A detail of Gibran 2018, an oil on canvas by Nevine Fathy
A detail of Gibran 2018, an oil on canvas by Nevine Fathy

Writers who immerse themselves in another language can turn words into bridges

In the poem Counterpoint, an homage to the scholar Edward Said, Mahmoud Darwish recalled a conversation that took place between them as they discussed the intersection of language, writing and expression. "He says … I have two names that come together but pull apart," Darwish wrote, "… and I have two languages but have long forgotten which one I dream in." Said's articulation of living, breathing and navigating multiple languages reflects a reality shared by many writers and intellectuals around the world, in both historic and contemporary settings. The term exophony, derived from the ancient Greek words "ek", meaning out of, and "phon-eh", meaning sound or voice, refers to those who write in a language that is not their mother tongue. But why is there a long tradition of writers who found their voices in languages that are not their own?
Even though Lebanese author and poet Kahlil Gibran wrote his early literary work in Arabic, he published most of his books in English. His most acclaimed work, The Prophet, was written in English and has sold more than nine million copies in the US alone since it was first published, making him the third most-read poet of all time after Shakespeare and the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Even when writing in Arabic, Gibran rebelled against what he referred to as the age-old rigidity of the language. In a letter to his editor Mary Haskell, Gibran explained that within the Arabic language, he created "a new language inside an older one", the latter of which he believed had "already reached the peak of its own perfection". Gibran not only manoeuvred between two languages but in Arabic, he questioned and rewrote the fundamental components and usage of the language itself. To Gibran, the way he worked with, and reacted to, the structures of language was as important as what he said through the lexicon he chose.
Amin Malouf, whose literary work has been shaped by experiences of war and migration, published all his novels in French, despite being an Arabic native speaker. In an attempt to explain his relationship to three different languages, Malouf once said that he spoke in Arabic, wrote in French and read in English. In his younger years, he held the conviction that if he was to become a writer, he would need to write primarily in Arabic. He went on to explain that his position changed when he left Lebanon, a point that marked his departure from Arabic and the beginning of his writing in French. Malouf said writers had to express themselves in a language "that is understood by those around [them]",  otherwise the act itself could become a burdensome experience. To the writer, the need to feel understood in the environment he was living in underpinned his choice of language.
Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2007, wrote his first novel Things Fall Apart in 1958 in English. At the time, Achebe explained that he thought the English language was able to carry the "weight of his African experience", but he added it had to be a new, more African version of English, "still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suits its new African surroundings". Like Gibran, Achebe moulded the language he used to best fit his ideas, as opposed to the other way around, and like Malouf, he wrote to reach an audience that was best able to understand him in return.  
Then there is British-born novelist Jhumpa Lahiri, the daughter of Bengali Indian migrants, who grew up in the US speaking both Bengali and English. She discovered her love for the Italian language during a trip to Florence but after failed attempts to learn it for 20 years, she decided the only way to do so was to take the plunge and fully immerse herself by moving to Rome with her family, where she refused to read or write in any other language for more than two years. When she wrote In Other Words in Italian in 2015, it was perhaps, she said, "because I'm a writer who doesn't belong completely in one language". "To know a new language, to immerse yourself, you have to leave the shore," she wrote, refusing even to translate her own book into English in case she was tempted "to make it stronger by means of my stronger language". She describes her relationship with Bengali, Italian and English as a triangle, where "one point leads inevitably to another", and while she wonders whether each side is equal, she argues that it forms a "kind of frame" through which she can see herself anew.

To Lahiri, embarking on a linguistic journey allowed her the freedom to reinvent and rediscover herself as a writer. Italian author Antonio Tabucchi, on the other hand, felt the creative need to write in Portuguese. Tabucchi, explaining his decision, said that he needed a different language that could offer him "a place of reflection". To the author, a second language provided a space for him to disappear into, one that he could not find in the language with which he was most familiar.
Through their multilingual navigations, exophonic writers, whether they are conscious of it or not, exhibit the power behind the written word's ability to connect and act as a bridge between people of different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs. From Gibran to Lahiri, the experiences of exophonic writers also bring to the surface questions on both the motivations behind, and ripple effects of, manoeuvring between more than one language. Are different languages a means of expressing oneself as a writer, as opposed to a means to an end? Can different languages bring out undiscovered elements of a writer's personality? Does an increased comprehension of a second language affect a writer's fluency in another? What does it ultimately mean to have the ability and choice of expressing oneself in more than one language?
It is through these writers' dilemmas that readers can better understand the multifaceted nature of their literary work. And perhaps, through this manifestation of a tangled, intricate web of words and layered meaning, readers can better understand themselves.
Dubai Abulhoul is an Emirati author and Rhodes Scholar

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024


Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).


Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).


Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

Electric scooters: some rules to remember
  • Riders must be 14-years-old or over
  • Wear a protective helmet
  • Park the electric scooter in designated parking lots (if any)
  • Do not leave electric scooter in locations that obstruct traffic or pedestrians
  • Solo riders only, no passengers allowed
  • Do not drive outside designated lanes
Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

Neil Thomson – THE BIO

Family: I am happily married to my wife Liz and we have two children together.

Favourite music: Rock music. I started at a young age due to my father’s influence. He played in an Indian rock band The Flintstones who were once asked by Apple Records to fly over to England to perform there.

Favourite book: I constantly find myself reading The Bible.

Favourite film: The Greatest Showman.

Favourite holiday destination: I love visiting Melbourne as I have family there and it’s a wonderful place. New York at Christmas is also magical.

Favourite food: I went to boarding school so I like any cuisine really.

Where to donate in the UAE

The Emirates Charity Portal

You can donate to several registered charities through a “donation catalogue”. The use of the donation is quite specific, such as buying a fan for a poor family in Niger for Dh130.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments

The site has an e-donation service accepting debit card, credit card or e-Dirham, an electronic payment tool developed by the Ministry of Finance and First Abu Dhabi Bank.

Al Noor Special Needs Centre

You can donate online or order Smiles n’ Stuff products handcrafted by Al Noor students. The centre publishes a wish list of extras needed, starting at Dh500.

Beit Al Khair Society

Beit Al Khair Society has the motto “From – and to – the UAE,” with donations going towards the neediest in the country. Its website has a list of physical donation sites, but people can also contribute money by SMS, bank transfer and through the hotline 800-22554.

Dar Al Ber Society

Dar Al Ber Society, which has charity projects in 39 countries, accept cash payments, money transfers or SMS donations. Its donation hotline is 800-79.

Dubai Cares

Dubai Cares provides several options for individuals and companies to donate, including online, through banks, at retail outlets, via phone and by purchasing Dubai Cares branded merchandise. It is currently running a campaign called Bookings 2030, which allows people to help change the future of six underprivileged children and young people.

Emirates Airline Foundation

Those who travel on Emirates have undoubtedly seen the little donation envelopes in the seat pockets. But the foundation also accepts donations online and in the form of Skywards Miles. Donated miles are used to sponsor travel for doctors, surgeons, engineers and other professionals volunteering on humanitarian missions around the world.

Emirates Red Crescent

On the Emirates Red Crescent website you can choose between 35 different purposes for your donation, such as providing food for fasters, supporting debtors and contributing to a refugee women fund. It also has a list of bank accounts for each donation type.

Gulf for Good

Gulf for Good raises funds for partner charity projects through challenges, like climbing Kilimanjaro and cycling through Thailand. This year’s projects are in partnership with Street Child Nepal, Larchfield Kids, the Foundation for African Empowerment and SOS Children's Villages. Since 2001, the organisation has raised more than $3.5 million (Dh12.8m) in support of over 50 children’s charities.

Noor Dubai Foundation

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the Noor Dubai Foundation a decade ago with the aim of eliminating all forms of preventable blindness globally. You can donate Dh50 to support mobile eye camps by texting the word “Noor” to 4565 (Etisalat) or 4849 (du).

The National Archives, Abu Dhabi

Founded over 50 years ago, the National Archives collects valuable historical material relating to the UAE, and is the oldest and richest archive relating to the Arabian Gulf.

Much of the material can be viewed on line at the Arabian Gulf Digital Archive - https://www.agda.ae/en

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE


The Old Slave and the Mastiff

Patrick Chamoiseau

Translated from the French and Creole by Linda Coverdale

Look Both Ways

Director: Wanuri Kahiu
Stars: Lili Reinhart, Danny Ramirez, David Corenswet, Luke Wilson, Nia Long
Rating: 3/5


Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others


5pm: Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Racing Festival – Handicap (PA) Dh100,000 (Turf) 2,200m
Winner: Suny Du Loup, Pat Dobbs (jockey), Hamad Al Marar (trainer)
5.30pm: Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Racing Festival Cup – Conditions (PA) Dh150,000 (T) 1,600m
Winner: Nadia Du Loup, Antonio Fresu, Sulaiman Al Ghunaimi
6pm: Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Cup – Conditions (PA) Dh150,000 (T) 1,600m
Winner: Dareen, Dane O’Neill, Jean de Roualle
6.30pm: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup – Group 3 (PA) Dh500,000
Winner: AF Alwajel, Pat Dobbs, Ernst Oertel
7.15pm: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown – Group 1 (PA) Dh5,000,000 (T) 2,200m
Winner: First Classs, Ronan Thomas, Jean De Mieulle
8pm: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup – Listed (TB) Dh380,000 (T) 1,600m
Winner: San Donato, Pat Dobbs, Doug Watson
8.30pm: Wathba Stallions Cup – Handicap (PA) Dh100,000 (T) 1,600m
Winner: AF Rasam, Fernando Jara, Ernst Oertel