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.

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.