By Dr. Ahmed Mokhtar El-Gammal
Erroneous Terminology & Concepts 1
The Arab World has been the focus of interest in several serious research and political analyses, on the international level, that deal with world issues in general, and Middle East in particular, which are related to security, peace and stability, and also development, investment, reform, democracy and human rights. This is due to development of events, intricacy of interests and relations, diversity in ideologies, cultures and strategies, and discrepancy in ideas and visions, together with the importance of monitoring new developments in international and regional power balances, ambitions of states and peoples and their national identities.
Therefore, it is no more up to standard for any Arab political writer to ignore new ideas and modern wording that are being circulated. It is no more acceptable, that Arab writers opt to isolate themselves from world main streams, depending on a great treasure of Arabic and Islamic heritage in writing, eloquence, diction and good style, ignoring modern and varied terminology. Such terms are used also in world political literature, and it is difficult for those who do not familiarise themselves with those terms to comprehend debates, arguments, controversies, political analyses and policies.
With The Holy Quran as its term of reference, and with its vitality, richness and civilized, cultural and literary thrust, the Classical Arabic language could assimilate so many technical, scientific, technological, cultural and literary terms that were taken from other languages, and to find an equivalent in Arabic that is accurate and to the point, even if it has been partly carved from a foreign term, after being subjected to the Arabic grammar.
However, some Arab writers and thinkers nowadays, contrary to their predecessors in the last century who studied in Paris after being graduated from Al Azhar, confine themselves to the Arabic language, either because of their previous educational background, or because they were lazy to study and master any foreign languages. They find difficulty in assimilating foreign terms in their specialization or how to use them properly. They usually do not even care to give heed to the spirit of contemporary life, and the way of thinking that prompt using short inspiring sentences to express the most precise meanings, without resorting to repetition, assonance, or rhyme that make it difficult, or even impossible, to reach what the writer wants the reader to comprehend. Matters are complicated more when there is a need to translate what a writer writes into a foreign language. Long sentences lose their coherence and rationality, and the meaning is no more lucid or consistent.
In this context, and to be more precise, it is imperative to talk about translation from Arabic into English and vice versa. The English language is no more confined to the Anglo-Saxon English or American peoples; it has become the language of diplomacy, and international politics and trade. It has been the language that is understood and used by anyone who has contacts, or interests outside the boundary of his native country. From English and into it the most important books and studies in all branches of knowledge are being translated in abundance and precision in every country in the world.
Latin in the past had been the first international diplomatic language in Europe, and then French replaced it. Now it is English per excellence, which has surpassed the British Isles and the United States of America to become the global lingua franca∗. Any how, that had nothing to do directly with Britain. When Britain was a British Empire, French was the international language. For instance, when Britain was occupying Egypt, the passports were written in Arabic and French. Only recently, Mr. Amre Moussa then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt ordered that diplomatic passports should be written in Arabic and English, admitting that English now is the lingua franca, not French.
This introduction leads us to the fact that we should remember all the time that mastering a foreign language, preferably English is nowadays inevitable. An intellectual, a writer, a diplomat, a politician, a businessperson, a media man, a researcher, an academician, and a parliamentarian will lose much if he does not master English or French. For sure he /she will deprive him from a varied and renewed knowledge and deep studies, and will not be able to fully benefit from contemporary instruments of knowledge and information such as International Networks or encyclopedias and electronic means. Arabic is not enough because of limited documentation in contemporary international affairs.
Still, the number of those who master English, in reading, writing and conversation are very limited in the Arab World. Nonetheless, there are so many Arabs who imagine that they are proficient in English, while they are not. Such self-deceit and wishful thing do not endure for long. Concepts, terminology and special usage of English idioms, should be completely mastered by any Arab who is out in the open for international contacts in the spheres of thought, politics, business, arts, science, technology and literature. It was exactly what happened when Arab and Islamic Civilisation prevailed having the upper hand with all thinkers of the world keen and enthusiast to study Arabic because it became the global lingua franca at that time. Consequently, we should be completely aware of what is going on, and what is hatched and devised, not only around us but in the whole globe. We are to be able to say what we want to say to the world, and to convince others by our evidences and logic, instead of what happens now, where a cloudy and hazy dialogue of the deaf takes place. We do not exactly understand what is said to us, and are not able to convey to them what we want to say. Hence, misunderstanding and clashes. It urges some of their thinkers, like Samuel Huntington, to focus on what he called "Clash of civilisations". It is rather a clash of ignorance of other languages and cultures, and sometimes it is a clash of intolerance because of blind fanaticism from either side.
On the other hand, we notice that in the field of diplomacy, where interests has supremacy, Ministries of Foreign Affairs in several important countries in the world like USA, Russia, Britain, and China, inter al, are keen to select Arab-speaking ambassadors to be accredited in their embassies in the Arab countries. Is it not a significant message of the importance of mastering foreign languages?
In the Arab World, our educational institutions, of all sorts, have failed to devise a new, practical and interesting method to teach and master our native tongue and foreign languages. Study of languages is now a specialised science with settled rules, but has not yet enjoyed enough attention in our region. It is due to the fact that traditional methods are still used without application of the latest ones which are only applied in a very limited circle of schools and institutes, with exaggerated fees. Teaching languages needs development and modernisation all the time. Teachers should be specialised experts of talent, high calibre and deep experience.
Another deficiency is reflected, in the translation field. Most translators and interpreters in the arena are self-made, and some of them are not talented and they resort to literary and bookish translation which seems unsavory and soulless. Good Interpreters and translators make intercultural communication possible through language, idea, and concept translation. It is important that they understand the substance of translated material in order to do so effectively. They should also be sensitive and considerate to the cultures in which they work. Such translators are very rare in the Arab World, and they are not sufficiently rewarded.
Cross-cultural communication is necessary in our society, thus requiring the use of interpreters and translators. These workers translate ideas, concepts, and words, to help people communicate effectively between cultures. However, we still lament the great deficiency in translation from Arabic into foreign languages and vice versa. There is a shocking and shameful comparison between the numbers of books that are annually translated into Arabic or from Arabic into foreign languages, with the number translated in developed countries. There is a wide gap that is consequently reflected on the rate of progress. It is undoubtedly proved that translation has a vital role in any coveted progress or real development. It is a solace that there is increasing awareness of the translation problem on all levels in the Arab states. Efforts are exerted by serious politicians, scientists, thinkers and writers who realise the gravity of the problem. However, there is still a great need for a public effort to concentrate on compiling dictionaries both general and specialised in Arabic and foreign languages, especially English, and to modernise them from time to time. Now it is left to individuals and not to an institutional effort that is not affected by disappearance of individuals, or left to language academies which are very slow to deliver.
Dictionaries, as we envisage them, represent a support and help to translators, especially if the chronological sequence in the development of meanings of words is applied. The meanings are to be illustrated by quotations of literary or scientific texts to explain different meanings according to contexts. It is absent in English/Arabic dictionaries, and that is why we find several and contradictory meanings of an English term, and the user cannot know which he has to use. Some of these terms are obsolete, without indicating that they are so.
There is the solemn Oxford Dictionary which was compiled and edited from materials amounting to over five million quotations, derived from English words of literature and records of all kinds, and resulted in 15,000 large quarto pages, in which nearly half a million words are recorded with more than one and half million illustrative quotations. The Oxford Dictionary was abridged to The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in 1933, in one volume of 2515 pages, and later in two volumes. It is an excellent example of what a dictionary should be.
In the developed world, translators now stand on equal footing with creative authors, and charge almost the same wage, while in the Arab world there is still a great difference. Such treatment should change. In addition to national centres of translation we should establish much more institutes and university faculties for translation, and grant students scholarships to go abroad for further post-graduate studies. Wages of translation should match the effort and the experience, and should be raised from time to time to attract talented persons to be translators.
Some erroneous concepts in terminology may be intended on purpose by some people for political or propaganda reasons. They may be antagonistic or provocative as a result of hatred, bias, misunderstanding or inaccuracy. For instance the notorious term "terrorism" was misleadingly translated into Arabic as "Irhab"إرهاب. But "Irhab" in Arabic and in the Holy Quran means "Deterrence" ردع. That is why it is acceptable to try to deter your enemy, but not terrorize innocent people. However, it was taken by the West as if the Arabs and the Muslims are in favour of terrorism, while in fact they allow the use of deterrence. The correct translation for terrorism should be "Tarw'i" ترويع meaning random killing and cruelty in terrorizing the innocent unarmed citizens. Islam, is definitely against that, and consequently is against "terrorism", but may advocate deterrence when necessary.
We shall concentrate here, in future articles, under the title: Contemporary Political Dictionary on correct terms and concepts, because words, sentences, and expressions often have several meanings in other languages, and we shall explain them, as a complement to the research studies that are published in Arab Affairs Journal.
(Courtesy of Arab Affairs Journal of States of Arab States. www.arabaffairs.org)