Children literature in mother tongue: Lebanese!

 The child shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language. (The Convention on the Rights of the Child, art 30)

 Our Lebanese-speaking children are loosing every opportunity to literacy in their language at least during their childhood up to seven years of age, which is the most important period of mother tongue learning. They have the fate of people forced to learn Standard Arabic or to be considered as illiterate in their own language. They have no right to be educated in their own language. Their own language is not respected as a language of value.

 What is the reason for which they are deprived from enjoying literature in their own language? It is simply because every literature, instead of being written in their language, is being written in Standard Arabic, compulsorily supposed to be their mother tongue.

 Everyone knows that the language used by our Lebanese children as mother tongue is not the same as the one called Standard Arabic and taught at schools as if being their mother tongue. Eminent scholars have written a lot of descriptions recognising this unfair, ambiguous bilingual phenomenon known under the name of diglossia. All of us recognise the difficulty of learning Arabic while considering it, blindly, as “our” first language, while it is not. We know that colossally many high educated people fail in using Standard Arabic correctly in their writings and even worse in their speeches. This is just because no one has Standard Arabic as mother tongue. This is the core of the problem.

 In the Diaspora, unlike the situation in the Middle East, our children are not immersed in the language use of Standard Arabic. This complicates even more the problem of learning this so called “modern standard” language. The Lebanese language, in which our children are competent, is only used at home, and limited to the domestic linguistic domain, which in its turn limits the base on which our children are supposed to build their second language learning, this second language being the majority language of their host land, and in the same time their education language.

 Our children’s monolingual colleagues in the Diaspora are privileged with an abundant children literature in their own mother tongue. This makes the concurrence extremely hard and unfair when both reach school age and school tasks. In order to enhance the literacy of our children, instead of forcing them learn a third language which is Standard Arabic, the right and reasonable solution to this problem should be to enrich their mother tongue, in giving them the opportunity to listen to an affluent literature in their own Lebanese language in their early childhood, equally to their colleagues.

 That is the reason why we decided to start the thousand-mile journey. We owe to give our children a better future than that we inherited. Our children are living in the age of communication where language is the most important means to success.

 We have seen how many generations just looked at this same problem without any remedy. We decided to give the coming generations a possibility to free themselves from this linguistic deficiency.

 That is the reason why we decided to start encouraging writing, publishing and teaching our children in their own Lebanese language.

 We are not pioneers in any way in advocating for the use of Lebanese as literature language. What we planned to do is to start the children literature project because we consider it the first basement to any following step in edifying our cultural future.

 Joseph Saouk

Semitic languages researches at the universities of Uppsala and Stockholm - Sweden

For any enquiry please contact the author (Joseph.Saouk@orient.su.se)