Donald is my pet hamster

A very useful pet

I piddle around (some would suggest I piddle on) several languages. These languages differ considerably from one another, they go about the business of Clarifying their thoughts and intentions. They use widely different ways to explain the very object ot their communication.

English went through a massive shift to make the spoken word more clearly resemble the written word, curiously this took place at precisely the time that Gutenberg’s invention was increasing the volume of texts available to the readers of the day. The change to written vs. spoken English is something called the great vowel shift. You may have seen a T-shirt that proclaimed the event:

I survived the great vowel shift!

Arranging the letters on a printing press set contemporary spelling into concrete. The timing of this event could not have been more ill timed. The printed word had to be taught using a misfitting reckoning system. Of course, English went on to become the international language despite all this. Although it did receive some help from the absence of accurate weather forecasts, that event led to the sinking of nearly every ship on its way to defeating the British Empire. The geopolitical significance was enormous.

The great digital information shift occurred during my lifetime, around the 1960s. Learning my second language of German relied on intense time spent in a language-instruction classroom, and reinforced in a language lab — all based on an instructor-led distribution of sounds saved on magnetic tape. Vocabulary building required using an English-German dictionary unti nearly all the leaves fell out. Now I have free access to the findings of Google and can access new languages at a significantly more comfortable state. The change is unfathomable to generations that grew up with these tools widely available and frequently updated.

I also survived the shift from slide rule to pocket calculator

Thanks for reading.

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 of origin near present-day Ukraine.

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

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.

cibarA Arabic

I think of Proto-Indo-European as a linguistic continent comprised of many languages — geographies mapped by language. Though PIE has left nothing in writing for her descendants to examine, a process of reverse engineering points to a hub at the greater Ukraine vicinity.

All homo sapiens came from East Africa, the shortest and most easily traversed paths have gone through what is now Palestine. Those who took up residence in the fertile bread-basket of Western Asia stopped to create PIE before proceeding to various points of the compass.

My first steps taken outside the world of English were in German, where I wrestled her complex set of inflections — function signals developed over the millennia on the Northern European Plain — an easily traversed topography as well. The shortest distance between two points takes longer if you must scale mountains along the way.

Arabic doesn’t look three-quarters of a smidgeon like PIE.

Saxons brought German across the channel, The English. Along that path, the “b” became a “v”, the “t” became a “d” and a few other things I shall leave unexamined right now. Vikings made short work of inflections when they occupied Isles, The British. The “t” latched onto the “h” to do something not done in proper German society — sticking the tongue out. A native German-speaking friend once told me that her mother would scold her at any spoken breach, such as allowing your tongue to extend beyond the teeth.
“It’s what the Englanders do. Tut tut. The very idea…”

One of my German students, a Palestinian, introduced me to the Arabic alphabet. I accepted his interest in German as a challenge to learn Arabic, at the time I hadn’t known that Arabic was not one of the PIE tongues. The excerpt of the Qu’ran included below might alert you that Arabic doesn’t look three-quarters of a smidgeon like PIE. Peruse this image for a long take at nine English words. It’s a color-coded snapshot of those nine that elucidate many aspects of Arabic grammar. The Quranic Arabic Corpus provides detail from the hair strands to the toenails.

Quranic Arabic Corpus (67:1)

Search any translation, interpretation, analysis, mistranslation, misinterpretation, or spurious analysis in any Qu’ran 67:1. Take it where you will or where you won’t. Languages should always offer a means for removing barriers, not exacerbating them. Weaponizing translations for propaganda value is a kind of false witness that literally obfuscates communication for a hidden or unstated agenda.

A few closing thoughts:

Arabic language has

  • a script that makes many alphabets (alpha, beta…) based on Latin look hammered and chiseled by comparison.
  • a root system that works as precise architecture — form follows function. It combines beauty with linguistic precision.
  • some amazing flexibility. German, my second language, can concatenate nouns, can use entire prepositional and adverbial phrases to function as adjectives. However, Arabic can incorporate entire sentences into a single word.
  • a different look and feel that distinguishes it from Proto-Indo-European language. Farsi is a PIE language, it’s not based on a root system — even though its words look like Arabic.
  • something for the left-handed student. Arabic allows me to see what I am writing as I write, to sweep a pen across a piece of paper. To pull along a sheet of paper rather than to plow into it.

All my posts on a theme of Arabic Language

All my posts on a theme of German Language

Thanks for reading.

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”):

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 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” 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.

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.

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