Why did Arabic take so long to review? And why do I feel like I’m still lacking in really understanding the gist of it?
I had these sentiments when I first read about it when I was in middle school. I constantly feel as though I’m trying to browse two languages: written Arabic and spoken Arabic. When I first selected it for this project I admit I was a little thrilled, but now that spark has nearly fizzled.
SUMMARY: As you probably already know, Arabic’s rise to fame comes from Islam. It can also be attributed to the discovery of an epitaph by French explorers that led to modern day transliteration and also to monks who trailblazed the way for functional presses with Arabic script.
But did you know that Arabic script traces back thousands of years ago to a Proto-Canaanite (and later Phonecian) alphabet? The history of Arabic script is really interesting, as 29 Letters, a blog covering the Arabic alphabet, shows.
Here are some basics about Arabic that stand out to English speakers:
-It’s an VSO language
-When writing words, vowels are often omitted and diacritics are used
-words have masculine/feminine forms
-auxiliary verbs don’t really exist
Arabic does have an impressive vocabulary and I love the hearing the words, but to be honest, they’re indecipherable to me. Many of them look the same and this is due to the three-consonant root feature in Semitic languages. Vowels and affixes are added to make different words.
Several sounds that don’t exist in English sound like utterances, like the ﻉ sound, which is basically, well, uttered in the throat (although English speakers butcher pronunciation on a daily basis and could be accused of being difficult to understand). Also, I just read that there are apparently stresses in words? Huh?
This video of Arabic phrases sort of demonstrates how I would have a mental block:
Maybe I simply don’t understand, but I wonder how long it would actually take to distinguish sounds. What complicates this further are the variety of dialects in the Arabic-speaking diaspora. MSA is practical, but it doesn’t really cut it.
FINAL IMPRESSIONS: It looks and sounds elegant, but there is so much more to Arabic than meets the eye! I think the writing system was my favorite feature. For everything else, Robert Lane Greene from Slate echoes my overall thoughts on Arabic. I don’t know how fond I am of its intricacies, but it seems like it would be a somewhat enjoyable challenge.
By the way, here’s a lovely video of Arabic singer Lena Chamamyan by one of my rockstar readers, Patricia:
COMING UP: Czech