Languages, Escape Velocity and Bigly Lies

Learning a second or 3rd or 4th language is like escaping the gravity of your native land. You probe about in another way of being, of thinking, of observing. Better still — if you’ve the inclination — learn another tongue via a second or third language. Meet the stranger in a place foreign to each.

I am so grateful for my Palestinian student who decided to learn German via English, without recourse to his native Arabic. He inspired me to do the same — learn Arabic by way of German. “arabisch lernen”

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German from the baby steps to fluency. The magic of YouTube brings me teachers who speak their mother’s Arabic in a German-speaking land. I studied in Germany for a year and a half. The other international students joined me to prepare for lessons conducted in German. Japanese medical students already knew anatomical terms, because their forefathers carried it back to Japan — including decades as fellow Axis members. Gray’s Anatomy with German body parts

Some lessons I’ve learned

Iranian students taught me about Savak and their Shah many years before the Revolution of 1979. Krupp established large industrial site in that Persian land. An industrial giant since the 16th Century. A family tradition, Blut und Eisen.

Propaganda relies upon endlessly repeated mistranslations, designed to obfuscate. Weaponized language to serve hidden agendas, to move geopolitical stakes through sabotage, bigotry, racism, straw men, false flags, pacification, liquidation; in other words, chicanery of any convenient kind. Whatever works. No questions asked.

Walls visible and invisible. Sow the seeds of discontent to ignite anger. Divide and conquer. British imperialists deliberately provoked Sunni and Shia rivalries by locating them within an arbitrary borderline. Think of it as double solitary confinement. A technique that works wonders: encourage each to fight the other over differences deep as the empire gathers spoils of conquest, to the victor go the value subtracted.

History remembered is myth created by the most talented liars. Every American recites the same short soundbites: flag-shaded collective memories. Memorized lies to mask disquieting truth. 1,000 memorized lies. Cherrypick and pass on. Manufacture your destiny as something somehow manifest by a deity for your outrageous fortune. Cloying spoilings.

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Kresta and Spencer find a convenient fool

Conduct experiments on war fodder soldiers and increase your “intelligence.” Handbooks written by Chinese military master torturers were translated verbatim and reapplied in Guantanamo — word by evil word.

Accuse Cuba of human rights violations while torturing prisoners on Cuban soil. Announce bounties — turn in someone you hate, an enemy or a randomly selected person, a stranger. Get paid for lying about an innocent neighbor. Extraordinary rendition is spuriously twisted language designed by twisted authority to mask torture by proxy. Look the other way. Justify everything. Celebrate the patriotic art of bigly deals. Endless war for endless profit. Drop MOABS and cut a purchase order for replacement MOABS.

This morning I read a piece from Mark Chmiel’s blog — Mistake. Dark serendipity in the same tone and key. Thank you, Mark.

And

Thanks for reading.

Arabic: what gives?

Many posts ago a Palestinian pal (“pal” is twitterese for Palestinian) asked me to write about my adventures in Arabic. So here ’tis 🙂

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This pal o’ mine is a refugee of Nakba 1948. By various twists of synchronicity he found his way to one of my German classes, intent on reading a bit of the curious language.

What resulted?

A capital stroke of good fortune — a safari if you will. And so did it begin. I said “look my friend, if you are willing to learn some German I could at least learn some Arabic.”

Arabic script is daunting at first. I compare its foundation in the arts and sciences to the Roman alphabet: Arabic script is to the Latin alphabet what Arabic numerals are to Roman numerals.

A qualitative difference?

Take a Roman number. Calculate its root. Let’s take the most important number of all time 42 (XLII). Let me know when you have an answer. Show all work.

match-stick-pi

Nevertheless, Roman civil engineers achieved the splendor of the arch and its keystone cap.

I bet you didn’t know Farsi from Arabic at first.

That is actually correct. I looked at Persian and thought the pairing would be simple — like switching to Dutch from German. Well, a well of Arabic words exist  in Farsi, but Farsi is not based on the root system, a method residing at the very foundation of Arabic. It’s closer to English that way. Rootless.

arabic-or-farsi

Well well well. WTF is a root system?

Consonants that appear in a certain order to suggest meaning. The word ‘safari‘ has roots od SFR. Place some prefixes, suffixes and a few vowel sounds here and there. You’ll discover vocabulary treasures relating to ‘travel’ one way or another.

Why did your pal bleed from the ears?

Not just my friend — most of my students. Encounters with German involve a crazy  grammar that most German students to long for escape (The Great Escape). Though toddlers who drop every dread adjective ending perfectly every day — imagine tossing a deck of cards into the air and thinking them into well sequenced suits.

german-article-adjective-and-pronoun-chart-updated

What’s the deal with Arabic grammatical gender?

Look for a taa marbuta at the end of a noun — it’s that smiley face you see to the right, it’s easy to recognize too.

ta-marbuta

Arabic nouns are never neuter. There is no “it.” Just masculine and feminine. Wowser, that’s a 50% increase, from 2 to 3. There is no verb “to be” in the present, though there is a “was” in Arabic. The verb “to have” does not exist in the way of “haben” or “have” or “habeo.” Habemus Papam.

Did you know that it’s almost impossible to say anything in German without knowinf a noun’s gender?

Only a small exaggeration.

Herr Ziegler, can you craft a short sentence containing all four cases for us?

Let me grapple that in another post.  Gellerese anyone?

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Thanks for reading.

Speak Arabic Openly and Joyfully!

Arabic is a tapestry

Modern Standard Arabic is a construct used to help Arabic speakers living over a wide expanse to understand each other. To speak the language, and yet be understood, you have to choose among Arabic dialects specific to particular geographical areas, as suggested by the map below:

Arabic_Dialects.svg

Modern Standard Arabic is akin to Esperanto among its many speakers: about 400 million Arab speakers on this planet of ours!

Lines on a map I’ve viewed 10,000 times mask the neighborhood scenes, but empires find borders (preferably using a straight edge) an expedient means for control.  Africa before Europeans. Is there a downside?  Empires rape as much as they can as fast as they can, but what’s wrong with that?  Endless decadence for one.

My safari (سفر, from Swahili) into Arabic started some years ago when teaching a German class: sample, sample. One student was born in Jerusalem. Palestinians live under constant occupation. Occupied by Ottomans until 1923, British Empire until May 1948, then another legal entity to 2016 and counting (down). But Palestine is a forever place.

I made a good deal “if you can learn some German I can learn some Arabic.” It was a means for transcending culture and stereotypes, the kind explained in the documentary Reel Bad Arabs.

It’s fun tackling curiosities in Indo-European roots. Only recently did I discover that Persian shares Indo-European roots along with most European countries. Their alphabet looks like Arabic, but there isn’t much overlap in vocabulary.

Farsi doesn’t use the root system – a fundamental building-block system for assigning meaning. Arabic dictionaries are arranged by consonant groupings

SFR = SaFaRi, a journey

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Arabic script is brilliantly beautiful. The Roman alphabet has a tiny toolbox, as useful as thimbles for trumping fingers and thumb IMO.

Latin doesn’t even have lowercase letters and it does not often include curved letters like U when a V will do. But they are easier to chisel into stone.

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Nothing beats a zero when speaking the language of science. The Romans didn’t get there. To paraphrase the John Cleese (Why does British food suck? “they had an empire to run.” It’s not easy to derive square roots using Roman numerals.

Let me say something about resources: not all Arabic alphabet aids are good. This one helped me the most: Sugar comes from Arabic.

Many Spanish words derive from Arabic. They stayed on after Arabic culture was forceably ejected from Spain in 1492. So at least two all-time epic fails happened in 1492.

The Crusades and the Inquisition (The Church Militant) were not good ideas. Spreading lies like Joseph Goebbels lends not a single grain of truth. Truth went into exile from 1933 to 1945. No literature or art of any value springs forth under Fascism. Nothing good comes of Fascism. “When I hear the word ‘culture’…”

Islamophobia (from the xeno family of racism) will not lead to a better gentler world.

An earlier post on this theme: Thinking about language

 #RumiWasntWhite.

 

 

 

فلسطين (Palestine)

+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. Today (22 Nov. 2015) it reports that Israelis are removing Arabic language from signs in Israel.

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An Israeli road sign that omits Jerusalem’s Arabic name (‘Al-Quds’), instead using the Hebracized Urshalim.

 

It’s consistent with other measures taken to effect ethnic purity in the Levant. Traditional hasbara students are educated in a set of arguments that proclaims Palestinians  unpersons. I have read handbook-quality materials that seek to “explain” that the first Palestinians came into being on a single day in the 1967 war. It is easier to control a people when that people does not exist.

Arabic does not have a “P” sound in its alphabet, Romance alphabets do; for example, Paris in Arabic language is ‘Baris.’ It would not be phonetically logical to expect to hear the word ‘Palestine’ spoken in Arabic. It makes sense to acknowledge that the English equivalent Philistine begins with an “F” sound. Filistine.

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Image from Palestinian Arabic

There are efforts to force (or phorce) the history of the Palestinians into a more convenient geography that better serves their argument by employing the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent. It’s a method that has been effective ever since Homo sapiens lived in a land without a people.

The British Empire efficiently ran their worldwide enterprise by employing a divide and conquer strategy. Sometimes overlooked was their ability to impose the imperial language upon the occupied. The Palestinian scholar Edward Said, in his seminal work Orientalism published in 1978 described the dynamic. From his birth he found himself split between cultures, with a juxtaposition of the English name Edward and the common Arabic surname Said. This caused some difficulty in the multicultural multi faith city of  Jerusalem. In thought he would begin a sentence in English and end it in Arabic, or vice versa.

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The same British Empire used a puppet mechanism for control of The Raj in India. It’s not always wonderful to live in a culture that writes in the language of the conqueror. English has become the principal  medium of the written word in Indian literature: English is an unfortunate medium that replaces Hindi, a tongue with deep roots.

Aatish Tameer

Under the British Mandate many worked fiercely to have Hebrew included along with English on public signs, as a signal for their cultural and ethnic identity. The irony of witnessing removal of Arabic on signs is not lost on this author.

 

 

 

Thinking about Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Gießen and Savak

The culture where I live does not seem particularly interested in learning foreign languages. But the written, the spoken, and the audible become a part of the soul and a blessing to humanity when civilized thought can gain a foothold.
Nelson-Mandela-on-Language

My interest in German language led to an opportunity for study in Giessen, at that time West Germany, from 1971 to 1973. Upon arriving at Justus Liebig Universität I learned German as a second language with fellow students from Iran, Japan, Egypt among others. German was the tongue we shared, so that we could talk to the brain. Then we could join the citIzenry and talk to the heart.

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Just be natural! It’s important when learning languages

Some people take on an alternate identity to ward off conversation. It was common for Americans traveling in Europe in the early 1970’s to attach a Canadian maple leaf to their person. This to avoid conversations about Vietnam. It was convenient to merge into the background. But such maneuvers may lead to a false sense of comfort: ease and convenience have long-term consequences. It is just as convenient to avoid discussions on long festering Middle East issues today. Are the sound bites you hear from a source without an agenda? Unfortunately, the truth can be hidden, often deliberately by perpetuating lies that simply make life more convenient or comfortable for the liar.

Under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Shah from 1941 to 1979) many Iranians studied at German universities such as Justus Liebig. Our Iranian fellows shared an ability to converse in German about Savak and the Persian experience. Neither Farsi nor English was necessary to bridge a gulf separating us from each other. Who knew that Pahlavi was complicit in dark matters. The Iranian people knew.

Farsi Keyboard
Farsi script is so similar to Arabic!

Guy Wallace explains Savak.

Imagine a monarchy that is 2500 years old, that began with Cyrus the Great and ended with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s deposition. Might a civilization both ancient and modern have evolved a complex history and culture In 2.5 millenia? Might Farsi hint at subtleties in the Persian soul? What about the country name itself: Persia, Iran? Does its religion suggest potential geopolitical significance? Can we question the translation of the colloquial Farsi into English of the conveniently repeated  Death to America (More accurately translated as Down with America).

Farsi speakers use this invocation to express transitory frustration, perhaps at stubbing a toe. In a future post I want to discuss the nature of curse words in Farsi, Arabic and Hebrew. Stay tuned.