Monday, 6 February 2012

Kumar decides to sing in Arabic ...

During the last few decades, the discovery of oil in the Arabian Gulf paved the way for a booming economy since the 1970s. This economic boom resulted in a huge influx of immigrants from the Indian Subcontinent. Usually the main motivation for their immigration and leaving behind their families is to find a better living in these oil-rich states. There are around 17 million Asian immigrants in the GCC today working mainly in the labour force (Al-Jazeera, 2005).

Al-Jazeera produced an interesting documentary a few years ago (above) about this labour force and the possible future of the region. The word 'tsunami' in the title of the film suggests that it's meant to be a wake up call. The documentary suggests that one day it will be difficult to ignore the fact that the labour force is part of the GCC's society as they shape the demographics of the region and bring in their cultural and linguistic influences. While diversity adds to societies in general, in a place that has less readiness to accept all it's outcomes, it could cause major issues. The linguistic future of the region of course, is very important to consider as well because in the Arab World identity is often defined by language. However if any linguistic change is to take place then it is usually very slow and gradual. A shift from Arabic to pidgin in the GCC seems unlikely in the near future. Notice that the Indian-Qatari person in the documentary, who lived in Qatar for decades does not speak in pidgin. This is true for many others who have lived in the GCC long enough to affiliate with its culture. This suggests that Gulf pidgin is likely to be lost over time by its speakers as they acquire a more complex form of Arabic.

Labourers in the Gulf (from Alriyadh )
But what if speakers of pidgin began using it for more complex functions of language such as expressing through singing, would the society start accepting it more? Would it put an end to linguistic discrimination and gradually lead to a better linguistic understanding, or would they still insist that it's 'broken' Arabic? Perhaps if there is more input from pidgin, people might start thinking of it as a dialect one day. In my blog post about pidgins I mentioned Kumar, the Indian worker who wrote a poem in Gulf pidgin. If for a moment we take fictional Kumar to mean the collective Asian labour force in the GCC, then guess what? Kumar is no longer satisfied with his poetry talents, he's into singing now! Yes, Kumar decided to go further and sing a song in pidgin, which to many people it's still 'bad' Arabic.

Apparently there is a hit Indian song that has versions in different languages and one of them is Gulf pidgin. The theme of the song portrays Kumar as being treated unjustly by his sponsor. Indeed the song is to make a multilingual statement just like it was suggested by Gulf News. A statement in a language that is not native to him, means that a wider audience can understand the message he's trying to convey. And it could be an attempt to try and get his voice to the many sponsors in the GCC. Below is the song's video.

Having a song in Gulf pidgin means that the attitudes toward this language are likely to change. It could take long, but if Kumar gets more creative people will start to accept him eventually. Media is a powerful tool and this song portrays a labourer away from his 'typical' appearance but as a shiny-talented person who could qualify for Bollywood . This can change the way people perceive labourers and their language. When the poems were just written texts, it was up to the reader to come up with their own version of 'Kumar' and usually (I would imagine) it was a character that is stigmatised for its weak Arabic. If Kumar continues to perform in Gulf pidgin for generations then it could be a turning point in his life and certainly the life of Gulf pidgin; because as much as the labourers' language can be stigmatised, as much as Bollywood stars are marvelled at. Yes, Bollywood movies are very popular in this part of the world and Kumar knows it. Who knows what other talents he'd express in pidgin next?

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