December 18th is World Arabic Language Day

The world is full of unique languages and cultures, and it's worth taking a day every now and then to celebrate that diversity. Arabic Language Day falls on December 18th of every year, and it's dedicated to the history of the Arabic language and all of the great works that were written in it.

How Did Arabic Language Day Start?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization established World Arabic Language Day in 2012 as part of its efforts to promote multiculturalism and understanding between all of the world's people. UNESCO scheduled the December 18th of every year to make sure that it falls on the anniversary of the day that the UN chose Arabic as one of its six working languages in 1973. The day has been celebrated by government agencies and individuals ever since, especially those in the Arab world.

Why Arabic?

There are hundreds of languages in the modern world, so it may seem strange to have a day dedicated to any one of them, but Arabic has several unique features that warrant special recognition. At the most basic level, UNESCO chose Arabic to make sure that all of the working languages of the United Nations received equal respect. Arabic was chosen as a working language because it is the native language to a huge portion of the world's population, so the holiday also serves to recognize the value of Arab language and culture, and its importance on the world stage. That importance stretches back for more than a thousand years. The earliest records of the Arabic language date back to the 6th century, which left a few Arabic inscriptions for modern scholars. The language spread along with Islam, and it soon became the dominant language in the Middle East. Arab culture blossomed during the Middle Ages, when it became the language of scholarship and art during the region's golden age. That period laid the foundation of modern chemistry and other natural sciences, and all of the most important works were composed in Arabic. Arab scholars also translated the great works of Greece and Rome into their own language, and many of those books only survived to the modern age in those translations. Modern scholarship owes a great debt to Arabic, and the role that it played in the development of modern science is worthy of honor.   Arabic Translation at the House of Wisdom   European languages also owe a great debt to Arabic. The Middle East was the crossroads of the world for much of its history, the place where Europe and Asia could have contact. Merchants and warriors from Europe had plenty of contact with Arabs in Spain and the Middle East, and the contact introduced new goods and ideas to Europe. Most European languages adopted the Arabic terms for those goods at the same time, so the influence of the Arabic language and Arab culture can still be felt in West.

How Is World Arabic Language Day Celebrated?

Arabic Language Day began with UNESCO, so it's only fitting that UNESCO is responsible for the largest celebrations. The organization picks a theme that is related to the Arabic language every year, and it arranges talks and seminars that focus on that theme. For example, UNESCO decided to focus on the language's role in science during 2015, and it released a variety of texts and arranged many lectures on science in the Arabic-speaking world. Most of the texts get published through the Internet, and the events are held all over the world. Many of them are held in Europe and North America in order to promote Arabic in places where it is rarely spoken or studied, but some of UNESCO's efforts do get directed towards the Middle East. Individual nations and groups also arrange their own events. It's common for university programs that teach Arabic to take the opportunity to celebrate, usually by bringing food and other elements of Arab culture into the class as a lesson for people who have not experienced them. Universities that have clubs or unions composed of Arab students also sponsor many events. Some of them are relatively simple gatherings, but many of them resemble the educational lectures that are sponsored by UNESCO. Naturally, Arab nations tend to promote the language day. The United Arab Emirates tend to hold workshops that focus on calligraphy and other traditional arts that involve Arabic. Events that promote modern Arabic literature are also common, and they serve the dual purpose of educating people about Arab culture and promoting the nation's artists. Many of these events are motivated in part by the government's desire to promote its nation and encourage tourism or interest in its culture, but many leaders of wealthy Arab regions, such as Dubai, feel that they have a duty to ensure that their countries are centers of excellence in Arab culture.

How Do People Get Involved?

People who want to get involved with World Arabic Language Day have a lot of different options. The simplest way is to attend one of the lectures about the language or Arab culture. UNESCO started the language day to promote understanding between cultures, so learning about them is the best way to celebrate it. People who can't attend a lecture can still expose themselves to Arab culture on their own. It isn't hard to find a subtitled movie from the Arab world, and simply watching one can do a lot to teach people about Arab culture. It is also fairly easy to find introductory lessons on the language itself online, and anyone can benefit from taking a few hours to study them. It won't be enough to speak the language fluently, but something as small as being able to offer a greeting in Arabic can help to build relationships. Any action that promotes understanding between Arab and non-Arab cultures is in the spirit of language day, so people should simply take a few moments to study it in whatever way seems most appealing. Whether that effort is big or small, there's no better way to celebrate World Arabic Language Day and build bridges between different cultures.

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