Saudi Arabia

Qusay on Saudi Arabia today

Qusay is a Saudi Arabian engineer from Jeddah, and his blog Qusay Today is a mixture of Saudi culture, news and politics.

Topics are varied, ranging from award winning Saudi photographers to thoughts on Faith versus tradition in Islam.

Saudi Arabia has been in the news recently because some women have defied the driving ban which affects women there, and Qusay’s analysis of the Western media reactions is also interesting to read.

Read more:
Saudi Arabian blogs on Blogs of the World
What’s the future of Arabic dialects?
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July 21, 2011 Comments disabled

Secrets from Saudi

Little Pink Strawberries is written by Noor, who is originally from East Tennessee but now lives with her husband and son in Saudi Arabia.

Look behind the cute design and you’ll find lots of information on Saudi and Middle Eastern customs, such as Wasta, Arabian traditions of making and wearing perfume and a guide to different types of face coverings.

Perhaps most intriguing is the weekly post a secret Sunday, where readers post their anonymous secrets.

Thanks to Noor for submitting her blog. Want to pick next week’s Blog of the World? Tell us about it here.

Read more:
More blogs from Saudi Arabia on Blogs of the World
A marriage that’s music to the ears
Kiss, hug or shake hands? Guide to global greetings

July 22, 2010 Comments disabled

What future for Arabic dialects?

We often refer to ‘The Middle East’ as one region, but it is actually made up of more than 20 countries and territories. Most of these are Arabic speaking.

Middle Eastern countries share some cultural similarities, but each country (or region) has its own distinct culture and these cultures reflect on the spoken language too – each Arabic speaking country has its own spoken version of Arabic, known as a dialect.

The Arabic speaking world. Credit

Linguists disagree on whether Arabic dialects are really dialects, or whether they are languages in their own right. Sometimes they are called variants as a compromise.

A common past

All Arabic currently used stems from the same original Arabic, also called FusHa. The modern evolution of FusHa (known as Modern Standard Arabic, or MSA) is quite different to the one spoken a couple of thousand years ago. To get the picture, just think of how much English has changed in the few hundred years since Shakespeare’s time.

So it’s natural that as spoken Arabic evolved over the years, regional differences cropped up, leaving each community with its own particular dialect.

The relationship between MSA and local dialects seems complex at first. MSA is taught in schools and used for official communications, so those with an education can comfortably switch between local and standard Arabic. Newspapers are written in MSA, but national tv stations usually speak either MSA or the local version of Arabic, depending on the show.

The Main Arabic Dialects

Arabic dialects can be divided into 4 main groups:

Arabian dialects – spoken in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Yemen and Saudi Arabia;

Mesopotamian dialects – spoken in Iraq;

Syro-Lebanese (Levent) dialects – spoken in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Southern Turkey;

Egyptian dialects – spoken in Egypt;

Maghreb dialects – spoken in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

The Maghreb dialects also divide into sub-groups, with the Tunisian and Libyan versions having more Berber influence.

It’s all about culture

So all the Arabic dialects share the same basic structure, but each is modified by local cultures, histories, traditions and habits.

Fatima is a university student from Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia. She shared some of her opinions and experiences as a native Arabic speaker:

“If you look into north African Arabic (which to me is the most difficult to understand) you notice a lot of French influence stemming from the French occupation. In Egypt, Syria, Lebanon etc you can notice the French and the Turkish influence; in central Saudi Arabia and also I guess in Yemen, Arabic is more pure, while in Eastern Saudi Arabia (which is where I am from) and in the other gulf states you can notice the Persian and Indian influence. It all goes back to the history of each area.

These days English media also have a lot of influence all over the Arabic world, I mean we listen to English songs, we watch English movies and TV shows…etc so “OK”, “yes”, “yup”, “no”, “nope”, “cool”, “hi”, “bye”, “whatever”, “please”, “sorry”, “thank you”, “baby”, “music”, “movie”…etc are all words commonly mixed up with Arabic in everyday conversations.”

Pop culture. Credit

Dialects don’t stop communication

Fatima also says that any Arabic speaker who understands the differences in local customs and cultures has no problem communicating with other Arabic speakers:

“As a Gulf speaker, I’m familiar with other Gulf speakers. Yes, even within the Gulf there are differences! But they’re the same as English tomatoes and American tomatoes or taking a shower vs. having a shower,

I’m also familiar with all the other accents of Saudi Arabia (even though I have some difficulty in understanding the Southern areas because they speak very quickly and the area is quite isolated)

I’m very familiar with Egyptian Arabic because Egypt is the Middle East’s Hollywood.

Lebanese and Syrian are also very familiar to me on the basis of media, as for Palestinian and Jordanian, I do understand them but sometimes I have some difficulty with the local slang.

Arabic spoken in North Africa (Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria) to me is most difficult because the local Arabic they speak is mixed with a lot of French. But when they speak to other Arabs, they tend to use their Arabic words along with some FusHa to make their speech more understandable.”

A reunited future?

Some see Arabic dialects as a threat to the Arabic language, arguing that they weaken the status of standard Arabic as a world language.

Others think that differences between local versions of Arabic are increased due to high illiteracy rates and restricted movement among people who live in Arabic speaking countries. These are factors which could change over time.

Old media. Credit

The rise over the last 10 years of pan-Arabic media such as the tv stations MBC and Al Jazeera mean that even Arabs who don’t travel are hearing more Arabic from different countries – although presenters may speak in standard Arabic, people phone in and participate from all over the Arabic world.

Increasing internet access across the Arab world could help further in removing some barriers. And as the Arabic blogosphere blooms, the future of Arabic in all its forms is looking bright.

Update (July 2010): Amar commented that Libyan Arabic does not have the same French influence as that spoken in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, since Libya was not colonised by France.

Are you an Arabic speaker? Please share your opinions with us!

Read more:
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Top 20 languages of the world
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December 14, 2009 7 comments

Carol (USA) and Abdullah (Saudi Arabia)

I met my husband when I was still an American diplomat and posted to Islamabad, Pakistan. He was also in Pakistan with his respective employer. Our courtship ended up spanning over several years and five different countries before we made the decision to merge our separate lives together into one. During the courting and “getting to know one another” period I have wonderful memories of horsebacking riding in the wild mountains of Pakistan with my (then) future husband, riding elephants together in India and enjoying a desert safari in the UAE for starters…

My husband says he realized relatively quickly that he wanted our lives to merge together. Honestly, I knew it too but it took me much longer to be able to acknowledge that fact to myself. When I met him I was very happily single, immersed in my career, had a great job, beautiful supporting family and some wonderful friends. I had to think good and hard about whether I was ready and willing to totally change my life around for an individual from a differing country, different culture and traditions different from my own. I knew that when I said “I do” my life as I knew it would never be the same. I would have to leave my career and to a degree, give up a lot of the independence I was accustomed to.

We took our time and both made sure that we understood how each other thought; what were our respective values and equally important, were they compatible? Unlike many American women and Saudi men who get together we did not meet each other earlier in our lives and in the States or while attending University. We met after having each experienced a number of varying life-changing experiences and very clear on not only what we wanted from life but what we could or could not accept.

Life continues to be a learning experience in communication, cultural distinctions and a deepening of the relationship. On the lighter side, I’ve learned that when he says “shoes-less” he really means barefoot and when I’m stumbling in trying to find the right Arabic words to express myself to my husband or his family, he knows exactly when to step in and save me from making an embarrassing faux pas.

We look out for each other and are constant teachers and examples to each other when it comes to any cultural differences or distinctions. We are both cognizant and always want to step with the right foot forward with each other and with our families. Of course we had to face the usual “What? You’re marrying an American?? Are you going to become an American citizen now?” Or, “How can you think of marrying a Saudi? He’s going to put you in a burka in a palace somewhere and we’ll never see you again!” We’ve learned when to overlook or ignore the skeptics and troublemakers and how to best reassure family members on both sides of customs and cultures that are new and different to them. I’ve learned when it is prudent to be more “Saudi” and in turn he knows when it’s best to be more “American.” Daily we make that transition between East and West and feel like we have adapted the best of each others cultures and customs.

Our life is a continuing love story as well as each day an ongoing chapter. On the political front the US-Saudi relationship may have its ups and downs but on the personal front, I like to believe my husband and I illustrate that US-Saudi relations can be very good indeed!

Thanks to Carol for sharing her story, originally published on her blog here. Carol writes more about life in Saudi Arabia in her blog American Bedu.

Enjoyed this?
Read more stories of cross-cultural relationships from My Partner is a Foreigner
More about Carol’s blog in Blogs of the World: an Insider’s view of Saudi Arabia

May 1, 2009 Comments disabled

An Insider’s view of Saudi Arabia

American Bedu is Carol, a former American diplomat who resigned to marry her Saudi husband. Now she lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and somehow finds time in her packed schedule to write this blog.

American Bedu is a great way to start to explore Saudi culture, as Carol lives her experiences with an open mind and tries to explain different aspects of life in Saudi Arabia in a way that us outsiders can relate to.

March 25, 2009 Comments disabled