Preserving a world in the world: Qataris adopt their mother tongue – Doha News
The preservation of the mother tongue is presented as a means of maintaining identity, communication with family and resistance—for those who live far from their country of origin.
According to recent statisticsin 2019, there were approximately two million economically active foreigners and 110,000 economically active citizens in Qatar.
With 80% of the country made up of non-Qatari nationals, the plethora of different cultures and languages that the Gulf state contains makes for an interesting case study. However, as with all cases of living in a country where your native language is not the national language, many families and individuals have found different ways to preserve their own cultures and vernaculars.
Speaking to three people from different backgrounds, Doha News dive into their worlds as they journey through—seeking to preserve their identity, resist unjust structures and maintain connections with loved ones through their mother tongue.
Among the communities in Qatar that have grown exponentially is the Bangladeshi community, which has seen a sharp 190% increase in its population, from 137,000 people in 2013 to around 400,000 in the spring of 2019.
Conservation as resistance
“For me, the Bengali language – compared to the two dialects I grew up with – is a form of resistance for me, a form of power and identity. I wouldn’t necessarily find much understanding or reflection in the Bangladeshi flag, but I find that in the language I find history and untold stories, and I think that’s quite powerful,” Munadiah told Doha Newsa London-born Bengali who is currently studying at Hamad bin Khalifa University.
Growing up around two different Bengali dialects, her mother being from Sylhet and her father from Dhaka, Munadiah explained how crucial it was for her parents that she learn both dialects.
“Not growing up in a country where people spoke my mother tongue created a huge barrier in communicating the language. Especially when I was younger, my parents put a lot of emphasis on the Bengali language,” a- she added.
“Having access to my grandparents [played a very important role in maintaining the language] because in my immediate household we didn’t necessarily speak Bengali every day, but to communicate with my grandparents and extended family was really important [as it was a way to understand one another]Munadiah noted.
In Tower Hamlets, a London borough where the Bangladeshi community has taken root for decades, the effects of austerity and gentrification are causing the slow erasure of once-thriving cultural and ethnic identities, Munadiah finds a way to retain her language kindergarten and what it represents.
The significance of the Bengali language lies in why “Bangladesh sought independence in 1971 and the war of liberation,” she says. Doha News.
“[The liberation war] was mainly based on this idea of preserving the language of the country and languages in general since we are not limited to a certain dialect or spoken language, especially considering that Bangladesh is a nation state that has been basically split into different parts [of other states].”
“I am not a strong proponent of nationalism, but I understand the importance of language in building the nation state of Bangladesh,” Munadiah added.
Why we must preserve the Arabic language
Language, family and roots
Talk to Doha NewsIbtihal Mohammed, a Somali national born and raised in Qatar, recounts her experience of growing up in an environment other than Somalia, “Growing up in Qatar, the only familiarity and closeness to my language was felt when I engaged with my family. “
“Unfortunately, I never had the chance to visit Somalia, but I’m sure it will be strange to hear a lot of foreigners speaking Somali, because I only associate my mother tongue with my home immediately in Qatar,” added the 26-year-old.
In an attempt to cement the Somali language in their home away from home, Ibtihal said her parents “enacted a strict ‘Somali only’ rule, which meant she and her siblings weren’t allowed to speak Somali only at home.
“I think it’s important to note that I’m grateful that I kept my Somali language because it’s the one part of my identity that resonates very strongly with me,” Ibtihal said. Doha Newsfurther adding that she has not been able to fully embrace my culture given her life away from it.
“Despite the thousands of miles between my Somalia-based family and me, my preserved language provides a beautiful way to maintain connection and find ways to connect with each other,” Ibtihal explained.
Third Culture Struggles
Since language is the basis on which certain communities relate and strengthen their ties with each other, Armina, 21, recounts her difficulties in connecting to her culture: “I grew up in Qatar all my life, far from family, culture and language. Therefore, it has always been very difficult for me to connect to my roots because I don’t speak the language easily.
Armina’s family moved to Qatar when she was just four months old, making her upbringing a melting pot of cultures. Due to the multiple languages she has had to juggle, Armina truly feels like a “third culture kid” as she feels no sense of belonging to a certain language or identity.
“Growing up, I always had to speak a word in English, a word in Arabic and a word in Farsi to express myself,” she said, pointing out the difficulty of preserving a single language or culture when she includes several.
According to reportsthe Iranian population in Qatar in 2013 is estimated at 30,000.
Since the Iranian population in the Gulf state is relatively small, Iranian families are finding ways to cultivate the national language at home.
Armina’s parents made sure they spoke Farsi at home, and after picking up English and Arabic from classmates and teachers at the international school she attended, her parents gave him incentives, such as “offering different sweets to say words in Farsi rather than English”, in order to preserve the cultural language.
Limited to speaking only Farsi conversationally, Armina says she is lucky to be able to speak the language but cannot write it.
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“At home, my sister and I only speak English when my parents are away,” says the 21-year-old. Doha News, as it is more convenient for both of them to engage in an easily used language due to its constant use when leaving home. The two only speak in Farsi when conversing in the presence of their parents.
For Armina, her mother tongue represents her “origins”.
Reflecting on what it means to preserve the language, she said: “It means my roots and therefore my culture. It is part of my identity and strongly influences who I am today. When I speak the Farsi language, I feel like I have a different identity compared to when I speak English or Arabic. Mother tongue is the language in which you first learn to say mum or dad and I strongly connect with such a feeling.
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