For my final project, I decided to study the language used on signages in Zkak-el-Blat in Beirut. I took pictures of the signages found above every shop there. There were approximately 16 shops and I covered 14 of them, which means that 14 out of 70 pictures that I collected for this class is in Zkak-el-blat. This measures up to be 20% of my data collection.
Surprisingly, only 2 signages used the Arabic language solely without a mix with other languages. This was very weird because most of the people who live in that area speak only Arabic, and I know this because I’m very close to the neighborhood. After I realized this, I started thinking about asking the shop owners for the reasons of their language use on the signages. I interviewed these two people who used Arabic only in order to know the reason behind their choice. The result is the following:
- ” I used Arabic because I don’t understand other languages”– Owner of Shop 1.
- ” I used Arabic because I’m proud to be an Arab and I’m not ashamed. I don’t want to be influenced by the Western mindset”–Owner of Shop 2.
Both of the answers make sense, coming from two 70-year old men.
The first answer is linked to the “first rules of signs” in the article ” The Language of Jerusalem: Signs”, for it states that rule number one is to ” write signs in a language you know” (81). This explains why these two signages were restricted to Arabic. It is important to note that Arabic was chosen by the owner and not by the sign-writer, for the article states that ” it should be noted that it pertains to the language knowledge of the sign-writer and not to that of the owner or originator of the sign…it does not indicate the literacy of the owner”(83). This case is different as it was stated by the owners that they chose the language and not the sign-writer.
However, the second answer is connected with what Al Haq and Samadi (1996) argued in a paper published on Saudi Arabia in World Englishes that ” while some people think that learning English leads to Westernization, there is a larger group of the participants who state that “the use of English does not make the participants Westernized, neither their national identity gets weakened, nor their religious commitment becomes corrupted” (p. 307).
This leads to the second part of the analysis: the owners who chose English only and stated that “it does not lead to westernization, but it’s a sign of being educated and advanced”.
After understanding the reasons for the use of Arabic, I decided to interview the shop owners that used only English as a signage, which were 5 out of 14 = 35% .
The answers are the following:
- Many foreigners pass by the neighborhood
- Everyone knows English…walaw.
- Our country is dominated by the West
- Source of attraction
- I like the language
It is weird because no one stated that they ” only know English”; instead, the reasons varied. You can also realize that two people believe that the country is dominated by the West, as it is shown in the second answer in the first part and the third answer here.
Furthermore, I was interested in the use of the word “king” as in “ملك الطاوق” in Arabic. Two of the shops used this word in their signage.
Through this process, I learned that many people have different mindsets even though they’re coming from the same area. It was so much fun!
- The Language of Jerusalem: Signs
- Englishes of the Middle East