THE END of January marks the start of the Cairo International Book Fair, the largest gathering of its kind in the Arab world. Writers and readers from all over the region meet to swap tomes and discuss this year’s theme: “soft power, how?” A good question, especially for Egyptians. After all, the country’s distinctive dialect once ruled across the region. Its decline speaks to the restless state of the modern Middle East, and the decline in Egypt’s influence over it today.
Arabic is sometimes considered a language family, rather than a single language. Education and writing is in “modern standard” Arabic, but each region has its own distinct spoken variety, and those dialects separated by enough distance are not mutually comprehensible. They differ at every level from grammar to vocabulary to pronunciation. (Egyptian is perhaps most easily distinguished by its use of a g-sound where most other dialects have a j.) Like all of the Arabic vernaculars, Egypt’s is richly infused with local history. Sit down…Continue reading