I had already decided that it was time for an Arabic blog. But yesterday evening’s class produced an incident (positive) that was further blog-fodder. So here we go; two posts for the price of one.
Putting me further outside of the mainstream, my first thoughts about Arabic are neither political nor religious, but food, culture and art. Food is a moderate obsession, helped along by the number of fantastic Arab eateries in my hometown. I love Arab art, with its focus on abstract patterns and calligraphy.
The cultural and artistic came immediately to mind when our Arabic teacher produced a video to help us with Arabic vowel sounds. Arabic only really has three vowels, but then short and long versions of each. “u” (like “run” or “done”) and “aa”; “oo” (short like “book” or “took”) and “oo” (longer, take my word for it); “i” and “ee”.
The video was from a Saudi program teaching Arabic to foreigners living in the Arabian Peninsula. The section that we looked at was about the alphabet. It was structured as a kind of verse/chorus, where the chorus was the whole Arabic alphabet. The verse was a man pronouncing pairs of sounds, to differentiate the short and long vowels: nahar, nahaar. Jim, jeem.
There were two ways of determining that the voice was male. The first, most obvious and least fun was that the tone was a (light) baritone. Far more interesting was the visual accompanying the sounds. A disembodied mouth filled the screen, with a neatly-trimmed moustache and a soul patch under the lower lip. For a non-representational art, this was a highly appropriate way of showing the articulation of the various sounds, while remaining true to the cultural heritage.
An even more interesting approach was the “chorus” of the alphabet. Each time that this was sung, the view would swing over a series of (Doric?) columns in a stylised landscape, each column topped by a different Arabic letter.
I wish that I could find the sequence to link to. So far, no good, but I have found a series of children’s songs for the alphabet. If you want to learn your batatha, go for it.
On the theme of letters, last night we worked on another three letters of the alphabet; “djim”, “haa” and “chaa”. The last of these is a straight-forward guttural; the “ch” from L’chaim. The trickiest sound for all of the students was the second sound. It is not an English “h” – that is a different Arabic sound. This one is an aspirated “haa”.
On my own I would have struggled mightily with the sound – and probably ended up making a plain old English “h”. But, one of my classmates – Thanks Cameron – remarked that he had heard that the secret to a well-aspirated “haa” was to imagine breathing on a pair of glasses to clean them. Bingo – and payback for thirty-five years of spectacle wearing.
Which was exactly what I had hoped would happen at some point within the group class environment. When you are in a room with eight people, only one may be called a teacher, but you can learn from anyone. I did.