طقس (weather)

Let’s look at some basic weather-related vocabulary. Obviously some of these phenomena aren’t going to be easily encountered in most of the Arab-speaking world, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, right?

  • weather: طقس (ṭaqs) in the abstract, but جو (jaww) if you’re talking about specific weather)

    • sun: شمس (shams); “sunny” is مُشمِس (mushmis) or شامس (shāmis)
    • clouds: غيم (ghaym), one cloud is غيمة (ghaymah); “cloudy” is غائم (ghāʾim) or مغيم (mighayyim)
    • rain: مطر (maṭar); “rainy” is ممطر (mumṭir)
    • fog: ضباب (ḍabāb); “foggy” is ضبابي (ḍabābī)
    • snow: ثلج (thalj); “snowy” is مُثَلَّج (muthallaj)
    • hail: برد (barad), a single hailstone is بردة (baradah)
    • wind: ريح (rīḥ); “windy” is رَيِّح (rayyiḥ — aren’t Arabic short vowels just the best?)
    • breeze/gust: نسيم (nasīm)
  • temperature: حرارة (ḥarārah), “heat”; “degree of temperature (heat)” is درجة الحرارة (darajat al-ḥarārah)

    • cold/cool: بارد (bārid)
    • warm: دافئ (dāfiʾ)
    • hot: حار (ḥār)
  • humidity: رطوبة (ruṭūbah)

    • humid: رطب (raṭb)
    • dry: جاف (jāf)

“How’s the weather?”: كيف الجو (kayf al-jaww) or كيف الطقس (kayf al-ṭaqs)

“It’s sunny”: الجو مشمس (al-jaww mushmis); adapt for other conditions

OR alternatively you can use دنيا or “world” instead of جو or “weather,” like so:

“It’s sunny”: الدنيا مشمس (al-dunyā mushmis); again, use whatever word describes the right condition

“It’s raining”: يمطر (yumṭiru)

“It’s snowing”: يثلج (yathliju)

“It’s cold today”: الجو بارد اليوم (al-jaww bārid al-yawm)

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The Day of Atonement

Today (at sundown, to be precise) is also Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year for Jews. I bring this up first to wish any Jewish readers an easy fast, but also because linguistically it’s a quick and easy way to highlight the common Semitic roots of both Arabic and Hebrew. “Yom Kippur” (which is, I hope, יום כיפור in Hebrew, because if it’s not then I’m afraid I just offended somebody) literally translates into Arabic as يوم غفور (yawm ghafūr). “Yawm,” or “yom” means “day,” obviously, and there’s some common Semitic root for the idea of “forgiveness” that developed into GH-F-R in Arabic and K-P-R in Hebrew. The relationship between “f” and “p” is so close that there’s an actual linguistic law about it, albeit one developed in the Indo-European context, and “gh” and “k” are similar enough sounds as well.

I should note that يوم غفور is not how you’d actually say “Yom Kippur” in Arabic. You might want to use عيد الغفران (ʿīd al-ghufrān), the “festival of forgiveness,” though calling it a “festival” when you’re supposed to be fasting strikes me as a little odd. يوم الغفران (yawm al-ghufrān) is also acceptable, and may actually be a little preferable, though I honestly am not sure on this one.

In the (very old) news: the Aswan Dam

When I was a lowly first-year Arabic student many years ago, the textbook we used was this very austere-looking orange-colored tome called, austerely, Elementary Modern Standard Arabic 1.

That’s the one!

EMSA is a perfectly cromulent textbook — it teaches you the right grammar, writing, reading, etc. — as long as you have no particular interest in learning the sort of vocabulary that you might need to engage in a normal conversation with another normal human being. Instead of writing lesson texts and dialogues around everyday things like talking about the weather, or ordering food in a restaurant, the writers of EMSA get into some really targeted topics, like elections in the US and a discourse on the status of women in the Arab world — important topics, but not the kind of thing you’re likely to get into as a first-year Arabic student who might want to exchange pleasantries with an Arabic speaker on vacation.

One of the most infamous of EMSA’s esoteric texts is one on the Nile River, mostly because of its four short paragraphs, one is devoted to the construction of the High Dam at the Upper Nile city of Aswan. The Aswan Dam was built in the 1960s as part of the Egyptian government’s modernization program, to control water flows on the river and generate electricity. Why? Who knows? Even in 1968, when EMSA was first written and while the dam was being built, I’d be willing to bet that you’d be exceedingly unlikely to meet any Arabic speakers who wanted to casually chat about the Aswan Dam with some newbie American Arabic student. And it’s not like “dam” vocabulary has a lot of general usefulness.

By the time you get to the “River Nile” text in the book, the student is already familiar with the fact that these texts are on pretty formal topics that use some fairly specialize vocabulary, so this paragraph is kind of like the whipped cream on top of the absurd sundae and usually the class has a nice laugh at it. Or at least they did; as far as I know most Arabic 1 classes these days use a different text, الكتاب في تعلم العربية (al-Kitāb fī Taʿallum al-ʿArabīyah; “The Book for Learning Arabic”), in part because it teaches more useful vocabulary.

Anyway, I mention all this because today is the 45th anniversary of the completion of the dam in 1970, and when I read that I immediately thought of this text from my Arabic 1 textbook. I looked at the vocabulary and, you know, it’s not as bad as I remembered. Some of it actually could be useful even to an introductory Arabic student. So I thought, in honor of the Aswan Dam’s anniversary and my memories of first-year Arabic, that I would reproduce the vocabulary list (changed slightly to make it more generally useful) from that lesson for you here today:

  • نَهر — أنهار (nahr, anhār): river/rivers
  • النيل (al-nīl): the Nile
  • طَويل — طِوال (ṭawīl, ṭiwāl): long, tall (when applied to a person)
  • أطوَل (aṭwal): longer/longest
  • كَبير — كِبار، كُبراء (kabīr, kibār, kubrāʾ): big, old (when applied to a person)
  • أكبَر (akbar): bigger, biggest
  • الأمازون (al-amāzūn): the Amazon
  • المِسيسِبي (al-misīsibbi): the Mississippi
  • أسوان (aswān): Aswan
  • الأُقصُر (al-uqṣur): Luxor
  • سُد — سُدود (sadd, sudūd): dam
  • بَذَلَ — بَذل (badhala, badhl): to exert, exertion
  • جَهد — جُهود (jahd, juhūd): effort
  • شارِك (shārik): participating, joining
  • ساعَدَ (sāʿada): to help/assist
  • مُساعَدة (musāʿadah): assistance
  • عَظيم — عِظام، عُظَماء، عَظائم (ʿażīm, ʿiżām, ʿużamāʾ, ʿażāʾim): great/huge/grand
  • اِقتِصاد (iqtiṣād): economy
  • اِعتَمَدَ على (iʿtamada ʿalá): to rely upon
  • ماء — مِياه (māʾ, miyāh): water
  • أبعَد (abʿad): furthest, utmost
  • حَد — حُدود (ḥadd, ḥudūd): border/extent/limit
  • قَديماً (qadīman): long ago
  • صَغير — صِغار (ṣaghīr, ṣighār): little, small, young (when applied to a person)
  • كَثير — کِثار (kathīr, kithār): much/many
  • كَثيراً (kathīran): often/a lot
  • الإسكَندَرية (al-iskandarīyah): Alexandria

رمضان ۱٤۳٦

Sundown tonight will be the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan for some people around the world (moon observations make it hard to pinpoint these things exactly), so if you’re interested please enjoy my past writing on the topic.

Arabic Word a Day

(at least for some folks)

This evening marks the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan or رَمَضان (ramaḍān) in the Americas and parts of Africa (elsewhere the start of the month will come a day later). Tradition holds that it was near the end of the month of Ramadan, on the “Night of Power” (لَيلة القَدر, laylat al-qadr) that Muhammad received his first revelation, the first of the series of revelations that would comprise the Qur’an (قُرآن, Qurʾān). The specific day of the Night of Power is up for debate, but almost everyone agrees that it was one of the last five odd-numbered nights of the month, with most going with the 27th as opposed to the 21st, 23rd, 25th, or 29th.

As with the beginning of all months in the Islamic calendar, the first day of the month is identified astronomically, by observance…

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