Yesterday I attended at el Kotob Khan a presentation and discussion about the rise and fall of the arab civilization. It was an event organized by PTP. Dr. Qassem Abdo Qassem was a remarkable guest speaker.

Camel gave us an introduction on the arab culture in general, then Dr. Qassem takled for a while about the growth of the Islamic civilization and its decadence, then we had a time for questions.

One of the things that I was thinking about was about the language.

There was a time when Arabic was the dominant language of science, philosophy, literature,,, etc. If any scholar wanted to further his knowledge in any field, he’d have to learn Arabic in order to ensure his exposure to a wider range of resources, and if he wrote anything, he’d write it in Arabic to ensure a wider audience. Even El Ghazali wrote most of his works in Arabic, except for only two which he wrote in Persian.

So my point is, definitely there is an crucial relation between the use of the language and the rise and fall of its civilization. So when I write a story or thoughts in my blog in English, am I unintentionally weakening my civilization?!

Anyway, here is a nice collection of Arabic loanwords in English (From Wikipedia), there are other pages for the Arabic influence on other languages (like French and Spanish)…Some words are just so close, I can’t imagine how I didn’t notice them before!
For example:
admiral: أميرالبحار, amīr al-bihār commander of the seas
adobe : الطوب at-tūb, the bricks
barrio : barriya, open country, from barr ‘outside’ (of the city).
hazard: الزهر az-zahr, chance, name of the pieces used in the game of ‘nard,’ or ‘tawola.’
jar  : جرة jarrah, large earthen
magazine  : maxāzin, (or makhāzin), storehouses
sherbet, sorbet, shrub, syrup  : شراب sharāb, a drink

I was just discussing with some friends who are well acquinted with the ancient Egyptian language, we were talking about the words we use in the colloquial Egyptian Arabic that have no origin in the Arabic language. Here are some examples:

Bekh بخ : the word we use to frighten others, it actually means عفريت / ghost in anc
kani wi mani كاني و ماني: we use in the meaning that the person says nonesense, actually means سمن و عسل /
Maarafsh معرفش: “I don’t know”, when we say this word, we turn our palms upward, and the shoulders are shrugged a bit. This body language was drawn! And it was pronounced “khom” خم, another word we use when someone talks about something he doesn’t know, or when he tricks another person.

I also heard that some of the words we say to little kids, like تاتا (tata) when he starts walking, or امبو (embou) when he drinks, these are also ancient words!

This is another side of the impact of the language on the daily life of people. We are using words without knowing their real meanings and origins. Just like history. I may not be aware of historical events and wars (for example el Ayubids, the mamluks times,,,) but definitely it left its marks in our consciousness.


7 responses to “اللغة

  1. thoughts in my blog in English, am I unintentionally weakening my civilization?!

    Very good point. However, one has to remeber that English is now a sort of an international language. you may well write in English, only if you want to target an international crowd. Then, you could still use a good English- but it must remain Arabic in content and neither American nor British. In a differnt sense use the language and use well, yet you must never be a part of it.

    What freaks me is when I see shops putting up English posters, or using English names even when they are writen in Arabic, or when people speak Arabic with an english tone where they take pride in not being able to pronounce d’d or k’af.

    And what is most horrible ,is that he use of the beautiful classical Arabic has become a joke material, thanks to the likes of Sha3ban, Adil Imam …..etc

  2. Interesting ya Nousha, we really use words that we have no idea what they really mean and from where do they come from.
    Actually if you analyze a very casual conversation you will find a collection of languages all combined together … weird, but I personally do that and I am not proud of it.

  3. Please do keep using english in your blog, Nousha! I also love to see you writing in Arabic and, obviously, in my language.

    by the way, two of the words you put up as an example of Arabic influence in the english language are actually spanish: adobe and barrio. We took them obviosly from you, and later exported them to America, where the ex-british colony adopted them to their common talk.
    Finally they came back to Europe as part of the English language…

    curious, don’t you think?

  4. amre El-abyad: well as u said, English became an international language, and as Egypt depends greatly on tourism, then it’s normal to find English words everywhere (in street signs, shops names,,, etc). What freaks me out is when people think that English names are more modern and that Arabic names are bi`a.
    Unfortunately I confess that my Arabic right now is much worse than my Arabic when I was at school. Beleive it or not, but I used to love النحو! (thanks to some teachers who loved the arabic language so much), for me it was more of a game, you just need to know the rules and then nothing can stop you… I hope that I will get back to this feeling once again…

    Nesrina: it is very normal that we combine different languages in one conversation. The spoken language is a very lively creature, it adapts very quickly to any changes in the society. The Arabic language faced lots of challenges starting from the 20th century, when it had to include newly identified terms (coming mainly from the west that has originally taken words from us).

    Let’s consider two situations:
    an advertisment for an Adobe photoshop course… most probably it will be translated something like ادوب فوتوشوب as it would be hilarious to find it written الطوب / محل التصوير.
    At the same time, if you told someone asking him to delete a file, you’ll say something like “dalett el file law samaht”, but if you send him a memo you won’t say “داللت الفايل لو سمحت”!! you will either turn it to “احذف الملف من فضلك” or you will say it in English….

    dear Julio
    Thank you for your comment. Actually I know the word “barrio” in spanish (meaning subsurb or district), and frankly I was surprised when I saw it on wikipedia as البرية / el baria in arabic “wilderness”! I think it was first understood as that part away from down town, and later on it was understood as a suburb,,, that’s my guess.

  5. amre el-abyad: well, It’s quite normal to use English (alongside the Arabic) in shops names, street signs,,,etc. If I were in China I would love to be able to know where I am and the diretion of the place I’m going to 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s