language is derived completely from the Arabic language and has no history of its own.

It is this sense of superiority that is so dangerous. How can a language be superior over other languages? English is the accepted lingua franca of the world, but let’s face it – head over to South Korea and no one gives a shit about how you’ve won the Man Booker Prize with your writing. If you can’t speak Korean, no dice. It’s the same for most countries – English may be the international language, but the local language still takes precedence. It means no language is superior over any other, not even English. Why would you be so proud of the Arabic language that you’d claim it to be the basis of other languages; a language from a completely different and separate language family, no less? You speak fluent Arabic? Congratulations! Doesn’t mean everyone else who don’t are trash. Naturally, this goes for every language.

Another thing that troubles me about this tweet is that the OP admitted to obtaining their knowledge from a book written by some professor (it must be noted that this point was said very snootily, as if the other party was being particularly dense by not knowing the book and its author). Not that there’s anything wrong with reading – heaven knows people certainly need to read more – but what troubles me is that this particular nugget of ‘knowledge’ was obtained from a book. A book. One single book. That means the OP did no cross-checking or referencing other books to confirm that information. That’s dangerous.

It’s becoming increasingly prevalent in the age of social media despite the fact that one can do a three-second Google search to get a second opinion on the latest sensational news item on your newsfeed, but for some reason people don’t seem to want to do it. It’s not that hard; just press CTRL+T and type in that sensational news item in the address bar, and voila! Google automatically does the work for you. It is literally that easy, but people don’t do it. People don’t want to double check the things they come across on social media, opting to take everything they see and read as the truth. This complacency, this unwillingness to double-check your information and be critical of everything you come across is dangerous. It means you’re just blindingly accepting whatever that’s being shovelled at you via social media, and with Facebook admitting that it did in fact spread fake news items during the US presidential election, is that really the kind of attitude you should be taking?

Also: you’re from IIUM. You’re in a higher education institute. Double-checking your resources is what you’re supposed to be doing. You’re a goddamn university student, for god’s sake. Please, for the love of god, cross-check your references. Make sure they’re legit. Make sure they hold up. It is literally the least you can do, especially when you’re talking about something academic.

What else troubles me? Oh, what about the fact that someone honest to god wrote a book claiming the English language to be completely derived from the Arabic language, thus disregarding years of linguistic research and history? As a linguistics enthusiast and student, this is a goddamn offence. It’s blatant manipulation and erasure of history just so that one can elevate the status of one’s chosen culture/language. It’s a fucking insult, that’s what it is.

I don’t know the title, unfortunately – the account’s been deleted so every tweet from them is gone, including the one where the OP mentioned the name of the book they’d read – but I do know the purported author’s name. He’s a renowned Islamic lecturer and mathematics professor, apparently. I’ll head out to a bookstore one of these days, see if I can’t find a copy of his works. I’m legitimately curious as to how someone without a linguistics doctorate can write such an authoritative work on English linguistics. It’ll be a wild ride.

I feel I’m particularly upset by callously stupid statements like these because I’m a believer in descriptive linguistics. One of the more fascinating aspects of language, to me, is how it evolves over time. English is a Germanic language – its grammar and sentence structures are Germanic in nature; evident when you compare it to German, for instance – but a large majority of its vocabulary is made up of loan words from other languages, most notably Romance languages like French and Spanish. How did that happen? There’s history involved – the study of languages is one that is deeply rooted in history, and it’s important that we respect that. It’s important that we keep that in mind, and disregarding all that just so you can claim one language is more superior that the other… it’s beyond upsetting, for me.

What are your thoughts on the issue? Let me know in the comments.

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