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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Arabic numbers III: 11-1000

If you’re looking for the numbers 1-10, and you should before you read this, go here.

When it comes to the higher numbers, everything after ۱۰ (10) follows some kind of pattern, so after we get through the teens I’ll only be showing a few examples to illustrate the pattern.

11-19; as in English, where we say “thirteen” or “three-ten,” Arabic will say ثلاثة عشر (thalāthah ʿashr, literally “three-ten”). Unlike English, Arabic doesn’t break the patter for “eleven” and “twelve,” and good for Arabic in my opinion.

English name

Western Arabic numeral

Eastern Arabic numeral

Arabic name

Arabic name transliterated

eleven

11

۱۱

أحَد عَشر

aḥad ʿashr

twelve

12

۱۲

اِثنا عشر

ithnā ʿashr

thirteen

13

۱۳

ثَلاثة عشر

thalāthah ʿashr

fourteen

14

۱٤

أربَعة عشر

arbaʿah ʿashr

fifteen

15

 ۱۵

خَمْسة عشر

khamsah ʿashr

sixteen

16

۱٦

سِتّة عشر

sittah ʿashr

seventeen

17

۱۷

سَبعة عشر

sabʿah ʿashr

eighteen

18

۱۸

ثَمانية عشر

thamāniyah ʿashr

nineteen

19

۱۹

تِسعة عشر

tisʿah ʿashr

Now we can count up by tens:

  • 20 (twenty): عَشرون (ʿashrūn) or ۲۰
  • 30 (thirty): ثَلاثون (thalāthūn) or ۳۰
  • 40 (forty): أربَعون (arbaʿūn) or ٤۰
  • 50 (fifty): خَمسون (khamsūn) or ۵۰
  • 60 (sixty): سِتّون (sittūn) or ٦۰
  • 70 (seventy): سَبعون (sabʿūn) or ۷۰
  • 80 (eighty): ثَمانون (thamānūn) or ۸۰
  • 90 (ninety): تِسعون (tisʿūn) or ۹۰

And now by hundreds:

  • 100 (one hundred): مِئة (miʾah or, more archaically, مائة) or ۱۰۰
  • 200: مئتان (miʾatān — dual form of مئة) or ۲۰۰
  • 300: ثلاث مئة (thalāth miʾah) or ۳۰۰
  • 400: أربع مئة (arbaʿ miʾah) or ٤۰۰
  • 500: خمس مئة (khams miʾah) or ۵۰۰
  • 600: ستّ مئة (sitt miʾah) or ٦۰۰
  • 700: سبع مئة (sabʿ miʾah) or ۷۰۰
  • 800: ثمان مئة (thamān miʾah) or ۸۰۰
  • 900: تسع مئة (tisʿ miʾah) or ۹۰۰
  • 1000 (one thousand): ألف (alf) or ۱۰۰۰

When you’re stringing numbers together you just use a lot of “ands,” and you read largest to smallest until you get to the tens and singles places, which are inverted, like so:

  • 28 (twenty-eight): ۲۸ (ثمانية و عشرون, thamāniyah wa ʿishrūn)
  • 51 (fifty-one): ۵۱ (واحد و خَمسون, wāḥid wa khamsūn)
  • 739 (seven hundred thirty-nine): ۷۳۹ (سبع مئة و تسعة و ثلاثون, sabʿ miʾah wa tisʿah wa thalāthūn)

To somebody accustomed to a left-to-right writing system, it seems like Arabic strangely writes its large numerals left-to-right (above, “739” is ۷۳۹), even though the rest of the language is written from right-to-left. Like many things in Arabic, it’s best if you just roll with it.

When counting things with these higher numbers, you counter-intuitively follow the number with the singular noun, in indefinite accusative (direct object) case, and the singles digit part of the whole number takes the opposite gender as the noun. I know; again, just try not to think about it. For example, “73 books” (book is a masculine noun, كتاب) would be ثلاثة و سبعون كتاباً (thalāthah wa sabʿūn kitāban), and “57 magazines” (magazine is a feminine noun, مجلّة) would be ًسبع و خمسون مجلّة (sabʿ wa khamsūn majallatan).

مولد النبي

The birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, called مَولِد النَبي (mawlid al-nabī) or just مولد, is being observed today, the 12th of the month ربيع الأول (if you want to be technical about it, the commemoration started at sundown last night, and I guess it’s ended by now in most of the world, but it’s still worth noting). Though not one of the major Islamic holidays, many Muslims do commemorate Muhammad’s birth with decorations and by exchanging small gifts or sweets.

Mawlid is not a universally celebrated holiday, for a couple of reasons. There’s no historical record of the earliest Muslims celebrating Muhammad’s birthday as a special event; the first widespread Mawlid celebration doesn’t appear in the record until the 12th century, though there are records of earlier, smaller observances. So for modern self-proclaimed “fundamentalists” the holiday is an innovation and therefore illegitimate. Honoring a historical figure’s birthday also comes too close to revering or worshiping that person for those arch-conservative groups, which would make it an example of the most serious sin in any monotheistic faith. So you’re not likely to find any sanctioned Mawlid celebrations in Saudi Arabia, or being organized by ISIS. But in most of the Islamic World Mawlid is treated as an important cultural marker if not an especially religious one, more Presidents Day than Christmas. This blog is certainly not in the business of litigating inter-Islamic religious debates, so I’m not here to comment on Mawlid’s legitimacy, but this does offer us a chance to explore a little vocabulary.

  • prophet: نبي (nabī)
  • prophethood: نبوة (nubuwwah)
  • birthday: ميلاد (mīlād) or مولد (mawlid)
  • to be born: ولد (walada)

سنة جديدة سعيدة

Happy New Year 2015, everybody! Please enjoy this post from a couple of New Years ago!

Arabic Word a Day

Sorry for the break in posting! Visiting family and a nasty cold will do that to you.

Most Arabs mark at least two “New Years” on their calendars, the Islamic and the Gregorian (many, especially in Iraq, may celebrate a third, Nowruz). As the Islamic calendar is lunar, and therefore shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the Gregorian date of the Islamic New Year floats; for example, we are currently in the year 1434 on the Islamic (Hijri) calendar, and the year 1435 will begin roughly around November 4, 2013. I say “roughly” because lunar calendar dates depend on the phases of the moon, so any attempt to map them to Gregorian dates in the future may be off by a day or so in either direction. The Islamic New Year is marked quietly, with prayer and reflection on the Hijra, or the Flight of Muhammad from…

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Vegetables: خضراوات

Back to food, let’s get healthy and talk vegetables.

Have I missed your favorite? Leave it in comments and I’ll add it!

“Vegetables” is خضراوات (khaḍrāwāt), which comes from the root خضر, “to be green.” A particular vegetable (especially if you’re growing it and are referring to it in the botanical sense) could also be called نَباتي (nabātī), from the root نبت, “to grow, sprout.”

  • artichoke: خُرشوف (khurshūf)
  • asparagus: هِليَون (hilyawn)
  • avocado: أفوكادو (afūkādū)
  • beets: بَنجَر (banjar, From Greek, I think? Where beetroot is “panjar,” apparently?)
  • broccoli: بروكلي (brūkulī)
  • cabbage (includes things like kale): كُرُنب (kurunb)
  • carrot: جزر (jazar)
  • cauliflower: قَرنَبيط (qarnabīṭ)
  • celery: كَرَفس (karafs)
  • chicory (includes things like endive and radicchio for you fancy salad types): هِندِباء (hindibāʾ)
  • cucumber: خيار (khiyār)
  • eggplant: باذَنجان (bādhanjān)
  • garlic: ثوم (thūm)
  • leeks: كَراث (karāth)
  • lettuce: خَس (khass)
  • mushroom: فُطر (fuṭr)
  • okra: بامية (bāmīyah)
  • onion: بَصَل (baṣal)
  • parsnip: جزر أبيض (jazar abyaḍ, “white carrot”)
  • peas: بازِلاء (bāzilāʾ)
  • pepper (red, green): فِلفِل (filfil)
    • green pepper: فلفل أخضر (filfil akhḍar)
    • red pepper: فلفل أحمر (filfil aḥmar)
    • yellow pepper: فلفل أصفر (filfil aṣfar)
  • potato: بَطاطا (baṭāṭā) or بَطاطَس (baṭāṭas)
  • pumpkin: قَرعة (qarʿah)
  • radish: فُجُل (fujl)
  • spinach: سَبانِخ (sabānikh)
  • squash: قَرعة (qarʿah) or possibly إسكواش (iskwāsh)
  • string beans: فاصوليا (fāṣūliyā)
  • sweet potato/yam (I know they’re different but as far as I know Arabic doesn’t distinguish): بَطاطا حَلوة (baṭāṭā ḥalwah)
  • tomato: طَماطِم (ṭamāṭim)
  • turnip: لِفت (lift; careful not to say “laft” because that could mean “admonition” or “warning”)
  • zucchini: كوسة (kūsah)

عاشوراء (Ashura)

The holiday of عاشوراء began at sundown last night. Please enjoy the post I wrote about عاشوراء last year.

Arabic Word a Day

Sundown today marked the beginning of the Islamic holiday known as Ashura or عاشوراء (ʿāshūrāʾ), notable primarily for its significance in Shiʿi religious identity. This post by Dr. Michael Collins Dunn at the Middle East Institute describes the meaning behind holiday. This is the tenth day of the month of Muharram (محرم), or in other words the tenth day of the new Islamic year, and it takes its name from the name of the Arabic numeral ۱۰ (our 10), عشر (ʿashr).

Both Sunni and Shiʿi Muslims recognize Ashura as a holiday, the provenance of which goes back to Muhammad who advised his followers to fast on this day (he identified it as the day when the Israelites escaped from Egypt). He may have intended that it would correspond to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which is also the tenth day of the new year on…

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Meats: لحوم

Keeping with a food theme, here are Arabic words for some common meats. This is a fairly straightforward list, since as we do in English for everything except beef, Arabic uses the same vocabulary for the meat as it does for the animal it came from. I’m including a few non-halal (حلال, “permitted,” akin to “Kosher” if you like) meats, because (and this should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway) not everybody who speaks Arabic is a Muslim.

Have I missed your favorite? Leave it in comments and I’ll add it!

Meat, لَحم (laḥm):

  • Beef: لحم بَقَر (laḥm baqar, “meat of a cow”), لحم بَقَري (laḥm baqarī)
    • Hamburger: هامبرغر (hāmburghar)
    • Steak: شَريحة لحم (sharīḥat laḥm, literally “slice of meat”)
    • Veal: لحم عَجل (laḥm ʿajl)

NOTE: you can use either form (with or without that final ي) for all of these, so I’m only going to mention both forms here at the beginning

  • Chicken: لحم دَجاج (laḥm dajāj), though you may also see the Turkish طاووق (ṭāwūq) or the Egyptian colloquial فراخ (firākh)
  • Turkey: لحم ديك رومي (laḥm dīk rūmī)
  • Lamb: لحم خُروف (laḥm khurūf)
    • Mutton: لحم ضأن (laḥm ḍaʾn)
  • Goat: لحم ماعِز (laḥm māʿiz)
  • Camel: لحم إبل (laḥm ibl)

NOTE: there are a lot of different Arabic words for different kinds of camel, but إبل is the most generic and so it is best for this context.

  • Pork: لحم خَنزير (laḥm khanzīr)
    • Ham: لحم خَنزير again, or لحم خَنزير مُدَخَّن (laḥm khanzīr mudakhkhan, “smoked pork”)
  • Bacon (halal bacon can be made from turkey, beef, even fish, provided it’s prepared in the correct way): بَيكون (baykūn)
    • Pork bacon can be called لحم خنزير مُقَدَّد (laḥm khanzīr muqaddad), or “crunchy pork”
  • Sausage (again, halal sausages can be made with beef, turkey, lamb, chicken, etc.): سُجُق (sujuq, from the Turkish sucuk) or نَقانِق (naqāniq), which can also be spelled مَقانِق (maqāniq)
  • Fish: لحم سَمَك (laḥm samak)
    • Salmon: سَلمون (salmūn)
    • Tuna: تونة (tūnah)
  • Lobster: لحم كَركَند (laḥm karkand)
  • Shrimp: لحم جَمبَري (laḥm jambarī)
  • Crab: لحم سََلطَعون (laḥm salṭaʿūn)

Eid Mubarak (عيد الأضحى)

Eid al-Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice, begins tomorrow, so here is my post on the festival from last year.
عيد مبارك to those observing the festival, and Tzom Kal (צום קל, I think) to those who are observing Yom Kippur, which began tonight.

Arabic Word a Day

Today marks the second religious festival of the Islamic calendar, after the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast, عيد الفِطر (ʿīd al-fiṭr, Eid al-Fitr), that follows Ramadan. It is called the Festival of the Sacrifice, عيد الأضحى (ʿīd al-aḍḥá, Eid al-Adha), and is the more important of the two, informally known as the “Greater Eid” (عيد الكَبير, ʿīd al-kabīr).

The festival commemorates an event that should be familiar to anybody who has some knowledge of the Bible, the episode in Genesis known as the “Binding of Isaac” (Genesis 22). God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son and Abraham, understandably conflicted, ultimately chooses to obey God even at the cost of his son, only to have an angel stop him just as he’s about to kill the boy, Abraham having proved his devotion to God by his willingness to obey even such a…

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The Hajj

With the Hajj beginning today, I thought I would rerun my post on the annual pilgrimage from last year.
حج مبارك

Arabic Word a Day

Pending the observed phase of the moon (as with every other annual Islamic event, which if you recall are dated according to the lunar Hijri calendar), it appears that the Hajj for the year 1434 AH will begin either Sunday or Monday. I thought I would take the opportunity to write a post about Islamic pilgrimage in general, which you can find at my regular blog. Here we’ll talk about the Hajj and look at some relevant vocabulary. I will add some Persian and Turkish pilgrimage vocabulary as well.

The Hajj (الحَجّ) is a group pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, in the western region of Saudi Arabia known as the Hejaz (الحِجاز, al-ḥijāz). It is, with the exception of Ramadan, the central event of the Islamic calendar. Its completion is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey is…

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How many Arabics are we talking about here?

If you know anything about Arabic in the modern world you know that it’s not really “Arabic” so much as a collection of “Arabics,” the various regional dialects that share a common root but diverge from each other (at least in the spoken language) in many, sometimes significant, ways. This blog deals almost exclusively with Modern Standard Arabic, or الفُصحى (al-fuṣḥá), except for the odd colloquial phrase thrown in here and there. MSA will help you learn to read the language pretty well, and can get you through an Al Jazeera broadcast, but I’m afraid that if you’re wandering about any old Arab city or village it’s a 50/50 proposition whether you’ll be understood (a lot of the vocabulary is widely applicable though, which is part of the reason why this is more of a “word of the day”-type blog and not a “let’s learn Arabic” one). This phenomenon, where members of one language community use one dialect in some contexts (formal speech, writing) and another in other contexts actually has a technical name, “diglossia,” and its one of the more interesting things about studying Arabic as a language. In a sense I guess you could compare Arabic today to Latin a millennium or so ago, when its regional dialects predominantly used in speaking, but formal Latin was still used in certain contexts. Except that where those dialects eventually became formal, literary languages in their own rights, widespread literacy and modern telecommunications might keep Arabic in a state of diglossia indefinitely.

Anyway, Slate published a piece a few days back from a legitimate Arabic student (not just Some Guy with 3 years of Arabic under his belt pounding on a computer keyboard) at the School for Oriental and African Studies in London (also a good sign), Michael Erdman, on just this subject (“Arabic” and its variants), that I’m sure would be of interest to the people who stop by this place. Arabic really is unique among most modern languages in the variety and complexity of its dialects:

All language-learners face the difficulties of regional variations or dialects. Usually, it takes the form of an odd word or turn of phrase or a peculiar pronunciation. For most languages, incomprehension is only momentary, and the similarity—what linguists often refer to as the mutual intelligibility—between the standard language taught to foreigners and the regional speech pattern is maintained. For a language such as French, only the most extreme cases of dialectical differences, such as between Parisian and Québécois or Cajun, pose considerable difficulties for both learners and native speakers of dialects close to the standard. For other languages, however, differences between dialects are so great as to make most dialects other than the standard totally incomprehensible to learners. Arabic is one such language.

The problem that faces most learners of Arabic is that the written language is radically different from the various dialects spoken throughout the Arab world. Such differences appear in a variety of forms: pronunciation, vocabulary, syntax, and tenses of verbs. The result is that even the most advanced learner of standard Arabic (or ‘the standard’) might find herself completely at sea on the streets of Beirut, while it is also conceivable for a student to complete a year of immersion in Cairo and not be able to understand a text written in the standard language.

When you consider that the “Arabic World” stretches all the way from the Atlantic coast of North Africa in the west to the Persian Gulf and Iraq in the east, that this vast region once contained a vast array of regional languages that assimilated themselves into the regional Arabic, and that various parts of the region have been ruled over the centuries by a string of non-Arab empires, colonizers, etc. whose languages also affected the development of Arabic in their zone of control, it’s kind of amazing that the whole language has held together as well as it has.