Frozen continues its relentless march across the face of the planet. Not content to drive English-speaking parents to drink, Disney is rolling out "localized" versions of the movie for languages around the world. But why is the Arabic version so weird?
Over at the New Yorker, comp lit professor Elias Muhanna writes that his daughters have progressed steadily from "Let It Go," to "Let It Go in 25 Languages," to "Let It Go in 41 Languages," which has really livened things up around the house:
By the weekend, the house sounds like a business-class lounge at an international airport terminal. Snatches of German and Cantonese waft downstairs from the second-grader's bedroom, mingling with Danish and Russian phrases murmured by the preschooler making Play-Doh cookies on the kitchen floor.
Featured languages include: Croatian, Canadian French, Brazilian Portuguese and Castilian Spanish. Czech is no refuge from the relentless earworm.
Naturally, there's an Arabic version. But Arabic is tricky, because there are several varieties. Disney traditionally went with Egyptian Arabic, a widely spoken dialect associated with a thriving film industry. This time, though, the company chose Modern Standard Arabic—"the language of officialdom, high culture, books, newscasts, and political sermonizing," according to Muhanna.
Apparently it's pretty close to Ye Olde Time Fancy Arabic. So the chorus of "Let It Go" comes out sounding like, "Discharge thy secret! I shall not bear the torment!" This is especially weird since Frozen is basically written in teen-speak.
But Muhanna argues it's not that Disney underestimated the market, say, or just didn't do its research. He suggests it's got something to do with ideas among Arabic-speakers about the kinds of content kids ought to be consuming:
Ironically, though, children's literature has remained deeply resistant to the trend toward vernacularization. "If we read to them in dialect, when are they supposed to learn realArabic?" is the answer I usually get when I ask other parents about this state of affairs. As a scholar of Classical Arabic and a native speaker of Lebanese Arabic, I have always felt this to be a false choice.
Nevertheless, he argues, a more colloquial approach is becoming more popular. "The age of the Arabic vernacular is here; someone just needs to tell the talking snowman," Muhanna concludes.
There's already a petition pleading for a return to Egyptian Arabic, so why not both? Hell, they've already done 41 versions. It's not like another another two or three will break the bank, here. And it's worth noting that there's at least one Arabic-speaker in the comments at the New Yorker article who prefers the Modern Standard version. And Disney did produce French and Canadian French versions, after all.
Except... dude, are you sure you want to be bombarded by another version of "Let It Go"?