Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Arabic Lessons

A fabulous article in the New York Times about learning to speak Arabic. I know a little bit about Arabic from my linguistics classes, but never really caught on to how hard it was. Additionally, it is a widely spoken language that has been around for hundreds of years and over a geographically and ethnically diverse region, so there are many dialects. It is probably similar to learning to "Chinese", since there are a bunch of different languages spoken in China, and that's languages, not dialects. A particularly fascinating passage is linked below.

For anyone who knows only European languages, to wade into Arabic is to discover an endlessly strange and yet oddly ordered lexical universe. Some words have definitions that go on for pages and seem to encompass all possible meanings; others are outlandishly precise. Paging through the dictionary one night, I found a word that means “to cut off the upper end of an okra.” There are lovely verbs like sara, “to set out at night”; comical ones like tabaadawa, “to pose as a Bedouin”; and simply bizarre ones like dabiba, “to abound in lizards.” Dabiba (presumably applied to towns or regions) is medieval, but I wouldn’t put it past Dr. Zawahri to revive it.

No comments: