Arabic tidbits

A friend explained some of the intricacies of Arabic to me the other night; I thought I’d write down the most striking aspects:

  • Status in the ancient Arab world was greatly influenced by your language abilities. Ancient heroes were language experts, not usually warriors or political leaders.
  • The Koran, in fact, was especially notable due to its masterful Arabic language. The quality of the writing was what gave it authenticity.
  • Perhaps because of this, the ancient vocabulary was much bigger than today’s.
  • Arabic generally uses a single, unique word to express even complex subjects. It does not use prefixes or suffixes to build word, so words with similar meaning can sound very different.
  • The written language mostly omits vowels.
  • Objects (“table”) have gender and verbs depend on which gender the person you’re speaking about is.
  • Plurals have a special case when there’s exactly two of something.
  • Students generally enter university without any formal training in grammar. Most take an introduction to it just to experience how difficult it is.
  • The meaning of a word depends on its position in the sentence and its pronunciation.
  • Ancient writing can still be read, as the script is much the same.
  • Poets would battle each other – just meet and try to impress each other with their command of language. One famous story tells of a poet who amazed his challenger by responding with a sentence that was a complete palindrome and still fit the conversation.
  • When a line doesn’t work, the phrase “it won’t rhyme” means it doesn’t match one of the traditional 13 poem templates.
  • Every line has to fit that pattern.