If you’re totally new to Arabic, you might think that Arabic is one language. The first time I visited an Arabic speaking country, I was shocked to find that nobody spoke “Arabic.”
When we visited Egypt, I thought we had landed in some far Eastern European country. The language was so far from what I had expected. I didn’t even think to brush up on “Egyptian Arabic.” After all, Egyptians are known as the keepers of the Arabic language. Wouldn’t they speak “Arabic?” Yes and no.
The Arabic that is often taught in Arabic classes is one of two kinds. It’s either Classical Arabic, the Arabic found in the Quran or Modern Standard Arabic, the Arabic you might hear on the news. Both of these kinds of Arabic are known as Fusha.
Fusha is an Attitude
Fusha ( الفصحى ) means eloquent. It’s used to describe a particular type of Arabic known as Al-Arabiyyahtul Fusha ( العربية الفصحى ).
When I have spoken Fusha in Arabic speaking countries, I have gotten two distinct responses. The first is sheer horror and dread. Some people wonder why I would even think to speak to them in Fusha.
For Arabs who don’t use Fusha, the rigid structure of the language can be off-putting.
Hearing Fusha seems to back memories of grammar school lessons where the rules of a language that they considered foreign were drilled into their heads. I’ve had more than a few people ask me if I knew how to speak English just to avoid having to answer me in Fusha.
Most dialects have simplified forms of words, they drop the endings of words, and they don’t use all of the verb forms. They also mix in a lot of words from other languages, much like English.
The second reaction is sheer joy and wonderment. Many people are so excited to hear Fusha spoken because it’s actually somewhat of a rarity. These people often ask me how I learned Fusha and then give me a long lecture on the importance of maintaining the language of the Quran.
For these people, Fusha is the mother language of their country and it’s also the mother language of their entire way of life.
They don’t see Fusha as a rigid and oppressive set of rules and regulations. They read the Quran in Fusha, they seek advice from the scholars in Fusha, they study in Fusha.
They see Fusha as a part of their daily lives, often the part they look forward to the most.
Do you speak an Arabic dialect? How has this affected your learning of Fusha?