Problems with Nahw? I Think Not

March 22, 2009

So Islam, one of the cute 10 year old kids who lives on my street, has taken lately to quizzing me on Arabic grammar (nahw), which in all honestly I actually suck at. He comes up to me and says a sentence and asks me to put the case endings (i’arab) on it. Modern Standard and Classical Arabic, because Arabic is such an easy language to learn, have case endings at the end of words depending on what role the word is playing in the sentence. For example, if you are talking about a boy (weled) and the boy is the subject of the sentence, one would put the case ending damma (in the position of marfuah) on the end of the word, turning it into “weledun.” If the boy is object of the sentence, it becomes “weledan.” Now no one actually speaks this way and in fact, no ones speaks in Modern Standard Arabic, but it is important to know for reading, writing, etc.

So Islam gives me the setence “the boy is playing in the garden.” Which with the case endings should read “yelabu al-weledu fil hadiqati” (marfuah, marfuah, and then because of the preposition, majrur). Which is what I said, which was correct. But he told me that “garden” should be marfuah! Pfff. WRONG. Who should be quizzing who now? 10 year olds…

“Struggling to Learn Arabic in Egypt”

March 19, 2009

I kind of feel obliged to post this article; but it does do a fairly good job of explaining the usages of Modern Standard Arabic (fusha), Egyptian Colloquial (amiyya), and English in Egypt. The vast majority of Egyptians do not speak fusha but can understand it when they read it in papers. And using it in the street will certainly elicit blank stares. As the author gives an example of trying to use his fusha in a taxi when he first arrived in Egypt, I remember trying to buy a cell phone in the 2006 when I was here for a summer. I went into the Vodaphone store and said “I would like to buy a phone please,” which to the guy working there probably sounded something like “It is my desire to undertake the act of purchasing a device with which I might correspond over the air waves” (ok, that is an exaggeration, but you get the point).”  “أنا أريد أن أشتري هاتف من فضلك.” So I quickly learned for example, that not a single Egyptian says the word “hatif” for phone, but rather “mobile.”عايز موبايل”

Egyptians speaking to me or responding to me in English used to be something that really annoyed me. I am here in your country, living among you, learning your language, so help me out please and don’t treat me like a “khawaga” (kind of like the term “gringo”) all the time, especially when I am speaking to you in Arabic and may I say pretty damn good Arabic, relatively at least. But then my roommate made a good point after one of my rants about it that if I were at home in the US and I met some Egyptians I would probably do the same thing and speak to them in Arabic to either practice or show off that I know it or both. So I have come to understand why it happens and try to get a little less annoyed by it.

Everyone here wants to learn English. Really. I can’t tell you home many random people I have met on the street who have said to me “I’ll teach you Arabic; you teach me English.” The English language for many people here is a way out. The better English they speak, the better job they can get, the easier it might be to travel abroad, etc. And of the course there is the ever-prevalent issue of “prestige” (which has actually become its own word in amiyya). One is more “presitgious” if one speaks English.