Signs, Billboards, and Hoardings… and my limited Arabic
I have always been fascinated by streetscapes in Palestinian towns and cities. Everywhere you look there are shop signs and billboards and advertisements with English in larger letters and a message in Arabic in smaller writing.
In the photo above you will see a small example of typical street scenes in Palestinian towns and cities. I think the reason is that there is a cachet – a perceived sophistication in using a foreign language for advertising and promoting products and here English is the language of choice. It conveys an idea and an atmosphere of quality and the height of fashion.
As I see all of these English signs I think to myself what does it convey to Arabic speakers and those who only speak Arabic.
The younger people who are attending college and university and studying English or studying subjects in English speak very good English however those who are not privileged in that way and do not get past High School speak very little. Older people, generally those over the age of 65 who were born at around the time of the division of Palestine into two states (1948) tend to speak very good English particularly in Jerusalem. One of the reasons for this is that during the British mandate 1925 – 1948 there was quite an effort to promote English in Palestine and Transjordan (now called Jordan) and the school curriculum at that time included a fairly strong English content. Also these older people have been around a bit longer and many of them have travelled and many of them have children and grandchildren in English speaking countries, so they are communicating by Skype and by phone often speaking a mixture of Arabic and English.
I am always impressed by the effort Palestinians make to speak to me in English and I am embarrassed that my Arabic is limited to everyday greetings and stand alone words mainly around food. Such as: “Mumkin falafel sandwich y cola minfadlac “. However this time I am making a real effort to learn more and in these 3 months I am taking regular Arabic lessons.
Perhaps in a few weeks I will be able to add some variety to my diet.