Suzanne Talhouk at TEDxBeirut 2012
Good morning. Awake They took my badgebrbut I wanted to ask you, Did anyone write their namebron the badge in Arabic Anyone No one Ok then. No problem Once upon a time, not so far away I was having dinner with a friend of minebrat a restaurant. So I looked at the person serving usbrand asked him, Do you have a list of dishes He looks at me weirdly thinkingbrhe didn’t hear clear enough and says, Sorry So I told him again,brCan you please give me the list of dishes Don’t you know what’s it called.
Yes. No. It’s called a menu as it’s said in Englishbror menu in French right Come see what she wants. He was disgusted. At first he was trying to hit on me. And then he was saying to himself,brI wouldn’t look at her even if she was the last girl on Earth. A list of dishes What’s that Two words were enoughbrfor a Lebanese guy to judge a woman sitting in his restaurantbrof retardation and ignorance. How dare she speak so So I started to think. I got upset and I was hurt.
Yes of course I was. I’m not allowed to speakbrmy native language in my own country. Where can you find that How could we have possiblybrreached this point There’s a lot of people like me in herebrwho could reach a point in their lives where they would erase everythingbrthat already happened just to prove that they arebrcontemporary and civilized Am I going to forget my entire culturebrand all of my thoughts, all of my knowledgebrand all of my memories, the best memories of the warbrare probably the childhood stories Am I going to forget everything I learntbrin Arabic just to fit in.
Just to blend in Where’s the logic Nevertheless I tried to understand him. And I don’t want to judge himbrthe same harsh way he judged me. Arabic doesn’t meet our needs, it doesn’t. It isn’t a language neither forbrscientific production nor for researches. You don’t need itbrneither at universities nor at work. We don’t need it to makebrany advanced scientific research. We definitely don’t need at the airport. Because if we speak Arabicbrthey’ll take off every piece of our cloth Where are we going to use it We can all ask that.
Do you want ArabicbrWhere will we use it Okay this is an existing realitybrbut there’s a far more important reality that we should consider and notice. Arabic or mother language studies and reports showbrthat being fluent in other languages requires being fluent in mother language. And that being fluent in mother language is an essential conditionbrto excel in other languages. How’s that When Gebran Khalil Gebran started writing he began writing in Arabic. His thoughts, his imagination, his inner self, his metaphysics, his philosophy. He took all of these from that childbrwho sat in the village.
And who grew accustomedbrto a certain smell, a certain voice and a certain thought. So when he began writing in English he had a huge knowledge even when he was writing in English and when we read his writings in English we smell the same odor, we feel the same feelings, we can picture him both the personbrexcelling in English and the one living in the country, In a village from Mount Lebanon. So that’s one examplebrthat can’t be refuted. Second of all, it is said if you want to kill a nation,.
The only way to do sobris to kill its language. And this fact is knownbrby developed nations. The Germans, the French,brthe Japanese, the Chinese. All nations are aware of this fact. That’s why they pass lawsbrto protect their language. That’s why they sanctify it. That’s why they producebrusing this language and they pay a lot of moneybrto develop it. Do we know more than they do Okay, If we’re not a developed countrybrand we still have no access no to such advanced thinking butbrwe want to catch up this civilized world.
Countries alike us have decided nowbrto develop and to make researches and to catch up these countries. Like Turkey and Malaysia and others. They grasped their languagebrwhile climbing the ladder as if it was a diamond. They preserved it and kept it close Because if you receivebrany product from Turkey or others with no Turkish language it wouldn’t be a local product. You wouldn’t believebrthat it’s a local product. They would have consumed and stupidly just like we do most of the time. So in order to innovate and produce,brthey had to preserve their language.
If I say Freedom, sovereignty,brindependence, as it’s said in Arabic what would it bring to your mind Nothing Regardless of who, how,brand and why but you know, language is not speechesbrand whatever words we are using. Language representsbrparticular phases through our lives to which our emotions relatebralong with these terms. That’s why when I saybrFreedom, sovereignty, independence each one of you has a certain imagebrin their mind. With certain words and feelingsbrfor a certain day, a historical period. So language isn’t mere wordsbrand aligned letters. It’s an inner ideabrrelated to the way we think.
And the way we perceive othersbrand others perceive us. What is our intellectual stock Why do we say this person knowsbrwhile another doesn’t So if I come and tell youbrFreedom, Soverneighty, independence If your son comes and says,brYou are still following that thing that has freedom, that symbol. brWhat do you feel like If you feel at all then that’s very good. We won’t have a problem anymore. Let me just leave from herebrbecause I will be talking nonsense. The idea here is that these phrasesbrremind us of certain things. My friend is Francophonebrand she married a French guy.
I was asking her how was she doingbrin everything, and she said it’s all good except once I spent an entire nightbrtrying to translate what To’borni meansbrLiterally I would die for you. Because She told him To’bornibrby mistake he was thinking, is there anyonebrwho is that brutal Or maybe she wanted to kill herselfbrBury me for example This is something really small but look how muchbrit makes us feel helpless. I can’t tell my husband this wordbrbecause he won’t understand it. And he is right, that is how he thinks. Then she told mebrthat he listens to Fairouz.
With me but one nightbrhe sat next to me and I was trying to translate itbrto him maybe. He can feel what I feelbrwhen I listen to Fairouz, so she wanted to translate. I extended my handsbrand stole you away from them. And because you belong to them Here is the catastrophe, I pulled my hands back and left you. Translate this for me. Ok. What did we do to protect the Arabic language We have made thisbrinto a civil society issue and we launched a campaignbrto protect the Arabic language.
Even though a lot of people told me, Don’t bother yourself with that.brNo problem. The campaign has launchedbra slogan that says, I talk to you from the eastbrand you answer me from the west. We did not say, No, we don’t agree.brAnd we are the language. We didn’t do that because we won’t understand this way. And if someone comes to me and says that I will start hating the Arabic language we are saying that. We are trying to seebrhow we are living in reality. Then be convinced with a waybrthat mimic our dreams and ambitions.
A way that dress the same way as we dobrand thinks the same way as well. So I talk to you from the eastbrand you answer me from the west Is the perfect saying for such a thing. Something that is really simplebrbut innovative and convincing. After that we started a campaignbrthat has the letters put on the sidewalks. You saw it outside here. A letter with a yellow stripe around it written on it, Do not kill your language. Why Seriously do not kill your language. We all need to not kill our language.
Because if we kill the languagebrwe will have to go back and search for an identity. We have to look for existence. We need to start over from zero. Not only that, we won’t be able to be civilizedbrand contemporary. Then we took picturesbrof young guys and girls hugging the Arabic letter. Cool pictures of young people, because we are very cool. And whoever says we caught youbrsaying an English word cool, I am adopting the word cool. Let them come and dobrwhatever they want to do. Let them give me a better wordbrthat works on our reality better.
I will keep saying the internet. I will not saybrA slice on the spider web because it just doesn’t work. We are not kidding ourselves. But to get herebrwe all have to be convinced we do not want to makebrthe one who is bigger And thinks he has the powerbrover the language that he can make us thinkbrand feel the way he wants us to. The idea here is innovation. If we can’t go to space and build a rocketbrwe can be innovative. Every person herebris an innovative project. Innovation in the mother languagebris the way.
Let us start now from this moment. Write a novel. Produce a short film. One novel can make us international. It can bring back the Arabic languagebrto the first place. It is not like there is no solution. Seriously there is. But we have to pay attentionbrand be convinced that there must be a solution. And we have to be a part of this solution. At the end what can you do today Now Tweet! Who here is tweeting I beg you. Seriously I beg you even thoughbrtime is almost done.
In Arabic, English, Frenchbror even in Chinese. But don’t write Ma’oulbrreasonable like Ma32oul. Because that is a disaster. This is not a language. You are entering a virtual languagebrand a virtual world and no one will take us awaybrfrom this place ever. That was the first thing we can do. Secondly there are a lot of thingsbrthat we can do today no one is convincing anyone we are here to be alert about the subject and now I will tell you a secret. A child when born the first waybrhe recognizes his father through language.