I found this brilliant blog post a few days ago, and had to share it here. My father’s native tongue is Arabic, but I was brought up speaking English – something I regret deeply, as it would have been great to have been raised a bilingualist. I picked up bits here and there growing up, but have little understanding of the grammar and syntax of modern Arabic, so this post really opened my eyes to what a complex language it is. In this blog entry, they give 11 reasons why Arabic is such a varied and interesting language, though sadly this goes hand-in-hand with it being difficult for native English speakers to learn.
Here’s an excerpt – you can read the whole entry here.
In English, you make most words plural by adding a suffix, except for a very small number of words (like ‘feet’) where there is a vowel change instead. Arabic does this the other way around. There are a few words that take a regular plural suffix, but most of the time to make a plural you have to change the structure of the word quite dramatically:
kitaab -> kutub (book)
ustaath -> asaatitha (teacher)
maqha -> maqaahi (café)
dukkan -> dakaakiin (store)
ahdar -> hudur (green)
This holds even for borrowed words:
film -> aflaam
jaakit -> jawaakat
Other Semitic languages have broken plurals, but as with other unusual language features Arabic runs this one furthest into the end zone.
The Writing System
The Arabic writing system is exotic looking but easy to learn, which is a rare combination. The language uses a straightforward alphabet, but because letters change their shape depending on what their neighbors are it is quite impenetrable to the uninitiated.
For exmaple, here are some “words” consisting of a single letter repeated three times:
ييي ععع ههه ككك للل
You can easily master Arabic writing without learning the language (here is a great book for it if you’re interested); it will take you about two weeks. Go to the museum and impress your date with your ability to appreciate Arabic calligraphy on a deeper level!