Identity faces challenges Impact from influx of foreign workers

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The Arabic language is losing its importance and status as the number of expatriates grows. Moreover, the wide use of English in most private education institutions has also weakened the Arabic language.

SAMUEL KUTTY –
MUSCAT, JAN 27  –
The huge influx of foreign workers is posing a major challenge on the demographic structure, cultural and social identity of citizens in the GCC countries including Oman.
Although they are drawn to the country by employment and investment opportunities, such large numbers of migrant workers have a negative impact as well.
“The values, customs, traditions, language and national identity are all in danger. Of particular concern is the threat to Arabic”, says Dr Hassan Abdel Jawed, College of Arts and Science, Sultan Qaboos University.
The Arabic language is losing its importance and status as the number of expatriates grows. Moreover, the wide use of English in most private education institutions has also weakened the Arabic language.
“The strong connection between the job market and foreign languages is one among many reasons that have contributed to the decline of Arabic”, Dr Hassan reveals.
In his study on the socio-linguistic impact from the influx of foreign workers, the academic says that major cities in the Gulf have become international centres attracting investors and professionals worldwide.
“This has tremendous cultural, social and linguistic impacts”, he points out in the study, which was published in the university’s academic bulletin.
According to Dr Hassan, English has become more dominant in the Gulf countries than even the official national language — Arabic. In both public and private work spaces the languages heard are English, Indian, Turkish, Tagalog, German and Chinese rather than Arabic due to the presence of large number of workers from these countries.
According to him, there is an imperfect input for language acquisition for children, both of the negative language as well as English. Children are exposed to mixture of low level or imperfect form of languages.
Another issue is the emergence of an inter-language, ‘pidgin Arabic’ or ‘broken Arabic’ as it has been widely referred to. As this is used for daily communication among the workers and the rest of the community, especially employers, it has become everyday language of sizeable portion of the local population.
“Ultimately this will have a great negative impact on their use on the native language. The younger generation will be continuously exposed to this variety which will further distort their input for language acquisition. This damages this skill to use Arabic correctly”, Dr Hassan points out. As a solution, he suggests that the Sultanate may take steps to control the number of foreign workers. Also Arabic should be made the only official language in all institutions and businesses with English as a secondary language. In hiring maids and housekeepers, Arabic proficiency must be a requisite.
“Mothers should not leave the children with maids at all time. Public awareness of the national language and identity must be raised”, adds Dr Hassan.