New study reveals how technology and digital publishing will make the Arabic language more accessible

A government report has recommended launching an observatory to safeguard the language

Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth. Courtesy UAE Ministry of Culture & Youth

An observatory is needed to track the use and development of the Arabic language.

This is one of the recommendations from a two-year government study undertaken by the UAE's Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development.

The UAE’s Minister of Culture and Youth, Noura Al Kaabi, revealed some of the findings in a session at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Thursday.

The major study, titled Report on the Status and Future of the Arabic Language, examines the role that publishing companies, technology and academia play in sustaining and enriching the Arabic language.

When it comes to the observatory, Al Kaabi said the centre’s role will be vital in fighting the scourge of digital piracy, which continues to wreak havoc throughout the Arabic publishing industry.

“It will allow us to follow the developments of the Arab publishing movement and to confront the phenomenon of book piracy,” she said.

“The observatory will work if its aim is to uphold intellectual property rights and raise awareness of its importance in the development of the electronic publishing industry.”

Al Kaabi added that digital publishing represents a thrilling new frontier for Arabic literature, offering a space to develop new talents.

“It does serve as an incubator for the production of young writers at the beginning of their career and we need to place a lot of effort in developing these initiatives,” she said.

“We believe in its role in supporting creativity and (developing) new trends in the Arab cultural scene.”

A new kind of discussion

Joining Al Kaabi during the session was Dr Ali bin Tamim, chairman of the Arabic Language Centre.

"This report is a unique document that we are proud of," he said. "It has the ability to describe and point the way forward when it comes to opportunities and solutions."

Bin Tamim described the study as an important opportunity to elevate discussions surrounding the Arabic language.

"We want to take it away from uninformed discourse and add some real scientific data, reference points and provide practical approaches,” he said.

“We often hear that our duty is to serve the Arabic language. More correctly, I think that language should serve us as individuals and as communities. Our duty is to help the language serve our country, our economy, our future and Arab people.”

Bin Tamim said such a fresh approach to the language is a stark contrast to the way the subject was previously discussed in academia and cultural circles, which often focused on ability rather than the practicalities of its use.

The role of technology

It is a sentiment echoed by Abdulsalam Haykal, chief executive of Abu Dhabi's Haykal group, which focuses on computerising and enriching Arabic content.

"Those who truly helped the growth and prosperity of the Arabic language are major tech companies like Microsoft and Google. These companies and others similar have given us the ability to use the language in a modern way on their platforms," he said.

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Technology will not hinder the quality of the [Arabic] language, but help it reach out further

"Before, we had to use the English alphabet to type Arabic on phones but smartphone technology has improved and we now have access to a full keyboard. Technology will not hinder the quality of the language, but help it reach out further.”

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature continues until Saturday, February 13.

Adopting a hybrid approach, the festival hosts live and virtual sessions focusing on literature, art, science and film. Physical events are taking place across multiple venues including Alserkal Avenue and the InterContinental Dubai Festival City. Online sessions can be watched from the festival's website.

More information is at emirateslitfest.com