Friday, July 6, 2012

Arabic is Easy


So every Arab country has turned Modern Standard Arabic (fusha) into its own indistinguishable-even-to-one-another spoken language.   Every Arab still reads, writes and attends plays wrapped in fusha.  Nouns, verbs, adjectives - it's all just lines on a page.  Put 'em together you got an alphabet.  Mix those alef-bah-tahs up, you got words.  Send 'em out to the world and boom: conversation.

Arabic doesn't use capital letters or is.  How hard could it be?

Every word in Arabic (there are well over a billion) has a unique singular and plural combination of letters, each with its own male, female and dual (ie, two) forms.  Present and past tense verbs are conjugated by adding and removing prefixes and suffixes like a speed-dating runway model.  There are (at least) 12 pronouns - first, second and third person; male, female, male and female, dual.  And numbers? (Copied from my workbook): 
    ·         numbers 1 and 2 after noun!
    ·         from number 3 onwards all numbers before noun!
    ·         If the noun is masculine the number is feminine!
    ·         If the noun is feminine the number is masculine!
    ·         This is valid for the numbers 3-10 as well as for all higher numbers
    ·         In consequence the units of the numbers above 10 take the opposite gender to the noun

Each of the 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet has three shapes, depending upon whether it appears at the beginning, middle or end of a word.  There are special letters to indicate no sound.  Only beginning Arabic readers use vowels (harakat).  "You figure out what the word is and how to pronounce it from how it's used in the sentence," explains a teacher.  She shrugs.  "Or ask someone."

no harakat

An American says, "Hi." Arabic speakers say "Salaam alaykum wo rahmahoo Allahi wo barakaatoo."

Every greeting has a special, often lengthier response.   Because, whether entertaining or speaking, "It's important to give more," says a teacher. 

Instead of aunt or uncle, Arabs say my mother's sister, your father's sister, her mother's brother, their father's brother, his mother's father, our mother's mother, my father's father, our father's mother (and so on).

Okay, so Arabic isn't easy and I titled this blog just to get your attention.  Truth is learning Arabic is kind of like driving in Doha:  blazing fast with words speeding along outside your field of vision, on the sidewalk, cutting across fields, squeezing in where there are no lanes and tickets issued for breaking invisible rules.

light traffic at 6am
Of course, I'm just a beginner - hoarding harakat like a baby with her blanky.

"This class is very easy," says my wonderful, patient, unflappable teacher, Doctor Menal.  "Next level - it is very hard.  Long sentences, small print, many words."

Okay. I'm game. As long as they don't take away my vowels.
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