Thursday, April 30, 2009

What Arabic Grammar Can Teach Us About Societal Uniquenesses

El 3atal and I were having a bit of a conversation about Arabic grammar today. Quite an esoteric subject, admittedly, but sometimes these things just come to mind. I take Arabic 3 days a week and my knowledge is basic, but usable these days. At any rate, we were talking about the two different types of subjects in Arabic (the mubtada and the fa3il).

For those who don't know, the mubtada is the subject of a nominal sentence (i.e., il kiis hawn = the bag {is} here). In this type of sentence, the "to be" verb is understood. There is no word for "is" in the sentence. You just "know" it's there based on definite articles (did I mention that Arabic is laughably difficult, in the laugh or you'll cry sort of way that is?).

So, El 3atal queries himself, so how do you say "is". Ahh, see and here it is ladies and gents... in Arabic you can say became, or was, but not is. So, is it any wonder that people seem to either live in the past or the future? There's not even a verb for the present, now is there? Any thoughts? Shall we invent a new word to help people think of the here and now (and the impact of their here and now actions on the future)? Any suggestions?

It is always so interesting what the way a language is used says about its people... More thoughts on this topic later.

Happy State of Being!


At 9:06 AM , Anonymous kinzi said...

Oh my, profound!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Never thought about that one, but how interesting!!! I wonder, because the present just 'is'?

My favorite grammar/societal indicator is when the glass breaks itself. No causation, it wasn't anyone's fault. Except the glass it itself, since it broke itself.

At 10:04 AM , Anonymous Huba said...

Isn't "Yakun" an arabic word for "is"?

I mean, it is not used a lot, since it is usually "understood", but such a word exists.

At 2:16 PM , Blogger Jad said...

As Huba said, "Yakun يكون " is the equivalent of "is" but you don't use it unless you want to write something very classical or it can be used formally to emphasis on something but surely it has no room in colloquial Arabic.

Are you taken colloquial or classical Arabic course?

At 1:03 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you use the letter ي at the begining of any verb it will donate the present tense i.e : يأكل يلعب يرسم etc.

At 4:52 AM , Blogger abu 'n um tulip said...

Read this post yesterday and still trying to come up with some clever response, as this language stuff is right up my alley. I agree with Kinzi that the passive voice is so indicative of the culture. 'The car was hit, rather than, that shab over there hit my car!' Yakun can mean 'is' but most often is used with sayakun which means 'will be'. yujid also can sort of mean 'is' but means 'there is found'. There is basically a tense for completed action (past) and an incomplete action (present/future ish). In colloquial learning the prefix '3am' was very helpful, as in 'huwwi 3am byukil' or 'he is eating'. 3am gives the idea of something currently taking place. 3am was just added into our curriculum, by the way. So the question is, are people here living in the past or the future? I'm just trying to get through today! ~ Um tulip

At 12:03 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Kinzi and Um Tulip, now you just gave people a glimpse into my next post on this topic... That's on of my favorites too.

Huba, you may be correct in classical Arabic, but spoken in Jordan not so much.

Jad, I take spoken Arabic with some grammar in the curriculum. The focus is on the patterns of the Arabic language and being able to speak and interact with people. And, I mean to tell you, it's shway shway all the way!

At 1:00 PM , Blogger UmmFarouq said...

Right. The "is" is understood, because we're not going around saying "yakun" in our speech (although I'd like to be able to). Spanish also has these reflexive verbs that take the blame off of the subject and put it on the object. Instead of saying "I've forgotten the information," the "information has been lost on me, or lost itself on me." Darn information. Blame the glass for breaking itself, di'di' the table for bumping into your child's head. Love it.

At 1:42 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Umm F, precisely. Of course, in out house, the tables, chairs, and doors do bite, so you must be careful when visitin ;). Teehee.

At 5:01 AM , Blogger NasEr said...

I'm really interested in your closing argument, "It is always so interesting what the way a language is used says about its people" .I find it overweening and i don't like it !!

At 9:09 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

NasEr, my friend, not sure what got your gander up in that statement... If it's that I applied it only to Arabic in this case, rest assured an English view of this is coming. For instance, in English, we have only one conceptual idea of shme, shameful and being ashamed. In Arabic you have three. Our focus is in a very different place. Not a better one, just very different.

Another would be about how good Americans are at offending people then apologizing not for the offensve thing, but for the other person feeling offended. Again, I'll post more fully about this later (when I get 10 minutes together). But I do find it interesting personally. Germans had no word for Monster and so brought in the English word. What may that help us understand about them? Each language has its own uniqueness whcih says something about its people. What I see may not be what you see, but in looking I'm sure that we will each see things that tuch our understanding.

At 6:22 AM , Blogger NasEr said...

could be partially the second;its probably the way you "said it" , I'm the last to stick up for anything Arab/ic for just being that, If it was an Arab friend who made a remark about other nation I'd have told him the same.
so,will be waiting your elaboration on this nevertheless, languages interest me so much and while staying here I've came to conclude that languages has so much more interesting things in common than differences .which doesn't make the differences less interesting .so go ahead :d.
but i dont' promise to be around so soon as I'm coming back homeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee after 30 hrs exactly ,so i'll be enjoying allll the things you and Kinzi rant about :ppppppp
later :)

At 6:20 AM , Blogger J said...

I'm loving the language posts. My husband and I took a language and culture class together in college and it went into that and was sooo interesting!

I'd love to take an Arabic class like that here in the US! I'm guessing I'd be taught classical, though, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. It would be great if there was one for families- or one for adults and one for the kids simultaneously. They are 20 mo and 3.5 yrs, but I'd like them to learn, too. They'd probably pick it up faster. Anyway, any ideas on where to find a good, useful Arabic class in the states?


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