[lg policy] South Sudan: Is Arabic Language a Bouncing Ball About to Take Its Place Amongst Local Languages?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Apr 12 15:24:29 UTC 2012

South Sudan: Is Arabic Language a Bouncing Ball About to Take Its
Place Amongst Local Languages?
By Emmanuel Monychol, 11 April 2012

I will open this piece with a quote from Professor Sozinho Matsinhe
Franco, who attended language in-education international conference
held in March 2012 in Juba, organized by the British Council South
Sudan. Using African Academy of Languages (or the ACALAN's)
philosophy, Prof. Franco stated that "language is a resource; not a
liability" and also that "it is a cross cutting issue".

These two ideas are important in understanding the place of Arabic
language in South Sudan and also, in respect to the relationship
between the north and the south of the two Sudan (s). These two ideas
too, show that any language is a philosophy of its own, carrying with
it a peoples culture and worldview - all these merit the importance of
a language. It seems too, Dr. John Garang believes that Arabic
language is a resource, an asset for all the Sudanese people to enjoy
without political interference.

For example, when he addressed a gathering of Furs in the US, he
stated that people should drop "these crazy ideas" of Arabism. In his
wisdom, Dr. John Garang further considered the need to retain the
Sudanese culture, when he said that "we will not drop our Arab
cultural heritage, because it is a major contribution to Sudanese
culture and identity." Culture and identity are inseparable with the
language. It means that Arabic language, whether it is Africanized or
pure still has a room in South Sudan, since South Sudanese are
Sudanese, who have been influenced over the years by Arab cultural
heritage, a Sudanese culture amidst other African cultures and
languages in the South. Although Arabic language has been chucked out
in the constitution, it still hangs over us like a bouncing ball about
to fall down and takes its place.

That is why at some point, Arabic language mildly, at times, violently
fights its way through, crying for officialdom. Even in the normal
conversations or official communications, Arabic language slips
through our tongues and makes her presence felt as Arabic fillers crop
into our normal conversation or the official communications that we
carry out in English language.

The recent row between public university students, for example, can be
taken to illustrate the metaphorical war between the two languages:
Arabic and English.

Arabic language, a seemingly forgotten language but hanging overhead,
is fighting for a space alongside English language in the new republic
of South Sudan

Interestingly, South Sudan has an embassy in Khartoum; it will mean
therefore that the knowledge of Arabic language will not handicap a
South Sudanese diplomat in Khartoum, from interacting with ease with
an Arab diplomat or whatever deals a diplomat undertakes in a host

Also, there are business deals going on between the north and the
south. This too, means that the knowledge of Arabic language will not
hamper business flow as undersecretary of the Ministry of General
Education and Instruction, Mr. Deng Deng Hoc Yai notes during the
language in-education conference, when he said in the following
rephrase that Arabic shall be used as a business and or a social

On the ascribed messages above, we must not forget that during the
war, Arabic language was a good weapon or rather, a resource, with
which Khartoum regime was fought. It has helped the SPLA intercept
important regime war messages during the war, messages that would have
destroyed our armies and dwellings.

During the Addis Ababa peace settlement, the knowledge of Arabic
language helped South Sudanese statesman, Abel Alier to hear what his
colleagues were discussing in the next hotel room during the Addis
Ababa agreement.

At that time, the knowledge of Arabic language made him to understand
that although he was the head of a delegation from the north Sudan, he
was not trusted by his fellow delegates, since he was South Sudanese -
so security issues would rather be sieved out of his ear shots.

Consequently, "Yaba" Abel Alier had to adjust his moods to the
apparent tricks of his delegation.In 2005, when 1st Lt. General Salva
Kiir Mayardit was sworn in at Khartoum, as First Vice President of the
Republic of the Sudan, under the government of national unity, his
knowledge of Arabic language was admired and said to be immense.

That was a good token for a man whose life has been "from bush to
bush" for more than twenty one years. Since then, most of the
President's public rallies in the independent South Sudan today, are
punctuated with Arabic language, which appears to serve as good filler
for him.

A flash back on history: during the 1972 peace deal with Khartoum,
South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM), the political wing
representing the Anyanya had proposed that English language be used as
the official language of the country.

But this move was rejected by the northern Sudanese delegates as "Too
many Agreements Dishonoured" notes on page 117.

It appears therefore, that the political turns and twists of the old
agreement on the use of language have had an indirect negative effect
on Arabic language, largely considered by South Sudanese as the
language of the north Sudan.

It is possible to say also, that the current problems with the
language of instruction in the public universities of South Sudan are
a result of a shallow sentiment by some South Sudanese who take Arabic
language as alien language other than the only resource we have got
since our merge with the north in 1947.

If one listens to the old tape records of the Radio SPLA, one will
find that Arabic language helped the freedom fighters mobilize masses
in the towns to join the SPLA in the bush.

Radio SPLA's concrete use of Arabic language during their broadcasts
over the hills of Ethiopia had helped "the other side" to understand
their position, which was among other things, a cry against unbalanced
regional development.

Unlike the old days of Anyanya guerrillas, where the later suffered
gross blackmail in Khartoum, blackmail was being counteracted by Radio
SPLA through the SPLA gallant soldiers, who held degrees in classic
Arabic language.

Arabic language too, is fast filtering its way into the drama
societies that are in dire want of a wider audience, who happen to be
local or Juba Arabic speakers. Between the 7th and 6th of April, I
went to Roots Project compound to see the rehearsal of a play called
Cymbeline, about to be staged in London.

While in the UK, our actors and actresses will be using "Juba Arabic"
as a medium. I was privileged to meet the co-directors, of Cymbeline,
Joseph Abuk, and Derik.

Both are teachers and play writers who headed different drama
societies brought under one umbrella by Juba based South Sudan
Theatre, whose objective it is to unite all South Sudanese Drama
Societies as one body.

Preparing to stage this historic play, South Sudanese actors and
actresses, are now tirelessly practicing at the Roots Project's narrow
space, although it was enough to allow rehearsals.

Cymbeline has been narrowed to suit African context. Once staged in
the UK, will place South Sudan 37th among the world's countries
performing at the international theater - South Sudan might win an
award so let's wait with crossed hands for this great occasion.

Cymbeline is one of William Shakespeare's major plays with the theme
of struggle for sovereignty between Rome and Britain. Britain refused
to pay tribute to Rome.

Consequently, Rome threatened Britain with war saying "Nina be berir
de fi medan" (literally means, we shall proof this in the field).
Joseph Abuk states that Shakespeare's Cymbeline is relevant to South
Sudan. Joseph Abuk seems to be in support of an Africanized Arabic

During my short chat with him, he said that there are two types of
Arabic language that people must always bear in mind. There is the
classic Khartoum Arabic, spoken by Khartoum and the local or Juba
Arabic, which is lacking in classic Arabic vocabularies.

According to Joseph Abuk, lack of Arabic vocabularies in Southern
Arabic was due to the "Closed District Ordinances which barred
Northerners from travelling South and Southerners travelling north

It was a policy made by the British and Egypt in the 1930s. Evidently,
we may conclude that Arabic language is a resource; not a liability.

For political, literary or economic gains, we may twist or turn Arabic
language into another Kiswahili of the coast due to a short fall
created by the Closed District Ordinances in the past, as Playwright
Joseph Abuk notes, but it will have her place with the next

They will use Arabic language to benefit them in tackling diplomatic
and trade "issues" with their neighbors of north Sudan.

Therefore, apart from the Africanized or the corrupted Arabic now
called Juba Arabic, South Sudan will need to study Arabic language as
part of her multilingual policy.


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