Recreational Arabic

 

Some decades ago I read  the confessions of a language fanatic — she was unapologetic about toting foreign language books to the beach. I have not been able to find that article on the internet, actually any article about readers who find escape that way, now my interest really piques.

Speaking of piquing, here is a peek at two vacationers who look upon language references as beach books, but they’ve chosen different dictionaries to read. That’s what I do — just ask Lisa. Last minute check before leaving the house: have I packed enough language tomes?

hans.wehr.reading
Oxford to the left of us, Wehr to the right.

I’ve affixed Arabic-alphabet stickers to my keyboard to make life easier — electronic text editors know how to connect the letters correctly and smoothly. However it is important to write by hand while learning Arabic, it’s akin to hiding the calculator while memorizing multiplication tables.

Left-handers are accustomed to covering up what they write as they write, so it’s revealing to actually see my writing without contorting my writing hand. Calligraphic design is already demanding work. The Roman alphabet is as clumsy as Roman numerals, isn’t it? They did not even have minuscules available to lighten things up, perhaps they just liked to SHOVT a lot. Well, it is true, to paraphrase John Cleese, that they had an empire to run. There is that.

Methinks their alphabet was fashioned with stone-chiseling in mind.

alan-dunn-does-ex-take-the-ablative-or-the-dative-new-yorker-cartoon
Does  “ex” take the ablative or the dative?

As a left-handed calligraphic hobbyist I have to lift my hand frequently to know what is happening. Arabic calligraphy flows from designs inherent in the alphabet. Rather than arranging letters chosen from A to Z, you recognize the minute detail that permits extravagantly wild art with unambiguous pen strokes. This allows the pen wielder to proceed without limit, a dot or two or three makes everything explicable.

However you’ll experience heightened subtlety when you include the ten diacritical marks available in Arabic script. Reading a text that contains the full range of marks gives the writer and the reader a means of communication faithful and considerate of each.

The Art of Arabic Calligraphy (YouTube)

These ten marks are omitted in normal written communication. The small fonts selected for most published works also make text too busy. How do you critically distinguish letters and words if diacriticals are in the way. Once you have seen an Arabic word a hundred times it is hardly necessary to bludgeon a reader with something she already understands quite well.

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Of course this is why those marks only appear in scriptural texts or instructional language books. Clarity is critical, each and every millimeter of the way. The author cannot assume that a reader has seen each word hundreds of times already. I personally recommend acquiring the incomparable Sugar comes from Arabic.

Back to Wehr. Arabic is based upon a system of roots: constant consonantal characters in a specific sequence: A SaFaRi into the SaHaRa. The most useful Arabic-English dictionaries are organized by root. Looking up those roots is not easy for a beginner. Now there are ingenious online sources and mobile apps available to grease the learning process.

Learn from your mistakes. I often encouraged my German students that way —the learner who makes the most mistakes gets the most gold stars 🙂

Thanks for reading.

 

Palestinians Are Either in Exile or in Prison

 

 Hello.

 

hi
Source

Today we look at two nouns rooted in  Palestinian history 

1948 a

1967 a

Languages based on a root system are dendritic — consider trees, rivers, fractals..

 

dendritic
Source

Look at the two letters in blue  b (ب )  s ( س )

But now a word from our sponsor:

On the day of Nakba, 700,000 people were exiled from their ancestral homes.

Andrew Jackson’s illegal exile of the Cherokees began in 1838. Jackson may not have said

“Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it,”

but the result was still dispossession.

President Jackson drove the Cherokee Nation into an exile called The Indian Territories until they in turn became Oklahoma. Native Americans now live in rural areas served by Food Desert convenience stores — they get to stay there until a monied interest drops straight edge on a map and calls it an access pipeline, or the equivalent.

We return you to your regularly scheduled program, in progress.

In each case (Trail of Tears, Nakba) people took luggable items, including the house keys. The six days of Naksa happened in 1967 (imprisonment).

nakba_48

Omar Chaaban defines these two  for Sixteen Minutes to Palestine.  I yield the words to Omar:

نكبة

…they chose the word Nakba which, in Arabic, refers to a supreme calamity that happens once in an eon. That is to say, this disastrous collective experience exacted upon the Palestinians is an unprecedented trauma that had to be referred to by a word that communicates to the entire world that nothing can happen that is worse than being uprooted in the manner they were in the events leading to and following Israel’s declaration of statehood.

نكسة

…the word Naksa does not really mean ‘setback.’ In classical Arabic, Naksa is used to describe an event where a thing is literally flipped upside down. The great Arabic lexicon Lisan Al-‘Arab — The Tongue of the Arab People — says that when a Naksa happens to a thing, its top becomes its bottom and its front becomes its back. It then goes as far as saying that in many cases a Naksa can be so bad that the chances of it being reversible are almost nonexistent and that no good can be found in it.

Arabic dictionaries sequence by root. Hans Wehr assembled the definitive dictionary organized by roots. Here are the roots I’ve generated in Aratools

nakba:

nakba

naksa:

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Arabic affixes a special letter to nouns of feminine gender. The grammatical term is “taa marbuta.” It’s also a handy way to create a new word in that language:

Maktab مكتب (office)

Maktaba مكتبة (library)

taa-marbuta
Gender Observations

Coming real soon now: Mental Maps of Palestine

 

Thanks for reading.