September 2, 2009 | Arabic
Written Arabic: Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No.
Arabic looks nearly impossible, but it's not.
One thing I did not know about Arabic before starting this project, that I feel I should have known, is that vowels are not written. Oh my god! Instead, you have long strings of consonants. If vowels are indicated, which is not the norm, it is by means of dots and other marks over and under the surrounding consonants.
Another thing I didn’t know: depending on where a given Arabic letter falls in a word, you may have to write a different version of it. Arabic letters have isolated forms, for when they are standing on their own, but can also have initial, medial, and final forms depending on whether they appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Wikipedia has an Arabic alphabet table (just scroll partway down the page and you’ll see it). I am going to have to do a lot of practicing.
Arabic is written right to left. I thought that would be really hard to get used to, but it’s actually not bad! And it’s pretty. At left are a few flashcards from the book Your First 100 Words in Arabic, published by Passport Books.
One gripe: the Nicholas Awde/Putros Samano alphabet book I mentioned yesterday (book excerpts are available online) has way too much religion in it. I am currently practicing writing words like “minister,” pronounced waziir, and “religion,” pronounced diin.
This is a category of word I do not use much in writing and speech; I’d prefer to spend more of my time on vocabulary relating to books, or maybe food.
In spite of these obstacles, things are going surprisingly well. I had no idea I’d be able to grasp some of the basic principles of writing Arabic so quickly. From a distance, it seemed impossible. But that’s a stupid American attitude.