Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Suzanne Talhouk

Are you in the process of Killing your language for a substitute modern one?

They took my name tag, but I wanted to ask you, did anyone here write their name on the tag in Arabic? Anyone! No one? All right, no problem.

Not long ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with my friend, ordering food. So I looked at the waiter and said, “Do you have La2e7at al ta3aam?” (the menu in Arabic and in my own country Lebanon). He looked at me strangely, thinking that he misheard.

He said, “Sorry? (in English).” I said, “The menu (Arabic), please.” He replied, “Don’t you know what they call it?”

“I do.”  I said. He said, “No! It’s called “menu” (English), or “menu” (French).” Is the French pronunciation correct? “Come, come, take care of this one!” said the waiter.

He was disgusted when talking to me, as if he was saying to himself, “If this was the last girl on Earth, I wouldn’t look at her!”

What’s the meaning of saying “menu” in Arabic? Two words made a Lebanese young man judge a girl as being backward and ignorant. How could she speak that way?

TED shared this link October 25, 2015  at 2:12pm ·

“Language isn’t one, two, or three words put together. It relates to how we think and how we see each other and how others see us.”|By Suzanne Talhouk

At that moment, I started thinking. It made me mad. It definitely hurts!

I’m denied the right to speak my own language in my own country? Where could this happen? How did we get here?

01:48 Well, while we are here, there are many people like me, who would reach a stage in their lives, where they involuntarily give up everything that has happened to them in the past, just so they can say that they’re modern and civilized.

Should I forget all my culture, thoughts, intellect and all my memories?

Childhood stories might be the best memories we have of the war!

Should I forget everything I learned in Arabic, just to conform? To be one of them?  (Who are these Them?)

Where’s the logic in that? Despite all that, I tried to understand him. I didn’t want to judge him with the same cruelty that he judged me.

The Arabic language doesn’t satisfy today’s needs. It’s not a language for science, research, a language we’re used to in universities, a language we use in the workplace, a language we rely on if we were to perform an advanced research project, and it definitely isn’t a language we use at the airport. If we did so, they’d strip us of our clothes.

Where can I use it, then? We could all ask this question! So, you want us to use Arabic. Where are we to do so? This is one reality.

But we have another more important reality that we ought to think about. Arabic is the mother tongue. Research says that mastery of other languages demands mastery of the mother tongue. Mastery of the mother tongue is a prerequisite for creative expression in other languages.


First, Gibran Khalil Gibran, when he first started writing, he used Arabic. All his ideas, imagination and philosophy were inspired by this little boy in the village where he grew up, smelling a specific smell, hearing a specific voice, and thinking a specific thought.

So, when Gibran Khalil Gibran started writing in English, he had enough baggage. Even when he wrote in English, when you read his writings in English, you smell the same smell, sense the same feeling. You can imagine that that’s him writing in English, the same boy who came from the mountain. From a village on Mount Lebanon. So, this is an example no one can argue with.

Second, it’s often said that if you want to kill a nation, the only way to kill a nation, is to kill its language. (Israel is doing its best to kill the language of the Palestinians under occupation)

This is a reality that developed societies are aware of.

The Germans, French, Japanese and Chinese, all these nations are aware of this. That’s why they legislate to protect their language. They make it sacred. That’s why they use it in production, they pay a lot of money to develop it.

Do we know better than them?

 We aren’t from the developed world, this advanced thinking hasn’t reached us yet, and we would like to catch up with the civilized world.

Countries that were once like us, but decided to strive for development, do research, and catch up with those countries, such as Turkey, Malaysia and others, they carried their language with them as they were climbing the ladder, protected it like a diamond. (Turkey changed the Arabic characters to Latin)

They kept it close to them. Because if you get any product from Turkey or elsewhere and it’s not labeled in Turkish, then it isn’t a local product.

You wouldn’t believe it’s a local product. They’d go back to being consumers, clueless consumers, like we are most of the time.

So, in order for them to innovate and produce, they had to protect their language. If I say, “7oriyye, Istiklal (Freedom, independence in Arabic),” what does this remind you of? It doesn’t ring a bell, does it? Regardless of the who, how and why.

06:18 Language isn’t just for conversing, just words coming out of our mouths.

Language represents specific stages in our lives, and terminology that is linked to our emotions. So when we say, “Freedom, sovereignty, independence,” each one of you draws a specific image in their own mind, there are specific feelings of a specific day in a specific historical period.

 Language isn’t one, two or three words or letters put together. It’s an idea inside that relates to how we think, and how we see each other and how others see us.

What is our intellect?

How do you say whether this guy understands or not?

So, if I say, “Freedom, sovereignty, independence (English),” or if your son came up to you and said, “Dad, have you lived through the period of the freedom (English) slogan?” How would you feel? If you don’t see a problem, then I’d better leave, and stop talking in vain.

The idea is that these expressions remind us of a specific thing.

I have a francophone friend who’s married to a French man. I asked her once how things were going. She said, “Everything is fine, but once, I spent a whole night asking and trying to translate the meaning of the word ‘toqborni‘ for him.” (Bury me)

The poor woman had mistakenly told him “toqborni,” and then spent the whole night trying to explain it to him. He was puzzled by the thought: “How could anyone be this cruel? Does she want to commit suicide? ‘Bury me?’ (English)” This is one of the few examples.

 It made us feel that she’s unable to tell that word to her husband, since he won’t understand, and he’s right not to; his way of thinking is different.

She said to me, “He listens to Fairuz with me, and one night, I tried to translate for him so he can feel what I feel when I listen to Fairuz.” The woman tried to translate this for him: “From them I extended my hands and stole you –“ (Laughter) And here’s the pickle: “And because you belong to them, I returned my hands and left you.” (Laughter) Translate that for me.

What have we done to protect the Arabic language? We turned this into a concern of the civil society, and we launched a campaign to preserve the Arabic language.

Even though many people told me, “Why do you bother? Forget about this headache and go have fun.” No problem!

The campaign to preserve Arabic launched a slogan that says, “I talk to you from the East, but you reply from the West.”

We didn’t say, “No! We do not accept this or that.” We didn’t adopt this style because that way, we wouldn’t be understood. And when someone talks to me that way, I hate the Arabic language.

 We want to change our reality, and be convinced in a way that reflects our dreams, aspirations and day-to-day life.

In a way that dresses like us and thinks like we do. So, “I talk to you from the East, but you reply from the West has hit the spot.

Something very easy, yet creative and persuasive. After that, we launched another campaign with scenes of letters on the ground. You’ve seen an example of it outside, a scene of a letter surrounded by black and yellow tape with “Don’t kill your language!” written on it. Why?

Seriously, don’t kill your language. We really shouldn’t kill our language. If we were to kill the language, we’d have to find an identity.

We’d have to find an existence. We’d go back to the beginning. This is beyond just missing our chance of being modern and civilized.

After that we released photos of guys and girls wearing the Arabic letter. Photos of “cool” guys and girls. We are very cool! And to whoever might say, “Ha! You used an English word!” I say, “No! I adopt the word ‘cool.'”

Let them object however they want, but give me a word that’s nicer and matches the reality better. I will keep on saying “Internet”

I wouldn’t say: “I’m going to the world wide web” (Laughs) Because it doesn’t fit!

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. But to reach this point, we all have to be convinced that we shouldn’t allow anyone who is bigger or thinks they have any authority over us when it comes to language, to control us or make us think and feel what they want.

 Creativity is the idea. So, if we can’t reach space or build a rocket and so on, we can be creative.

At this moment, every one of you is a creative project. Creativity in your mother tongue is the path.

Let’s start from this moment. Let’s write a novel or produce a short film. A single novel could make us global again.

It could bring the Arabic language back to being number one.

So, it’s not true that there’s no solution; there is a solution! But we have to know that, and be convinced that a solution exists, that we have a duty to be part of that solution.

 In conclusion, what can you do today? Now, tweets, who’s tweeting?

Even though my time has finished, either Arabic, English, French or Chinese. But don’t write Arabic with Latin characters mixed with numbers! (If Arabic keyboard not available? If you are too slow to type Arabic characters?)

It’s a disaster! That’s not a language. You’d be entering a virtual world with a virtual language.

It’s not easy to come back from such a place and rise. That’s the first thing we can do.

Second, there are many other things that we can do. We’re not here today to convince each other.

We’re here to bring attention to the necessity of preserving this language. Now I will tell you a secret. A baby first identifies its father through language. When my daughter is born, I’ll tell her, “This is your father, honey (Arabic).” I wouldn’t say, “This is your dad, honey (English).”

And in the supermarket, I promise my daughter Noor, that if she says to me, “Shokran (Thanks in Arabic).  I won’t say, “Dis, ‘Merci, Maman,'” and hope no one has heard her. (Applause)

 Let’s get rid of this cultural cringe.

Beauty of Arabic language? Tedblogguest “From Lebanon to the world”

Archaeologists believe that Phoenician traders, who set out from the shores of Lebanon, spread their alphabet across the ancient Mediterranean world, unleashing a chain reaction that they couldn’t have conceived of even in their wildest dreams.

Tedblogguest, organizers of TEDxBeirut, posted this Jan. 6, 2014:

From Lebanon to the world: Why today’s talk on the beauty of Arabic is so important right now

Today, we are honored to spread that word again as Suzanne Talhouk’s talk from TEDxBeirut,

Don’t kill your language,” becomes the first talk in Arabic featured on Talhouk: Don't kill your language 

Like the alphabet of those Phoenician traders, this talk emerged from a deep-rooted need that TEDxBeirut has come to satisfy — the itch to speak out on the issues that matter to people here in Lebanon.


The stage of TEDxBeirut 2012. This annual event has become a beacon of hope in the Lebanese city. Photo by Assaad Chbeir

To Speak the Truth

The release of this talk comes at a particularly difficult moment for the Arabic language and for Lebanon, as both are still trying to find their place in the world.

For both, the potential is all there: both are endowed with an amazing wealth of ideas. (The Arabic language can claim a vocabulary more than 12 million words; Lebanon can claim as many millions and more of its descendants scattered around the world.)

Both are warm and well-connected. (The Lebanese are renowned for their hospitality; Arabic script is cursive, joining letters together like Lebanon joins different communities, and sparked traditions of literature and calligraphy.)

Both can lay claim to a rich heritage. (Arabic gave the world Averroes and Avicenna; Lebanon gave the world Kahlil Gibranand Fairuz).

Yet, all this potential is weighed down by baggage from the past. You may know that Lebanon went through a civil war from 1975 to 1990. Like Belgium in WWII, Lebanon became the fighting ground of many nations. Beirut, at its center, was the cosmopolitan scene where warring languages were, and still are, spoken.

Not much has changed.

Lebanon is more cosmopolitan than ever and even more hotly contested. The Lebanese continue to speak in different languages with each other, and public discourse focuses on issues beyond our borders — so much so that there is rarely an honest public conversation about the issues that affect the lives of people living here.

This leaves people feeling helpless in affecting real change around them.

It is a lot like the divide between formal and vernacular language in Arabic. Except the cost of the conversations we never have in Lebanon is hefty and paid for in intermittent violence as well as in gridlock in education, healthcare and the economy.

It is no wonder why Lebanon, for all its Mediterranean charm, is also among the countries with the highest rates of depression in the world.

The Right to Bear Good News

We started TEDxBeirut as a way to share big ideas and real issues with a small local community. It grew, quickly and organically, to become the bearer of good news in Lebanon, a counterweight to our grim public life — which remains mute on issues like education or the economy.

When we talk to people about TEDxBeirut, our speakers and the work they do, we see their faces light up as if they suddenly found hope again.


Attendees at TEDxBeirut fill in the blank on the question, “All we need is _____.” Photo by Nina Sharabati

Finding a Lost Generation

Many of our speakers are over the age of 30. That means we have speakers who grew up in the civil war, who worked on rebuilding and who continue to do so. Most — if not all of them — grew up speaking at least two languages and — more likely — three as is the norm in Lebanon, where the native Arabic is also the least appreciated language.

What makes these speakers so exceptional is their flair for addressing the toughest problems we face in Lebanon, from recycling (Ziad Abichaker: A garbage love story) to technology start-ups (Bassam Jalgha: Why can’t we have our own NASA?).

The work these speakers do today shows the potential of their lost generation, which has so much more to give than war. TEDxBeirut puts these speaker front and center — in plain sight — for people to meet, learn from and be inspired by. Allowing this generation to be discovered sets off positive chain reactions with amazing effects.

Lebanon is Full of Potential 

Beirut is brimming with incredible people with bold ideas. We loved Suzanne Talhouk‘s candor from the first moment we met her and, as we worked with her, her talk began to change how we talk and write in Arabic and how we think of our native language.

It even began to change our habits. But the reception the talk received on the web went even further than we could have imagined. The talk went viral soon after it was posted, and it unleashed a conversation between Arabic speakers from Morocco to Iraq, and the curious from across the globe.

Suzanne’s movement, which started in Lebanon, was soon enthusiastically carried forward by volunteers to countries like Jordan.

Lebanon is a place that can be difficult and, at times, violent. But we at TEDxBeirut choose to press on and be witnesses to the good news and hidden heroes working here. Otherwise, we’d miss the greatest opportunity of all: to stand for something more than the sum of our parts. That is everything to us.

Now, on with the conversation — in as many languages as possible.


A TEDxBeirut balloon. Photo: TEDxBeirut

The next TEDxBeirut will take place in mid-2014. It is organized by John Chehaybar, Reem Maktabi, Farah Hinnawi, Rim Baltaji. Find out much more here »

Focusing on “Ideas in action”: TEDxBeirut 2012

Ideas? Who cares about ideas?

Ideas are all over the place, space and time.

They are the same ideas: edited, reformulated, updated, new terms replacing “outdated” terminologies

They are the same ideas: One generation emulate the trend or fashion to discredit sets of ideas as non valid for the period, paradigm shifts in a few disciplines, ideas too general and not accounting for the reality of discovered idiosyncrasies…

And the next generation dust off many discredited ideas and programs, and adopt them as very relevant to the period and time…

Archives are packed with all kinds of worthy ready-to apply projects and ideas that nobody was assigned to take on the responsibility of following through, of selecting teams to consider as the ideas as theirs and take the plunge of transforming valid and detailed ideas into socially pertinent applications…

Ideas? Almost every week I have gorgeous well-developed ideas, a few I took the trouble to post in the category “Daydream projects”…

And who read projects and programs?

TEDx annual event in the Near East (Palestine in Ramallah, and Lebanon in Beirut) have shifted perceptibly from the realm of ideas to the pragmatic direction: What is useful and badly needed are the discovery of teams and associations grabbing ideas suited for the region and communities and transforming them into tangible projects.

The thousands of people who are familiar with the countless speakers of TED might have realized that the ideas thrown around are basically Ideas generated by elite classes of billionaires, trying to disseminate a new ideology of “Reformed” elite classes, reaching for the other less fortunate classes around the world…in order to develop mental capabilities?

Ideas, there are plenty and can be gathered in shovelful.

There are thousands of ideas and detailed projects in archives in all government ministers around the world and in companies. And there are a few bold and determined persons who are dusting off these files and retrieving a few of these ideas that are still very much “modern” and readily applicable…

TEDx Beirut 2012 adopted the theme: “All we need is…”

In the case of Lebanon, we actually need almost everything to make our daily life barely sufferable: From potable water reaching homes, electricity, affordable heading fuel, non-contaminated imported food, trustworthy imported medications, managing refugees (Palestinians and recently Syrians by the hundred of thousands), managing safe and sane prison systems, reforming the judicial system, passing legislations for civil marriage…

Just your basic needs: We have to leave out the fundamental problems, a long laundry list of political and social reforms, sitting in drawers since 1943…

TEDxBeirut 2012 was hoping to focus on solutions rather than the problems, as if the problems have already been identified, clarified, discussed, and agreed upon for resolution…

And how can you focus on solutions for problems not seen as problems by many communities?

What we need are varieties of opportunities, created and facilitated by private  associations, organizations and public institutions…

What is needed are options for possibilities to grow and gather people around definite feasible projects, tailor-made to Lebanon and the Near-East conditions

From limitation to Inspirations“?

How to inspire the Lebanese into associating into teams, and focusing on specific pragmatic projects and programs that the society badly needs and take a life of their own…

Ideas, there are plenty of ideas.

And focusing just on ideas within the domain of new technologies is plainly an elitist idea, which can be afforded by the elite classes around the world.

Elites conversing with elites and letting the common people share and bask in their glorious ideas

Unconsciously, TEDxBeirut reversed this trend: MOST of the speakers had no new ideas and what I observed is a refreshing new direction of discovering “Ideas in action”…

Many speakers have moved to applying older ideas and constituting associations and organizations in order to realize good ideas that their time has come.

The speakers were:

1. Sareen Akharjalian: Created an online comic called “Ink On The Side”

2. Amal al Dahouk is a marketing manager at Exeed and a blogger

3. Hani Asfour is an architect specializing in design of workspaces at Polypod (

4. Loryn Atoui is founder of One Wig Stand for providing wigs to cancer patients (

5. Jana Bou Reslan is in Educational PhD program and teaches at La Sagesse Univ. Her coming project is a book “I are, We am: Beyond Oneness”.  (

6. Farid Chehab is advisor to the board of leo Burnett MENA and an author “A bet for a national conscience”. I overheard that he is the representative of the owners of luxury hotels and resort complexes in order to secure plenty of water for them…

7. Rabih el Chaer is managing director of Lebanon Transparency Association, such as advising on rule of laws, public affairs programs, and media… (

8. Esraa Haidar founded a marketing firm Consult-E Market and keep a blog on the topic of veiled women (

9. Marjorie Henningsen is experienced in mathematics education and Educational Reform, curriculum and Instruction… Co-founded Wellspring Learning Community (

10. Zeina Saab founded The Nawaya Network dedicated to developing hidden potentials for at-risk youth (

11. Imad Saoud is an “Aquatic scientists” with emphasis on coastal reef ecology. The talk is to optimize usage of water, both fresh and salty, in order to feed growing population (See note)

12. Suzanne Talhouk founded the association “Fe3l Amr” (Verb order) and advises media associations

13. Salim Zwein talked on the usage of Thorium as a cheap, clean, efficient and abundant source of energy to replace uranium…

Note 1: Prof. Charles el Achi, director of NASA/Cal Tech Jet Propulsion Lab, paid a visit and briefly talked on team building for the Mars landing of Rover Curiosity.

Note 2:

Note 3: In the next 40 years, we expect to add two billion people to the world, and the amount of freshwater in the world is not increasing…
So how are we going to feed these extra 2 billion people?
With the same drop of water we have cleaned the cow shed, produced energy, produced duckweed, farmed fish and irrigated our crop.
Now this is how you feed two billion people if you do not have much water.”
If each Lebanese person saves one liter of water a day, that will amount to 4 million liters every day.
With 4 million liters I can produce 80,000 kg of tomatoes and 80,000 kg of fish while decreasing energy use by more than 100,000 liters of fuel and decreasing pollution tremendously.”
Aquaculturist / Aquatic Scientist Imad Saoud




February 2023

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