First languages – part III

Read Part I and Part II.

Although the Lebanese have informally adopted a great wealth of foreign terms, they are a long way from establishing a new language, like Maltese. First of all, the French and English influences are by no means stable or having equal effect on the whole population. One person may speak fluent French and another none. This is because they are now largely chosen influences, not imposed ones. True, French is a legacy of the mandate era, but since the end of the mandate it has been kept alive by choice. It has become a sign of prestige or education, as it did in England in the 11th century. Christians even use it as a means to distinguish themselves from Muslims or Arabs in general. Likewise English is a tool for those wanting to travel to or do trade with the rest of the world.

The fact that these are not nationwide imposed influences means that Lebanese vocabulary is not being completely replaced by other languages. The multiple vocabularies co-exist at least across the country if not in every house. Therefore we continue to view non-Arabic vocabulary as an outside influence rather than an integral part of Lebanese. If the great majority of the population were to adopt the same new vocabulary, only then could we consider that Lebanese had evolved, even if only as a dialect.  Read the rest of this entry »

First languages – part II

Read Part I

I imagine that Lebanese expats across the world are often driven to exasperation by others persistently trying to nail down what their first language really is. Amin Maalouf, in Les Identités meurtrières, soundly skewers the urge we have as humans to reduce others to a single national identity, rather than recognising that an identity is made up of many elements which shift and change with time and experience.

Likewise those of us brought up with a single language often insist on trying to strip the bilingual or trilingual of their ‘surplus’ languages by spearing them with questions such as But what do you think in? What do you dream in?  We feel obliged to sort out this linguistic muddle of having two or three languages on the go. There must be one core language, one mother tongue we can limit it to.  Read the rest of this entry »

Streets of Beirut VIII

street food

This Friday’s photo is from the edge of one of Lebanon’s summer music festivals: a falafel joint like so many across Lebanon. For me, street food brings a city alive. In Paris, most passers-by seem to don some form of social armour before leaving their home, they cross the streets merely to get elsewhere, fending off the outside world. It’s fairly rare to see a bus passenger scoffing a panini. If you hear loud conversations in the metro, chances are the perpetrators are tourists or… Lebanese expats. Because the Lebanese share their life with the street,  their news, their upsets, their meals.