Leila Abouzeid and Autobiography in Arabic

Geoff Wisner has an interesting post at Words Without borders about Leila Abouzeid’s new book. He quotes her reasons for while autobiography isn’t as common in Arabic. What she talks about is interesting in how culture is reflected in the use of language.

In addition, autobiography has the pejorative connotation in Arabic of madihu nafsihi wa muzakkiha (he or she who praises and recommends him- or herself). This phrase denotes all sorts of defects in a person or a writer: selfishness versus altruism, individualism versus the spirit of the group, arrogance versus modesty. That is why Arabs usually refer to themselves in formal speech in the third person plural, to avoid the use of the embarrassing “I.” In autobiography, of course, one uses “I” frequently.

The full article is worth a look.