House-mine = House-your.

Learning a language is a great way to open a window into a different culture, to understand your mother tongue from a fresh perspective. The words you are presently reading are descendants of an ancient family of languages known as Proto-Indo-European (PIE). My first second language, German, is as ancient a member of PIE as Persian — Persian adopted the Arabic alphabet but it retains heritage in the PIE family. Persian did not adopt the root system, the engine that drives the Afro-Asian family. Farsi looks like Arabic but reads like Gellerese.

Taking a Safari — a post I published more than three years ago, examines how the root system operates in Arabic.

Russian gets along just fine without the aid of a definite article: “the” in English or “der, die, das, den, des… in German, for example. Arabic adds a definite article to noun modifiers as well — a dozen or so diacritical marks provide an absolutely extraordinary level of finesse, making the definite even more specific.

Two indispensable verbs in the PIE family are “to be” and “to have.” Arabic uses neither. That does not mean that existence and possession do not occur, the language just uses different means to express them.

Mi casa es su casa / بيتي بيتك (bayti baytik) / House-mine (=) House-your. Possession in Arabic is expressed by adding a suffix to a noun rather than a possessive pronoun.

My house is yours

Arabic nouns take on two genders, masculine and feminine. 99.9% of feminine nouns end in what they call a ta marbuta. German has three genders and four cases. Surprisingly, Arabic grammar is far (about a lightyear) more intuitive and logically structured than German. I became functionally illiterate in Arabic when I failed to realize that much of its grammar is contained in the script itself. English, Latin, and German (I learned them in that order) are members of the PIE family. I now consider Latin a language constructed with a chisel to stone in mind. Roman numerals are even more cumbersome. Fortunately, a marvelous mosque in my area is presently making the language available for recalcitrant learners (such as myself) to reinforce a much crumbling foundation. Zoom meetings allow us to carry on during a pandemic.


Ancient Arabic secret: add a ta marbuta (ة) to the noun and you have a feminine noun, if “ة”is not found at the end of the noun the gender is masculine.

Become very familiar with the script and those dozen or so diacritical marks and you are 90% of the way there. IMO anyway.

‘Ta’ Marbouta’ campaign spreads message of female empowerment

Thanks for reading.

11 thoughts on “House-mine = House-your.”

  1. When I read your posts I learn the things I never knew before save for educational, inadequate snippets that threatened or pleased in equal measure. Super stuff, Sir. Re your Russian observation, I was rather chuffed to learn…a birthday present from my musical sprog…that I am 81% Russian and, thankfully but next to no % English, the land that declares, wrongly, overtly, whatever, it was once ‘great’. Please forgive the ‘the’ in my first line…a slip of Mother Russian’s contradictions.

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    1. Thank you most gratefully and humbly for the “Super stuff, Sir.” I studied a bit of Russian in the mid-70s — a few years pre-internet — from a textbook and a set of phonograph records. ’twas enough to say “I have a pencil” (У меня есть карандаш). Nice to now share that sentence with an 81% Russian. German features 16 ways to say “the” and 12 ways to say “a”. That’s going from 0 to 16 for Russians learning German, I guess.
      The technology available to language learners has improved since 1975. Now I search YouTube for “arabisch lernen” to pick up Arabic from a fellow GSL (German as a Second Language) student. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I learned English, Latin and German in the same order as you. Next, I studied Chinese (Mandarin) for two days, and then took a test on what I had learned. Out of about 100 Air Force people taking , I was in the top 16, so I was offered the opportunity to study Korean at Yale. I took it, and the rest is history. Anyway, Chinese does not use “tense”. Thus, I can say, “I go to the store today.” If I went yesterday, I say, “I go to the store yesterday.” Etc. Since the Koreans use Chinese characters mixed in with a phonetic syllabry, I had to learn a lot of Chinese characters. For now, “再见.”

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  3. Hello Phil, Good to hear from a fellow omniglot and polyglot who thinks outside the PIE. You have moved from the Latin of Romans at the middle of the Earth (Middle Earth is what I call it) to the Middle Kingdom (Chinese branch), I have taken on the ebb and flow of MENA. We also share English as a mother tongue (often forked) and the voice of imperial ambition worldwide. Are you familiar with Edward Said’s ground-breaking book Orientalism? It was published in 1978 and is still regarded as a definitive work on the imposition of English as a tool to promote and to justify colonialism?

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  4. I understand how Russian manages without a or the, but I’m having trouble understanding how you work without to have and to be (which, irrelevantly, I remember reading somewhere long ago) are irregular across a wide swath of related languages).

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    1. Thank you for the kind comment, Ellen. Oddly enough, Arabic does “have” a past-tense form for the verb “to be”. Also odd and interesting — the perfect tense is the past, the imperfect tense is the present. The inescapable Qur’an would seem to play a role in that “perfect” perspective. There is a fantastic online resource that contains a concordance for every single word in the Qur’an, mind-boggling at the very least. Here ’tis:
      http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=rbb#(1:2:3)
      Kindest regards in these strange but interesting times. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the link, Bill, but I suspect it’s over my head. I loved learning languages when I was younger, but in more recent decades I found that I didn’t absorb them as easily. I envy the list of languages you’ve made yourself at home in.

        Interesting times indeed. Stay well.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I completely understand your click-hesitation, Ellen. It has taken me about 15 years to become functionally illiterate in Arabic, but those Zoom Meeting classes require us to actually do the homework or to flounder for two hours at a time if you don’t. Two hours is a very long time if you show up unprepared. A very long time indeed. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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