The Intricacies and Joys of Arabic

I ima­gine that most people with a passing interest in lin­guist­ics read Maciej CegÅ‚owski’s short essay in praise of the Arab­ic lan­guage when it was ‘redis­covered’ by pop­u­lar social net­works a few months ago.

As one who has stud­ied Arab­ic (albeit MSA and only for nine months or so), the essay brought back fond memor­ies of strug­gling to com­pre­hend the strange-yet-won­der­ful intric­a­cies of the Arab­ic lan­guage. Here are just a few the ways that Arab­ic “twists healthy minds”, accord­ing to CegÅ‚owski:

  • The Root/Pattern Sys­tem: Nearly all Arab­ic words con­sist of a three-con­son­ant root slot­ted into a pat­tern of vow­els and help­er con­son­ants.
  • Broken Plur­als: Most of the time to make a plur­al you have to change the struc­ture of the word quite dra­mat­ic­ally.
  • The Writ­ing Sys­tem: The Arab­ic writ­ing sys­tem is exot­ic look­ing but easy to learn, which is a rare com­bin­a­tion.
  • Dual: Arab­ic has a gram­mat­ic­al dual — a spe­cial form for talk­ing about two of some­thing.
  • The Fem­in­ine Plur­al: Form­al Arab­ic dis­tin­guishes between groups com­posed entirely of women and groups that con­tain one or more men.
  • Crazy Agree­ment Rules: e.g. [Maciej’s] abso­lute favor­ite is that all non-human plur­als are gram­mat­ic­ally fem­in­ine sin­gu­lar
  • Funky Num­bers: Ù© Ù¨ Ù§ Ù¦ Ù¥ Ù¤ Ù£ Ù¢ Ù¡ – The names of the num­bers come with truly ter­ri­fy­ing agree­ment rules, like “if the num­ber is great­er than three but less than elev­en, it must take the oppos­ite gender of the noun that it mod­i­fies”.
  • Diglos­sia: This is where it really helps to love lan­guage study.