A Postcolonial Textualization of Arabic

Mohamed Benhaddou (Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Tetuan, Morocco)

This paper is an attempt to illustrate, briefly, certain aspects of post-colonial residual discursive practices concerning the linguistic habits of the Other (Foucault). It is in actual fact a critical review of, or in post-colonial terms, resistance to studies dealing with the language of the Other, and consequently a contribution to the subversion of the authoritative, monocultural forms of discourse (to borrow Ian Adam's terms [p. 79]).

A critical review of studies dealing with the language of the Other in general and of Arabic in particular will not only reveal the actual view of the Self vis-à-vis the Other, but it will also show the operational process underlying the strategies adopted by the analyst in order to exert power and dominance over his/her object of inquiry. Such a process involves the manipulation of the structural, textual and contextual factors available in the system, in order to achieve the ultimate aim behind the production , i.e., the distortion of the experience and realities, and the inscription of the inferiority of the language of the Other (a strategy used so often by the colonizing power for the ultimate aim of total subjugation).

Before beginning, though, let me make a few remarks. First, the scholarly context of this paper is in two areas of research: Text linguistics and post-colonial theory. Research in the first of these two areas provides the analytical tools with which certain aspects of the two articles under study (Koch 1983 and Abdul Ghani 1985) will be examined and analyzed. A text, according to this view is a communicative occurrence which has to respect the requirements of the constitutive and regulative factors of text construction and reception (cf. Beaugrande and Dressler pp. 125-126, 163-164). The texts under study, therefore, are meant to be cohesive and coherent, and are intended to be structured in accordance with the principles and rules of information structure that fulfill the requirements of a particular genre and text type or text types with a view to achieving a goal specified in a plan. (Text types is a term in textlinguistics referring to the various types that a single text may encompass with the dominant type highly marked.) They derive their texture from the network of relations established amongst the linguistics elements constituting the text and the world knowledge shared by the members of the discourse community for whom the text has been produced.

Postcolonial theory activates the notions of interdisciplinarity, and provides operational and descriptive concepts. It has formed the bases upon which the textual analysis of the introductory paragraphs of the two articles has been carried out. Post-colonialism, as Zandra Kambysellis observes, is a tool or a methodology that allows us to examine 'what happens when two cultures clash, based upon one of the culture's assumptions of his superiority' (1997). The assumption, here, is that the previously colonizing countries have moved from a direct military, political and economic control to a subtle economic and educational institutions control. Writings by the colonizing cultures persist in their distortions of the experiences and realities of the previously colonized peoples. One form of colonial practices is to use language as a medium to obscure reality. According to Tiffin and Lawson 'a particular form of the obscuring function of language and textuality is the process of erasure by which the obscurity is transformed from the language to the field being inscribed' (p. 5). There is an attempt, in this paper, to tie together the two areas of research with a view to investigating the possibility of conceptual, notional and practical exchange. Second, interest in Arabic goes back to the Mediaeval era where calls for learning Arabic as a means for a good understanding of Islam were launched by the English philosopher Roger Bacon (1214-1294), and by R. Lull (1235-1316), (cf. Salem Himich 1991: 16).

The descriptive accounts of Arabic by such European Arabists as Brocklemann, Bergstrasser, Naldeke, Rechendorff, Howell and Wright appeared as late as the 19th C. According to Bakir (1980: 1) "most of those descriptive accounts followed the same scientific programs of the Arab grammarians in their analyses of Arabic grammar." However, the common feature characterizing their approach does not seem to limit itself to the scientific description of the language. Third, different terms are used in the West to refer to Arabic.

All these terms are used in various writings on Arabic to distinguish them from the widely known term: Classical Arabic. The difference is basically limited to the lexicon, and to certain structural patterns adopted under Western writing influence. New words have been added through borrowing and new word formations have been created to meet the requirements of the modern age. Structural pattern shifts such as PP. movement and the Western use of punctuation have marked the difference between classical Arabic and modern use of Arabic as well.

Fourth, Arabic as the language of the Other is textualized in Article One (Koch 1983) through a detailed description of the various levels of the language, i.e., Arabic. However, the focus in this analysis is on the introductory paragraph which, in terms of its primary function as an element of setting the tone and directing the reader's attention to an unusual or exotic aspect of the linguistic behaviour of the Other, does not seem to be put forward simply as an introduction to the the main topic of the article. In Article Two (Abdul Ghani 1985) the description is limited to the discourse level. Two aspects of discourse are studied: discourse values and discourse strategies of Arabic. Though the author of the article stresses the fact that the initial quotation is merely there to stir interest in the subject and that it does not involve any value judgement, I would argue that the textualization of events, culture and the linguistic habits of the Other, in our case, Arabic, for transmission and consumption is a form of distortion and suppression of the life and culture of the Other. It is an ever-present process that has not severed the links with the colonial practice. According to Tiffin and Lawson 'imperial relations may have been established initially by guns, guile and disease, but they were maintained in their interpellative phase largely by textuality, both institutionally . . . . And informally.' (3).

Postcolonial Textualization of Arabic In the articles by Kock and Abdul-Ghani under study an attempt will be made to apply the notion of intention and planification as proposed in Beaugrande and Dressler (1981) and to seek to relate intentionality to the notion of discursive practices. According to de Beaugrande and Dressler, a text is a communicative occurrence constituted and regulated by verbal and non-verbal factors. A text is a document of decision, selection and combination. The producer of the text draws upon the linguistic repertoire available to him in a particular discourse community. He plans his communicative occurrence making use of the constitutive and regulatory elements that hold the text together and give the text its texture. The communicative occurrence (in the two articles under study) is significant only when we consider the other alternatives which could have occurred instead (cf. Beaugrande and Dressler 1981: 35). Johnston Koch and Abdul-Ghani as producers of the these two studies make their decisions, selections and opt for particular combinations with a view to presenting their objects of study in a systematic way. According to Slemon (1988), a post-modernist and post-colonial theorist, a post or anti-colonial critical or disidentificatory discourse, [such as the one under study], can be seen to energize an enormously heterogeneous set of social and representational practices from within a large number of post-colonial (and sometimes, latently, within colonialist) social configurations . . . And one of the heterogeneous modalities of this post-colonial discourse within post-colonial literary writing, [in our case linguistic writing], is the figuration of a reiterative quotation, or intertextual citation, in relation to colonialist "textuality"' (The square brackets are mine). Though the statement above refers exclusively to literary writing, a close examination of the articles under consideration will reveal that the nature of the discourse could be seen as activating an enormously heterogeneous set of representational practices. Moreover, one of the heterogeneous modalities of this type of discourse is the ever repeated quotation in relation to the textuality of the powerful (notice the introductory paragraph of Kock and the introductory quotation in Abdul-Ghani) . This could be done either directly through argumentation and management or through simple description where monitoring is in actual fact plan concealment (cf. de Beaugrande and Dresler 1981) . Koch, for instance, analyzes persuasive texts in contemporary Arabic not in their natural habitat within their discourse community but they are rather evaluated against the "Master" exposition of the dominant culture. She maintains that

in contrast to Western modes of argument, which are based on a syllogistic model of proof and made linguistically cohesive via subordination and hypotaxis, Arabic argumentation is essentially paratactic, abductive and analogical. It persuades by making its argumentative claims linguistically present: by repeating them, paraphrasing them, and clothing them in recurring structural cadences. I suggest that this mode of argumentation is a corollary to the cultural centrality of the Lughah (the Arabic language) in Arab-Islamic society. [47]

To reinforce the contrast, Koch provides the following introduction:

Introduction. I recently received a call from someone who had heard about my work on Arabic persuasive language and wanted to know more about it. My caller introduced himself with an Arab name, and although his English was fluent I could detect a slight Arabic accent. He began the conversation by mentioning who had referred him to me and describing his research in an area related to mine. Anticipating that he would want offprint and references but being unprepared for the call, I began slowly to phrase my response: his work sounded interesting, I was glad he had called, and I would be glad to . . . . But before I was able to continue, my caller began again. Once again he told me who had given him my name, and once again he told me how similar his work was to mine. Before the conversation ended with my giving the references and agreeing to send him the things he wanted, he had rephrased his story several more times, and I was only with difficulty keeping myself form laughing‹laughing not at him, but because of the wonderfully ironic nature of the whole interaction. His request for information about how Arabs convince people was a perfect example of how Arabs convince people: namely, by repeating. Metalinguisitic remarks like "listen! you're doing it yourself" have a way of bringing conversations to an abrupt end in embarrassed self-consciousness, so I said nothing about my observations. But if I had thought of it at the time, I would have liked to remind my caller of an Arabic proverb one of my informants told me. The proverb goes ki_ratu al-takr_r bi-ta_al_m al-him_r (____ _______ _____ ______), and what it means is Enough repetition will convince even a donkey. (the Arabic translation is mine) [47-48]

Textualizing events, beliefs, traditions, values and the linguistics habits of the subjugated communities has always served the colonial purposes. The general aim has always been the indication, through the power of discourse, of who matters most and who is subordinate. Such a practice could not be said to be ended in post colonial era. Post-colonial discursive practices still carry traces of colonial textualization of the Other as might be seen in the attempt above to introduce the article that tend to "objectively" compare and contrast the two modes of argument. The Arabic mode of argumentation is analysed against the Western modes of argument (which are not influenced by religion as the Arab-Islamic compound may suggest).

During colonization, though, textualization of Euro-centricism was not covert. It was made so conspicuously clear that the concept of European superiority constituted the major or in Van Dijk's term the macro-topic in most colonial writings and mainly in travel writings. In fact, intellectual superiority formed the control centre (in text linguistics terms), i.e., the macro-topic around which all the other concepts serve as supporting elements in the fabric of intended subjugation and dominance. More important still is the colonial attempt to inscribe itself on the body of the Other (and by this I mean his culture, language and all the factors that characterize him as an individual and also as a member of a group) using the intricacies of discursive power in order to achieve the intended goal: the erasure of the Other or in Zandra Kambysellis's own words 'the suppression, and oftentimes overt annihilation, of the native people's former lives and culture that comes with the new presence of an Other, an Other who believes‹knows, he'll even tell you, deep in his heart‹his culture is superior.' Because, Kambysellis goes on to say, 'he holds an unfaltering belief that his culture is superior to the one he has come to suppress' (1997).

A look at the following extract from Morocco that was by Walter Harris written in 1921, will undoubtedly shed light and illustrate the above statement:

In all my dealing with the Moors I have found this, that the intelligent European, provided he has a complete and absolute knowledge of the language, holds a very distinct advantage over the Moor. He has, in fact, two advantages‹hereditary training of thought and education. The Moor is generally, by his environment and isolation, a slow thinker, and in the many difficult situations in which I at times found myself I have always had confidence in my own mental superiority over the average native. [193] . . . However inauspicious the actual surroundings may be, one feels and knows that the mental superiority rests with the European, and that hereditary training of thought and education stand one in good stead . . . [219]

Such discursive practices have not disappeared in the aftermath of colonialism. Residual effects have persisted. They have remained the usual and common practice whenever the Other is taken as the object of scientific inquiry. We may distinguish two kinds of residual discourse practices: The one discussed above( reference here is to the apparent objective approach to the study of the Arabic language in Koch 's article) or the direct way of showing that Arabic is a language that says nothing with enormous eloquence (as is the case in Christina Abdul-Ghani's article).

Christina Abdul-Ghani initiates her article with the following quotation from the book Islam in the world by Malise Ruthven:

To live in Arabic is to live in a labyrinth of false turns and meanings. No sentence means quite what it says. It is a language which is perfectly constructed for saying nothing with enormous eloquence. Even to peer through a chink in the wall of the language is to glimpse the depth and darkness of that forest of ambiguity. [Abdul-Ghani, 1] (no date or page is provided).

Abdul-Ghani in initiating her article with such a quotation is conscious that such a statement could incite subversive comments. Therefore, she immediately suggests that the 'statements offered here about Arabic discourse do not imply any value judgments' (1).

What is of interest in this paper is to show how Arabic as the language of the Other is presented to the West. Rather, how a Western view on the language is presented in a conference in an Arab University (Christina Abdul-Ghani presented this paper in the International Conference on Arabic Linguistics, University of Yarmouk, Jordan 1985). A text in general is said to have texture by virtue of the constituting elements that function as a unity for the workings of the whole. The quotation above is a textual device used by the author to create a particular frame in the sense of establishing the field or setting the tone for the forthcoming argument. Though in the course of the introduction the tone is attenuated, and though in text linguistic terms there is more of monitoring, i.e., exposition of "facts", rather than managing the situation, the ultimate aim in Abdul-Ghani's article is to reduce Arabic to a degree or degrees much lower than English, contributing thus to an established discursive practice. The operational, dynamic discursive process is that of comparison and contrast, a device used widely in argumentation rather than in exposition unless the degree of evaluativeness increases to the extent that the type of text becomes one of highly evaluative exposition.

Arabic discourse values are influenced by the oral tradition. For example, Arabic encourages an emotional appeal, emphasizes structure and form, depends on association as a persuasive device, and relies on a generally indirect approach. [2]

It may be noticed from the above example that Abdul-Ghani tends to make a value judgment more than undertake a scientific analysis based on the specific characteristics of the language and the requirements of context. The orality of the language according to Abdul-Ghani is reinforced by the importance attached to it in the Koran: another negative association or reference to the influence of the Koran on the use of Arabic.

Arabic in these two articles is not viewed as a language entity, independent in its use and usage of any other linguistic system, neither is it considered as a means of communication workable and intelligible within its own environment. It is rather analytically processed against a "more important and infallible" background, i.e., the English language.

What may be noticed here is the textual strategy Abdul-Ghani uses in order to direct the attention towards a particular characteristics of a language, not for scientific description but rather as disguised management ( a device used in argumentation in order to achieve an intent well specified in a plan, see Beaugrande and Dressler 1981). In this case there is an attempt to lay the grounds for comparing or rather contrasting Arabic as an indirect oral language with English as a literate direct language. It is, in fact, measured by a 'Western European yardstick' since written Arabic has always been 'pronounced a language which lacks logic in the Western popular sense' [n25] e.g., Abdul-Ghani states that ' . . . in general, English emphasizes reason, logic, content and directness' [2]. Reading such commentaries on Arabic one cannot but recall Said's statement that the 'Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience' [1-2]. Arabic, accordingly, has to be contrasted to English as an illogical, and indirect language devoid of any content. If such a consistent distortion of the language of the Other constitute what I may refer to as a Post-colonial Residue one cannot but agree with Adam (1991) when he states that resistance to such discursive practices and presentation of counter-discourses are contributions to the 'subversion of authoritative and monocultural forms of genre, history and discourse.' [Adam, 79] Hence, there is a strong need, as Simon During says, 'in nations or groups which have been victims of imperialism, to achieve an identity uncontaminated by universalistic or Eurocentric concepts and images.' [125]


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Last modified: 24 May 2001