Purists alarmed at increasing popularity of Franco-Arabic

Updated 14 January 2015
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Purists alarmed at increasing popularity of Franco-Arabic

Franco-Arabic, the popular language of communication for conversations and chats on social media sites, is increasingly being seen as a threat to the Arabic language, culture and identity.
While the language is commonly used in Egypt and several other Arab countries, it faces resistance from lovers of Arab identity and culture with campaigns such as "Write Arabic" and ‘Enough Franco."
A heady cocktail of Arabic and English written in the Latin script, Franco-Arabic or Franco has gained huge popularity among the youth who relate to it because of its symbols which they can adopt to Arabic. So for example, the symbol ‘3’ is used to represent the Arabic letter ‘Ayn,’ 5 for the letter ‘kha,’ 7 for ‘Ha’ and 8 for ‘Ghain’.
Discussing the reasons for the popularity of Franco-Arabic among the Arab youth, computer expert Ziyad Ata said the the youth who depend on the Latin script to learn computer techniques, become more familiar and feel at home with English keyboards which is one of the major reasons for Franco becoming popular on social media. Another reason is that in most private schools and universities English and European languages are used as the first language and the computer applications and other topics are also taught in those languages. A third reason is the availability of non-Arabic keypads which compels the students to use the Latin script even if they prefer the Arabic language.
A writer in Al-Riyadh Daily Mariam Al-Jaber warns of the risk to the Arabic language which stands in danger of large scale erosion if Franco continues to be widely used. She says that in the long run, Arabic may suffer the same plight as that of Hebrew and Persian.
She pointed out that boys and girls under 18 who are in their formative years, would find it hard to shake off the habit of using the foreign language instead of their mother tongue.
‘’There is hardly any justification for abandoning Arabic. If they find the literary language difficult, they have the option of adopting the slang which is far easier than Franco,’’ Mariam said.
Shedding more light on the issue, Family and Community Medicine Consultant and Vice president at King Khaled University Dr. Khaled Jalban said he noted with concern the increasing trend of writing Franco-Arabic or using the slang with Latin script as the means of quick communication on Facebook, SMS and mobile phones which is fast becoming popular among the young.
"Adopting Latin letters in the place of Arabic threatens our identity and culture. Using Arabic slang is a thousand times better than losing our cultural identity,’’ Jalban said, adding that a number of Muslim countries have replaced the Arabic script with Latin and even those who love to use Arabic are forced to use Latin script because they do not get keyboards with Arabic or because they communicate with people who do not like or are not familiar with the Arabic script.
He attributed the acceptance of Franco as the favorite language online because Latin is more user friendly on various computer systems than the Arabic script. Leading information technology companies such as Microsoft and Google provide translations of Franco texts into Arabic which helps the fast spread of Franco making it a threat to Arabic.
"The solution is to find ways to stop the influence of the Western culture on the youth who are weak in asserting their cultural identity. So the Arabic script should be incorporated on all computer systems and be made part of the curriculum,’’ he said.
Faculty member of Arabic Language at the King Khaled University Ahmed Al-Tihani said the use of Latin instead of Arabic is a threat to the Arab cultural identity. Arabic language is the incubator of values that developed the Muslim Ummah’s identity and it is one of the oldest living languages on earth.


INTERVIEW: Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki on heading a Cannes jury and the surprise success of 'Capernaum' in China

Updated 24 May 2019
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INTERVIEW: Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki on heading a Cannes jury and the surprise success of 'Capernaum' in China

  • Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so
  • “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks

DUBAI: The success that Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s third film, “Capernaum,” continues to find across the world is astounding — even to her. Just one year ago, “Capernaum” won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival — a jury chaired by Cate Blanchett — after a 15-minute standing ovation. The film went on to be nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, with Labaki becoming the first woman from the Arab world to receive that honor. Now, perhaps most surprisingly, “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks.
“It’s crazy! I can’t believe it! I really can’t. Why there? It’s all very new, so I still don’t know what it means exactly, but we’re soon going to find out,” Labaki tells Arab News in Cannes.
With its success in China, along with the US, Middle East and across Europe, “Capernaum” has reportedly become the highest grossing Arabic-language film in history.
“There’s been rumors going on for the past two to three days, and it’s like, ‘What?’ I still can’t believe it. It’s living proof that an Arab film with no actors can actually be a box office hit — can actually return money, make money for investors. You know how much we’re struggling in the Arab world to make films, find money, find funding, find investment. Especially for a Lebanese film,” Labaki says.
Labaki was in China just one month ago to show the film at the Beijing International Film Festival, and although the film got a rousing response in the room, she didn’t feel the reaction was any stronger than anywhere else the film has shown.
“Maybe it’s because there’s more than a billion people in China, but even the distributor is saying it’s working like any big blockbuster movie,” says Labaki.
The Chinese release of the film has one major difference from other cuts. The original version of the film tells the story of a young boy named Zain El Hajj (played by Zain Al-Rafeea) struggling to survive on the streets of Lebanon with the help of a young Ethiopian immigrant named Rahil and her undocumented infant son Yonas, dreaming of escaping as a refugee to Sweden. The story is not far from Al-Rafeea’s real-life situation at the time — he is a Syrian refugee. Since the film’s release, though, Al-Rafeea and his family have been relocated to Norway, something the Chinese release includes at the end of the film as a short visual report.
“The film ends on his smile, and in a way there’s (now) a continuation of real life in that story. This is really happening, it’s not made up,” says Labaki. “That’s why we’re making a documentary around the film. Maybe it’s a way of comforting people, knowing that he’s alright, he’s good, he’s in a better place. Deep down, people know this kid is going through this in his real life, they know he’s not just an actor in this film.
“I think it’s comforting to know Zain is in a different place now. He’s travelled. He was dreaming of going to Sweden the whole time, and now he’s really in Norway. He has a new life, a new beginning, a new house. He’s going to school, all his family is with him,” she continues. “It’s a complete shift of destiny. Maybe the fact the distributor added this report after the film made people understand that this is a real story and a real struggle, and not just another film.”
Though this is a huge moment for Arab film in general, Labaki doesn’t believe that the success of “Capernaum” necessarily signals a greater appetite for Arab cinema worldwide.
“I don’t think it’s about (where the film comes from). It’s about good films. It has nothing to do with the identity of the film or the country it’s coming from, really. It doesn’t mean if this film worked in China that another Arab film will work in China,” she says. “Maybe there’s going to be more hope for Lebanese cinema in the sense that investors will be less afraid to invest in Lebanese films, but it’s about the script, the filmmaker, the craft, the know-how. This is what gives confidence to somebody.”
Speaking to Arab News at the renowned Hotel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes on one of the busiest days of the film festival, Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so. Labaki began her relationship with Cannes in 2004, writing and developing her first feature, “Caramel,” at the Cinéfoundation Residency before showcasing the film at the Director’s Fortnight in 2007. Both of Labaki’s subsequent films — “Where do We Go Now?” in 2011 and “Capernaum” in 2018 — debuted at the festival, each in increasingly competitive categories.
“I feel like I’m their baby, in a way. With a baby you start watching their first steps, see them grow, protect them, push them… They’ve accompanied me in this journey, and recognized and encouraged me. It’s great — I really love this festival. I think it’s the best festival in the world. I like the integrity they have towards cinema. You feel that watching a film in Cannes, you know that you’re not going to watch just anything — there’s something in there for you to learn from, to be surprised by, to be in awe of. There’s always something about films that are shown in Cannes,” says Labaki.
In approaching her role as head of the jury, Labaki is focusing on connecting with the films, and taking on the perspective of myriad filmmakers from across the world.
“I don’t watch films as a filmmaker. Never,” she says. “I watch the film as a human being… I don’t like the word jury. I don’t like to judge because I’ve been there — I’m there all the time. I’ve been in those very difficult situations, very fragile situations, where you’re making a film, where you’re doubting, where you don’t know, where you don’t have enough distance with what you’re doing, and you don’t have the right answers and you’re not taking the right decisions.”
Just as her own films have become increasingly focused on the problems facing Lebanese society, Labaki believes that contemporary film cannot help but be political, and must accept its role as a commentary on the world we live in — something that she feels she’s seen in the films in her category.
“Cinema is not just about making another film; it’s about saying something about the state of the world right now. Until now, every film we’ve seen is (doing that). That doesn’t mean that cinema that is just art for art’s sake is not good — there are so many different schools — but I feel we’re becoming so much more responsible for this act,” she says. “You become an activist without even knowing you’re becoming an activist, and saying something about the state of the world. It’s important.”