The Wrenching of Arab Accents

Nothing is more striking than a thick, guttural Arab accent. Pride yourself for having one, if you do, for it is a marker of your identity.

At the young age of five, as Arabs, we are bombarded with the idea that the Arabic language is inferior and vulgar and odd-sounding. We are taught, from the very start, that the use of our language is a dying tradition that will not live to see the future. Not only that, but we are also taught, be it through media or our teachers’ subconscious belief in the superiority of Western culture, that to reach adolescence while in possession of an Arab accent is social suicide. This, of course, poses several problems, two of which I will address in this piece.

The first issue is that it proliferates an overarching, implicit hatred of oneself and one’s culture. Constantly, as we are being expected to bend and break the very muscles of our tongues to perfect the American or the British, we forget that we are allowed to sound like, well, you know, Arabs speaking English, and devalue the role of Arabic in our lives– that being that it is our first language. With this incessant worry eating at the pits of our minds, we begin to hate ourselves for being “wrong all the time” (when in reality, having an accent is only natural). As a consequence of this, feelings of guilt, self-consciousness, anger, frustration, self-hatred, and even sadness may arise. Unrealistic ambition may also become our driving force. This is primarily reflected in private schools in the Arab World, but also in public schools. Some students, who cannot perfect the American or the British, begin to exhaust a hybrid of the American and Arab accents– one that is at times so overly done it becomes incomprehensible. Many such individuals (who adopt this hybrid of accents) are either bullied or subject to more corrections– reactions that perpetuate self-hatred and/or the hatred of ‘Arabness’.

The second issue, which the first could be regarded as segway to, is the loss of recognition of the Arabic language as a symbol of the Arab World. Instead, Arabic, especially to millennial Arabia, has become the ‘back up’ language we save for distant relatives and strangers. English, which we regard as ‘hip’ and ‘proper’, dominates our daily lives and loosens our grip on Arabic. With time, we begin to develop an understanding of the Arab World as tasted, read and talked about through the English tongue. This, of course, is not an issue until our understanding of the Arab World stops making sense in Arabic. Our obsession with critiquing our part of the world then translates into a larger dissociation between ourselves and our language. Slowly, we forget that the Arab World is more than just a notion of disappointment. It is home to a history of beautiful poetry, art, invention, creativity, and endless hospitality.

Finally, it is worth noting that embracing one’s accent, while it may elicit good and bad reactions alike, it will ground the individual and embolden her. So, again, don’t be ashamed of your accent, if you have one. It is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

The Wrenching of Arab Accents