The ability to comprehend the Arabic language and converse in it is considered by some to be one of many defining traits of the Arab people. Yes, this means—even if you've never lived in any Arab country, have no Arab heritage, and don't have a taste for the sound of an oud—but you hold fluency in the Arabic language, you may be considered an Arab. Double points if you are a Troper. Welcome
Whether you're wondering what it takes to become an Arab or not, welcome to the page. Every language has developed and flourished through the culture of its speakers. It's not true that the camel is the main mode of transportation for Arabs living in or near the desert today but it is
true that there are many words for camel. All these words stem from the very profitable trade of camel as livestock among the bedouins and the bedouins wanted to know exactly what they were getting, hence each word reflects different attributes of the camel such as age and gender. Cultural context aside, let's get into the basics:
- The Arabic language is one of the most spoken languages in the world. The language holds high prestige among Muslims because it is the language of Qur'an (the literal Word of God) and it is highly encouraged that converts to Islam learn Arabic to be able to interpret and read the Qur'an on their own. Alright, religion aside...
- The Arabic language is commonly listed as one of the hardest languages to learn for native English speakers, be it because of the very unfamiliar phones or complex grammarnote . It's actually pretty straightforward in many respects. For instance: most words are derived from the "root" system.
- The root system involves breaking down roots into two (biliteral roots), three (triliteral roots—the most common type), or more (hardly ever more than four, and even four somewhat rarely) "radicals", or base letters. These letters are outfitted with different vowels and affixes to reflect different shades of meaning as nouns or conjugation in the case of verbs.
The Basic Root
When explaining how the root system works one will usually use the triliteral root commonly transliterated as "F 3 L" (ف ع ل). Without any affixes these letters in this order (and remember: Arabic is written from right to left) as a noun mean "action" or "verb". As a verb they mean "to do"note
. Adding and changing vowels and affixes can change the nature of the word such as (the root is bolded):
- فِعْلٌ (fi3-lun): "action" or "doing" (The vowelization for this noun form varies unpredictably for other roots)
- تَفْعِيْلٌ (taf-3eelun): "the act of making another do something/ to do intensely"
- تَفاعُلٌ (tafaa3ulun): "the act of doing something with somebody" or "to interact"
Outfitting different roots with the same noun form (also called وزن, or "measure") will yield similar changes in meaning. For example, "عون" means "help" and "تعاون" means "cooperation". There are many more measures and every noun form follows (more-or-less) the same pattern of conjugation for the verb form.
Writing in Arabic is more similar to writing with the Roman alphabet than an English speaker might think at first. Outside of Arabic, the Arabic writing system is referred to as an abjad
(أبجد) and functions very similarly to the Roman alphabet. Each phoneme has it's own letter and no letters have more than one phone (excluding alif
). What really gets beginners is the way letters are connected
The Arabic alphabet consists of 29 letters (or 28, as Arab grammarians are divided as to whether not ''hamza'' should be considered it's own letter or some kind of auxiliary symbol for an ''alif''
). Each letter can connect to other letters in the same word in one of two ways:
- It cannot connect to the letter after it:
- It can connect to the letter after it:
- ب, ت, ث, ج, ح, خ, س, ش, ص, ض, ط, ظ, ع, غ, ف, ق, ل, م, ن, ه, and ي
Upon learning which letters cannot connect and which can all you need to learn is how each letter is written depending on its position in a word and then plug them in as is appropriate. For the sake of brevity in this section that will not be shown on this page.
Short vowels (and a symbol specifically to not have a vowel) are marked with diacritics. A small tick above a letter is a fat-ha
(فتحة) and it indicates a short "eh" sound as in the word "bed". A small tick below a letter is a kasra
(كسرة) and it indicates a short "ih" sound as in the word "sit". A small symbol that looks like a "و" that sits above a letter is a dhamma
(ضمة) and indicates a small "u" sound as in the word "put". Dipthongs are created when placing a fat-ha
before a "و" or a "ي" making an "oh" and "ey" sound, respectively.
In Everyday Writing
The kind of Arabic used in the Qur'an is known today as Classical Arabic and bears extreme resemblance to—and may even be considered identical to—the Formal Arabic of today. Only in religious texts or the Qur'an itself will one find diacritics being written. They are merely implied in text written for mundane things like a letter to a friend or a newspaper. This poses a problem for people who have learned how to read diacritics but don't have much vocabulary down, as the pronunciation will have to be inferred by the context of the word.
It is common to adorn covers of the Qur'an, household pictures, curtains, and anything else you would most definitely find when visiting the home of an Arab family with complex renderings of stock phrases such as "The Noble Qur'an", "In the name of God, Most Glorious, Most Merciful". Sometimes they are so complex they just look like a bunch of illegible squiggly lines and dots
. It looks awesome, though
Dialects vary so wildly, most Arabs might be considered to be Separated by a Common Language
. Yemeni Arabic and Egyptian Arabic are about as mutually intelligible as Cantonese and Mandarin
, for example. Egyptian Arabic is the most popular due to the prevalence of Egyptian media in the Arab World. In fact, every Disney
movie that has been dubbed in Arabic has been dubbed into Egyptian Arabic. This happens even though most media directed towards children in Arab countries(and movies made by Disney would be considered children's movies there despite being marketed as movies for the whole family in the United States) is in Formal Arabic the same way children are taught proper English in the United States at school. This can generate the odd side effect of one sounding like a cartoon character when having a casual conversation
despite one not using "advanced" vocabulary at all and instead just using small things like indefinite markers or proper case endings—none of which are used colloquial speech.