Climbing Language Trees

Prefacing Remarks مرحبا


Using AI to learn Arabic

Learning language is a gentle art that opens entire universes in return for mere study; it is a means for breaking barriers that lead to separation, misunderstanding, and the brutality of endless war. Mistranslation is inevitable because translations are always approximations; however, deliberate contortion for the sake of a hidden (or open) agenda befouls all sides. Propaganda deliberately twists words to serve political purposes, it engenders mistrust in exchange for self-serving advantage.

Any religious institution that seeks to subdue others by force serves a dark hegemony loosely cloaked in words of false love. Ascribing innate evil to the very existence of a faith’s traditions and customs is false witness of a most devious kind. But uniting that evil with political motivations to sanctify wanton bloodletting of innocents has become the tone of our times. Islamophobia is one such creation, white supremacism is another. Both are forces of systemic hate.

Climbing Language Walls

Complex sets of cases and genders convey the presence of various parts of speech — a tool set not available in uninflected languages such as English. The Saxons who conquered the British Isles brought complex grammar paradigms with them. Then the Vikings arrived. The tool set got tossed in short order — they selected the Gordian solution, cutting that knot asunder and degendering each thing, place, and person while they were at it, thus reducing and replacing each nuance with something we now know as “the.” The resulting language revision led to an enforcement of meaning through word order.

The German language is a major tree branch derived from Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Learning of it’s very existence required reverse engineering, a backward-looking process. The commonalities of scripting systems point to a common geography near present-day Ukraine.

There remain a few isolated non PIE languages in Europe, such as Basque, Hungarian, and Finish; but they are few — influence outside their circle of speakers is tiny.

I had not realized it at the time, but the inflections I memorized in high school Latin classes offered me some insight into the nature of inflected grammar. They are a tool that works to eliminate ambiguity. Prepositions of relative position do just such a thing, as the case may be. Accusative, ablative, dative…

Of course, language trees can range in character, as much as a boab differs from an oak. Farsi does resemble Arabic but is actually a fellow piece of PIE — the Persians adopted Arabic script, but without the root system that is a characteristic of Arabic language. Farsi may look like Arabic, but it is really quite different — a false friend for language learners. For example, “das Gift” is German for “poison”. It appears as an apple in Snow White (Schneewittchen), one offered as a “gift” perhaps.

Arabic is the largest language in Afro-Asiatic, a disparate set of languages that extends from the northwest coast of Africa through Palestine and covering much of southwest Asia. Climbing a different tree as you look at your home tree is what I call a lot of fun.

I liken this experience to extending a tin can from one tree to the other and conversing with a fellow traveler who is climbing onto a branch of PIE. YouTube offers many opportunities for the language learner. For example, you can find someone who also learned German as their second language. The ability to communicate across two very different frames of reference, without the crutch of English. Large fun.

I have found that most Arabic-language learners study it for military and/or fossil-fuel purposes. In both of these cases the object is geopolitical hegemony that continues to shorten the time available to address the catastrophe that is climate nakba (the Arabic word for catastrophe).

Thanks for reading.

Author: Bill Ziegler

I am a former resident of Delhi Township. These are memories of my life and times in that community during the 1950s and 1960s. A time capsule.

16 thoughts on “Climbing Language Trees”

  1. Thanks for the article about different languages. You brought up things I haven’t even thought about and I certainly have taken English for granted. I need to get back at learning Lingala again. Haha!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. S’il te pla ît, ospreyshire! And thank you for introducing me to Lingala. I am also able to read Afrikaans by decoding the Dutch, but by no means am I complimenting the French or the Dutch for being colonial turd-tongues — actually, all the colonial plunder, torture, and death that the empires of Europe exacted. Thanks again, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Likambo te, Bill (No problem, Bill!)

        It’s been really fun learning that language. That’s cool how you can read and understand those languages, too. I certainly agree that the colonial aspect was totally horrific when it came to Africa. I would also like to learn Swahili as well.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The way that languages overlap is a bonus reward for learning any language other than English (in our case). Subtitled films are quite useful in just this way — such as watching a German movie with Swedish subtitles, where the mind can fill in the video and/or audio blanks. I’ve just now discovered that Swahili contains an enormous number of borrowed Arabic vocabulary, so now you have literally interested me in learning Swahili as well. Thanks for that, ospreyshire 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I certainly agree. I watch and even review tons of international films where many of them aren’t in English anyway, so that gave me an appreciation for languages as well as world cultures. That’s interesting about Swahili! I knew it could be written in Arabic script in addition to Western letters, but I didn’t know that about the language. There are even some cognates that are similar between Swahili and Lingala since they are both Bantu-based languages (both have official language status in the DRC, too). No problem, Bill. I have a Swahili pocket book that I would like to delve into more often. Also, shame on Disney for trademarking the phrase “Hakuna Matata”! Sorry, had to throw that potshot in there. Haha! 😛

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I bet. I do want to improve in speaking foreign languages. No problem.

            I just read the article and that’s true. It’s a shame how Hollywood doesn’t respect so many cultures.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. As long as it isn’t English 🙂
      Edward Said, Palestinian-American genius, wrote a book in 1978: ORIENTALISM that is still considered the authoritative volume on the imposition of British language on the peoples they occupied. A quote from Said:

      Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree, Bill. It would have to be a totally new language that would be understandable to peoples worldwide. Our young people have already come up with their own quick and easy way of communicating across cultures using emojis (see How these visual forms would be translated into a spoken language is another matter.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thanks for that consideration, Rosaliene. I really think you are on to something there. A pictographic language would seem to offer emotive aspects that ambiguous text cannot include. Particularly intriguing since communication over the internet (in the present moment, actually 🙂 ) already includes all manner of audio and video capability.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. There must be a reason why there are so many languages. People are different and also eat different things
    Some people believe you have to speak a persons language in order to understand them. I would settle with people just not hating other people without being able to speak to them in their language.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. An important, thought-provoking topic, Bill. I was just contemplating the challenge of communicating across cultures. I recently finished revising a play for a specific audience – Native Americans. It deals with the consequences of profound historical trauma and continuing oppression. The play is based on the stories Ojibwe people of varying ages shared with me in a research study I did about the impact of federal “Indian” child welfare policies. The challenge is communicating the profound implications this issue has for the long range consequences of what is currently being done to refugee children and families from Mexico, and Central and South America. Few people in the US have an accurate understanding of history, and fewer still know anything about the treatment of indigenous people in the US past or at present. Even in a shared language, English, bridging that knowledge gap, and the cultural/experiential/educational lens of the speaker and potential audiences, present a daunting challenge. How can one raise awareness if the potential audience has no shared foundation of understanding or caring?


    1. Hi Carol – I am afraid I cannot contribute all that much to your wide grasp on the problems of living in a world where different groups are able to get more or a lot less from the country they live in. You have actually waded in there and made a difference. I know that just being aware of the facts surrounding you in the US bust be enough for a few lifetimes but if you ever happen to wander over here to Israel for whatever reason you will again understand that language is the key to alleviating many of the the worlds “people” problems.
      The ME grew out of the need for water and therefore the culture and way of life here is very defined by clans. True there are many people that merge the margins but it is not often I am able to thank them. I am so relieved you and people like you actually exist. Many thanks on behalf of you all. Mikel

      Liked by 1 person

Comments drive content, so please comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: