Surprised by Arabic

At its largest extent, the Roman Empire surrounded Middle Earth, literally “The Mediterranean.”



In the parlance of social media, the Romans SHOUTED all their written words — minuscules would not arrive to soften the literal commotion until the 7th Century. Latin seems suited for chiseling into stone, mostly with straight lines that run from left to right. It’s not easy to curve while chiseling your way along a flat rock-face. A glance at the English alphabet reveals that individual letters also run from left to right, letters such as B D E F K L P R

The letter “J” is quite the exception. It’s one reason that some school children do this:


That letter never appears in Roman imperial inscriptions, nor did U, nor did W.

K, Y and Z were adopted to accommodate Greek vocabulary. They are not the Etruscan uttering way. Nay, they ain’t.

Let’s look at a language that appeals to my left-handedness. It’s quite a relief to see my writing as I write. Arabic was not designed with a chisel in mind. The language begins with cursive in mind, not a bland sequence of letters imprisoned within imaginary boxes, then proclaimed “words.”

My last post looked at a procrustean camel, an animal led to the eye of a needle by dint of faulty translation. Why are mistranslations carved into stone? Do not allow your metaphors to become stilted, clunky, confusing and hackneyed. That’s what I say.

Well, Arabic comes equipped with a J-sound. In fact, it’s standard equipment. However, the language does not permit a “P” letter, so please apply a “B” for words like Paris: call it Baris and learn to live with it. Palestine never needed a “P” because that name is an imposition anyway: they are the Philistines. Arabic comes equipped with an “F” sound.



25+ Arabic Alphabet Letters


Instead of imaginary boxes, Arabic allows for up to four ways to write each letter of the alphabet. Learners of this language and readers of the Qur’an receive the gift of ten diacritical marks to aid the learning process in a clean and coherent manner. Should you ever decide to tackle Arabic, this is handy indeed. Those marks reveal the sound one millimeter at a time; however, once you become comfortable and confident with the words you can dispense with diacriticals altogether — you’ll recognize the pattern and you won’t need the training wheels.

Returning to the Romans for a moment: would you ever wish to return to Roman numerals once you’ve learned the efficacy of Arabic numerals? The word “cipher” in English is from the Arabic word for “zero”:صفر

Here is a tip for my readers who consider learning German or Arabic: if you can pronounce Cincinnati you can pronounce  صفر (sifr). Just pedanting.

Learning languages removes artificial separations between cultures and lifestyles. Those separations take the form of borders, walls and prejudice. In their stead you acquire perspectives that remove each border, wall and prejudice. They serve the minions of geopolitical advantage and the clarion to endless war, endless confusion and endless imprisonment. Producing propaganda is criminal activity. Always. Whatever your intention.

And go vegan while you’re at it. No sentient being benefits by closing the book on the Anthropocene 🙂

Thanks for reading.

Sugar Comes From Arabic

Nothing melts my heart so thoroughly as receiving a kind letter from a favorite author.


Recently, I suggested, kind readers, that you visit a link to a valuable resource. To a book that inspired me to learn Arabic well — Sugar comes from Arabic by Barbara Whitesides. It is as sweet as Arabic coffee. I encourage you to obtain a copy as early as humanely possible.

Select a tea or Arabic coffee and get ready to savor marvelous things. Fetch a writing instrument and some lined paper, or the back of an envelope. The book is comfortable to the eagerly flipping hand. Very often overlooked by lesser binders — it has a freely moving ring-binder format. Lay it open, lay it to one page. It doesn’t fall to the floor. It doesn’t require paper weights — a very important feature in a language book!

Discover a world where mere writing takes on the freedom and skill of the gymnast. A language a world away from the 26 offerings of the English you are reading now.  Latin letters of Roman device (Latin Alphabet A-Z).


Did you know that a proper Latin alphabet possesses not the merest of minuscules? Have you observed that curved lines are quite literally ANATHEMA to the words of Latin? Writing with ALL CAPS connotes shouting in the language Troll.

Somehow I feel it likely that you are reading this while attached to the internet.

Might you have read this far, I admire your patience. Perhaps you’ve only now viewed this olde bloge o’ mine. I thank you for reading, and I’ll thank you again at the end of this post.

Roman numerals are now seen at the opening frames of older films, e.g. MCMIX (quite a number of famous Hollywood releases in 1939 (to have already given away conversion of MCMIX). The only other use is to promote a bowl of befouled fowl body parts in the cold cave of early February.

Proceed you now to several pages:


Mnemonics aids learning, it’s one way to hold onto fragile new knowledge while it attempts to land safely and securely in long-term memory.

Here I am quoting myself in a letter to Barbara —


Your kind letter has made my year 🙂 Thank you so much for reading my article. You never know just how far your words can travel.
I am writing a series on my discoveries in Arabic and I want to share how much Sugar Comes from Arabic helped me overcome the daunting challenge that mastering its script represented. Now I find myself enthralled by each encounter — from the unexpected thrill of gently pulling the pen along the paper rather than plowing into the paper, then immediately covering it up in the “normal” way that my left-handedness dictates in left-to-right English.
I taught German for many years and know how limited and mundane many methodologies simply are. Bringing language alive doesn’t just happen. My introduction to Arabic began with one of my Palestinian students. I still have the slip of paper that became my introduction. Finding your book was the next discovery that piqued my interest and resolve to keep at it.
Well it seems that I am already writing the next in that series of Arabic discoveries by composing this reply. So I return to the SaFaRi into the desert that is the blank page — a SaHaRa 🙂

:End Quote

Let’s check out another page:


Here’s a rhetorical question: Why do so many books on Arabic use small and grainy fonts?

Arabic script is a joy. Barbara Whitesides’ book is both beautiful and inspiring.

Thanks for reading.