I imagine that most people with a passing interest in linguistics read Maciej Cegłowski’s short essay in praise of the Arabic language when it was ‘rediscovered’ by popular social networks a few months ago.
As one who has studied Arabic (albeit MSA and only for nine months or so), the essay brought back fond memories of struggling to comprehend the strange-yet-wonderful intricacies of the Arabic language. Here are just a few the ways that Arabic “twists healthy minds”, according to Cegłowski:
- The Root/Pattern System: Nearly all Arabic words consist of a three-consonant root slotted into a pattern of vowels and helper consonants.
- Broken Plurals: Most of the time to make a plural you have to change the structure of the word quite dramatically.
- The Writing System: The Arabic writing system is exotic looking but easy to learn, which is a rare combination.
- Dual: Arabic has a grammatical dual — a special form for talking about two of something.
- The Feminine Plural: Formal Arabic distinguishes between groups composed entirely of women and groups that contain one or more men.
- Crazy Agreement Rules: e.g. [Maciej’s] absolute favorite is that all non-human plurals are grammatically feminine singular
- Funky Numbers: ٩ ٨ ٧ ٦ ٥ ٤ ٣ ٢ ١ – The names of the numbers come with truly terrifying agreement rules, like “if the number is greater than three but less than eleven, it must take the opposite gender of the noun that it modifies”.
- Diglossia: This is where it really helps to love language study.