Arabic Script or Latin Alphabet: What Gives?

Arabic is a subtle language with a script that flows from right to left one millimeter at a time. Arabic sounds originate from vocal chord to the tip of the tongue, each brings slight variations in tone, in duration — these determine intent, what you seek to share. Meaning relies on accurate spoken and written construction.

It’s also a shape-shifter. Each letter may morph in four ways — a single letter may assume four forms, yet remain as unambiguously and reliably distinguishable as a pattern-matching schema. Examine the Arabic letter nunn (“n”):

nun
Unambiguous after all, is it not?

Arabic describes those slight but significant sound variations with a dozen diacritical marks, then it permits one to double those diacritics when ambiguity threatens to destroy the intended meaning.

Tughra_Suleiman
Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent

Yes, Arabic has an impressive set of tools. Here are a few:

It sets a meter with musical aspects. Each sound may extend in duration by holding a tone twice or three times as long. It’s really much like reading a piece of sheet music, a musical score.

It has tools for creating calligraphic expressions that allow each writer to break away — to proceed beyond a ceiling-line and below a floor-line. By comparison, Latin-based alphabets seem designed with confinement in mind, something designed with the chisel in mind. Keep within the lines, please. The Romans manipulated numbers borrowed from their alphabet. You can count to 100 in Roman numerals before encountering a curved figure.

malcolm-x-arabic-calligraphy-centre
“Malcolm” by Everitte Gurney Barbee

Did you know that Arabic vocabulary is context sensitive? Language environments are dynamic places, words adapt to merge with the spirit and the moment and the intent — not the other way around. Translations that do not recognize context contort meaning, they must be challenged. Twisting words to serve agendas is a dark art.

The English language uses a different set of tools, different metrics that root into the soil of a different geography.

faltblatt-gleiche-rechte-arabisch
Equal Rights for Women and Men: Self-determined Life in Germany

Language has brought me opportunities to remove borders. A thorough understanding of the German language (my second language) permits me to learn Arabic from a teacher who has likewise learned German as her second language. There’s something breathtaking about acquiring a third language without the unnecessary baggage of my mother tongue. Something very humbling and very satisfying.

Thanks for reading.

8 thoughts on “Arabic Script or Latin Alphabet: What Gives?”

    1. Hi Neil, Always great to encounter a fellow 1947er who has also surfed the crest of that curious demographic surging wave. Had we lived our lives backward into time instead of forward, we would find ourselves in the year 1877. Somehow I find that perspective interesting — now I’m planning to write a post on the topic real soon now 🙂
      Am now envisioning you in an 1877 Philadelphia. On a mid 60’s night I tuned my vacuum tube radio to a Philly station: an interview with the head of the Tolkien Society; actually, it was my introduction to JRR. Hey, I bought the authorized edition of The Hobbit the following Saturday in downtown Cincinnati. So does it go 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the kind comment. When I first started studying Arabic the available learning resources were pretty meager, the fonts impossibly small and fuzzy, even with reading glasses. I found a quite decent self-study package (Borders, $70.00) at a library discard sale: 25 cents and unused 🙂 I still listen to the CDs. Barked the text apart and graced it with coffee stains, yes indeed. Fascinating language, full of surprises. A happy Tuesday to you!

      Liked by 2 people

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