October 8, 2009 | Arabic

My Multilingual Neighbors

A walk through my building's lobby gives me multiple foreign-language opportunities.

Today Brandt got a huge splinter in his foot—the biggest I’ve ever seen. After dramatic surgery in the bathroom, I went to the drugstore and got bandages, because we were out.

West 72nd Street, with Pharmacy

On the way out of the building, I briefly spoke Spanish to an older, natty-looking neighbor of mine, and then German to another older, natty-looking neighbor who is always very friendly to me. (There are hundreds of units in our building, so I don’t know everyone by name, though I know the majority by sight.)

On the way back into the building from the drugstore, I spoke Spanish to some workers from our building. These were all brief, inconsequential exchanges, but I got such a kick out of them, and out of switching back and forth between languages. I think I will soon be able to have a lot more of this type of conversation. I hope so anyway.

Russian and Arabic really do seem to have a number of similarities, especially when compared to Western languages I have studied.

For example, they both have one-word equivalents for what are more complicated constructions in English (if these are faulty transliterations, the fault is mine):

  • lazim in Arabic = nuzhena in Russian = “it is necessary” in English
  • momken in Arabic = mozhena in Russian = “it is possible” in English

Comments (4)

Luba • Posted on Sun, February 13, 2011 - 8:04 am EST

Wow! I never thought of Arabic as similar to Russian:)
I don’t know Arabic, but I know some Hebrew, and it’s very similar to Arabic in grammar and some vocabulary (I was told that it is so, and I see from your entries that indeed a lot of grammar looks very similar to Hebrew). Hebrew also has one-word for both “it is necessary” and “it is possible” (and also for “it is prohibited” - as well as Russian has).

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, February 13, 2011 - 11:00 pm EST

Thank you for your comment, Luba! I am really looking forward to Hebrew (and any grammatical similarities to other languages will be welcome!). People have been telling me Hebrew is easier than Arabic…I wouldn’t complain if that is true. :)

Luba • Posted on Sun, February 13, 2011 - 11:49 pm EST

I actually do think that Hebrew is easier than Arabic. Apparently, Arabic has cases, and Hebrew doesn’t. Cases are always hard, I can’t even imagine how people study Russian with all the cases.
Hebrew is pretty straightforward with all the root-and-pattern system, there are very little exclusions, you just need a good grammar book.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, February 13, 2011 - 11:56 pm EST

I LOVE when there are no cases!

Yes, the cases in Russian were a bit of a shock. But an interesting adventure nonetheless.

I hope I find the root-and-pattern thing easier this time around! It remains a bit mysterious to my English-based mind.

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