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12 reasons why Arabic is terrific
August 23, 2011 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Why Arabic is Terrific
posted by wpenman (66 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool stuff. I would love to see a series of, I don't know, short "coolness grammars"-- little sketches written in a popular tone that explain various AWESOME facets of a given language. I would have wet myself reading such a thing as a proto-linguistics-major high schooler with little outlet for my fascination.
posted by threeants at 4:41 PM on August 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


"The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning."

This is a Pratchett reference, not OMH OTHERS hate, although it works both ways, weirdly! Except I'm pretty okay with others. And Pratchett.*

*Not elfs, though. I hate elfs.**

**Like, a lot.

posted by curious nu at 4:52 PM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


An oddly ranty paean to learning Arabic. That being said, the part about the arcane rules for numerals made me laugh. I took a term of Persian in London and everyone else in the class was doing an Arabic/Persian degree and fresh off their first year of Arabic; when we got to numbers they were absolutely incredulous when they heard how simple they were; and when the professor insisted that yes, that's all there is to it, they were practically dancing in the aisles.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 4:52 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Number 51,462: In some Arabic writing, "Libya" is totally symmetrical!

ليبيا

... well, maybe just when I write it.
posted by Winnemac at 4:53 PM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


So I would like to stand up for the language nerds and give some reasons for studying Arabic that have nothing to do with politics.

Only problem being, you've already made your political stance uncomfortably clear. And sort of a gimmicky intro to your blog post. How about less rant and more nerd, please.
posted by stroke_count at 4:57 PM on August 23, 2011


Eddie Murphy's take on spoken Arabic. 18 years before 9/11 and the War on Tuhr. [0:38 - NSFW language - NSFW orange leather jacket with matching NSFW orange leather pants]
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:04 PM on August 23, 2011


Most of those cool aspects apply equally to Hebrew: the three-letter roots and their mostly regular transformation into nouns and verbs, the dual and multiple plurals (both for masculine and feminine), the use of unique numerals (each Hebrew letter has a numerical value; also the basis for "gematria" or mystical numerology), and the glottal stop (if you're a speaker of Yemenite origin).
posted by holterbarbour at 5:05 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Only problem being, you've already made your political stance uncomfortably clear.

...I didn't feel uncomfortable at all to me. I thought it was funny.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:07 PM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Looks like I unleashed my dual plural anecdote one day too early.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 5:09 PM on August 23, 2011


What political stance are you talking about stroke_count?

"I just finished a summer studying Arabic at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, an enjoyable adventure that I hope to write about in more detail later. MIIS offers a nine-week program in a bunch of languages and is just down the road from a grim military counterpart called the Defense Language Institute, where young men and women learn how to eavesdrop on the nation's enemies, provided that the enemies speak slowly and limit their conversation to hobbies and the weather.

The DLI is big on hiring native speakers, and ever since the scary men in turbans replaced godless Communism as a mortal threat to America it has not been hard to find good hummus in Monterey. About two thousand soldiers grind their way through a sixty-three week intensive Arabic program each year, while about sixty civilians attend the unrelated and much shorter programs at MIIS.

Of course, now that Arabic is the key language for career advancement in places that have no sign out front and a large eagle emblem in the lobby, the civilian programs have begun started to attract the kinds of calculating douchebags who used to make studying Russian so unpleasant. They are still in the minority, but having even one of these guys (and they're always guys) in your class can lead to needless suffering *.

So I would like to stand up for the language nerds and give some reasons for studying Arabic that have nothing to do with politics. The language of the National Designated Other is bound to switch to Chinese in a couple of years, but until colleges start teaching Martian, Arabic is going to remain the strangest, most interesting language you can study in an undergrad classroom."

No hint of any particular political bias there.
posted by joannemullen at 5:12 PM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I really enjoyed that, thanks.
posted by empath at 5:18 PM on August 23, 2011


I would love to see a series of, I don't know, short "coolness grammars"-- little sketches written in a popular tone that explain various AWESOME facets of a given language.

Russian does something similar to Arabic with numbers, where up to four of a thing gets the nominative plural (четыре вилки), but five and over gets the partitive plural (пять вилок). Textbooks don't distinguish it from the genitive plural, but some grammars do. Russian also used to have a dual number, but all that remains of that is some semi-irregular plurals descended from the old dual.

Or, here we go: Russian verbs that express continuous, incomplete processes have three tensed forms —However, the almost parallel set of Russian verbs that express complete, singular processes only has two tensed forms, as follows:Furthermore, Russian verbs are marked for number in all tenses, for person in the present and future, and for gender exclusively in the past. Don't know whether these features make one more or less eager to learn the language.
posted by Nomyte at 5:20 PM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


It must be said that all Semitic languages are like this, indeed Hebrew (if my Hebrew school learning still exists in my head is similar)

lekotev - to write

ketuba -contract (usually marriage)

native speakers can correct me.
Interestingly book in Hebrew is sefer - from some other root obviously. Library in Hebrew is sefriyah or something like that.

Aramaic, Maltese, even IIRC afro-asiatic languages that are not strictly Semitic like Hausa or Amharic have this as well.
posted by xetere at 5:24 PM on August 23, 2011


Several years ago I decided to learn some Arabic for fun, the first step of which was to memorize the basic alphabet, and then try to decipher the more decorative calligraphy. It wasn't long before I found myself in a bar, trying to read the foam rigs of my half-consumed glass of Guiness. The beer was communicating with me, but it made no sense. And this is why the Qur'an forbids alcohol.
posted by hanoixan at 5:25 PM on August 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


Don't miss the footnote!

There's something about intelligence agencies - maybe the familiar comfort of a three-letter acronym on the wall, maybe the late-night spanking parties - that draws fraternity boys like ants to a picnic, and right now the road to bro advancement leads through an Arabic classroom. Their complete lack of a sense of irony allows these students to combine sincere appreciation for The Fountainhead with a desire for a lifelong career in government service, and the hardest part of studying Arabic is having to listen to their asinine opinions after they have gained enough proficiency to try to express them.

Bias isn't it exactly, but when someone writes about the evils of "Othering" and then follows it with a series of derogatory stereotypes and slurs about large, diverse professions and social groups, it makes me feel a little worse about them.

All he needs to do now is complain about how Hipsters are ruining Arabic and he'll have hit a bingo
posted by Winnemac at 5:25 PM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


And DLI is not "grim," it's a rather pleasant campus, with a beautiful view of the bay, up on the same hill where Danny and the paisanos used to drink and hide from the MPs.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 5:34 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if "awesome" could be applied to English progressive tenses, including I do go. I know French has "je suis en train de" and Spanish has "sort of" progressive but I think English is kind of cool that way, plus the pronoun + do + verb, which can function as either a more polite imperative or a contradiction of a negation is cool.

examples, "Do go and pour yourself a drink" slightly less bossy than "pour a yourself a drink" and "Yes I do help with the housework!"

How did any Mefites who learned English as a second language handle that.

and I find the subjunctive and conditional of romance languages "awesome"
posted by xetere at 5:35 PM on August 23, 2011


I read this earlier in the week. It is hilarious. As is his sidebarred piece about eating steak in Argentina. But I'm sure any minute now the HUMORLESS STEAK BRIGADE will appear to be all "Ugh, this was terrible, he doesn't understand ANYTHING about Argentine pastries, I'm so offended!"
posted by thehmsbeagle at 5:48 PM on August 23, 2011


Idlewords is awesome. If you like his sense of humor don't miss "Dating without Kundera," "Argentina on Three Steaks a Day," and "I Spy."
posted by werkzeuger at 5:50 PM on August 23, 2011


And don't fall for the bait and switch with Chinese or Japanese! They might tempt you with an exotic writing system, but after a few months you find out that the underlying language is pretty vanilla, and meanwhile there is a stack of three thousand flash cards standing in between you and the ability to skim a newspaper.
Why dump on other languages? Does coolness have to come from dissing others?

"...this gives foreign students of Arabic a positively Oriental tendency towards vagueness."

And "inscrutable Oriental" BS to boot? Yuck.
posted by jiawen at 6:18 PM on August 23, 2011


As a left-handed person, I wish English was written right-to-left instead of the having to face the smear-ridden consequences in school.
posted by Renoroc at 6:20 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


como que "Spanish has sort of a progressive"?

it's the verb ESTAR + a GERUND

estoy bebiéndome una fría = am drinking a cold one

where do you get the idea that's "sort of"?
posted by liza at 6:28 PM on August 23, 2011


It's humor writing, and the politically correct handwringing in this thread is ridiculous. If you've come here before RTFA, I urge you to give it a chance.
posted by werkzeuger at 6:28 PM on August 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


Here's a thought: just pretend it's a Matt Taibbi article about how much he enjoyed studying Arabic, and then either read it or avoid it.
posted by uosuaq at 6:39 PM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Liza I was given to understand (by my fluent wife amongst others) that the Spanish progressive is closer to *but not the same as* the French "Je suis on train de" rather than I am /verb/-ing.

Ergo "right now" I am eating a sandwich, French would use Je suis en train de manger un Sandwich, and Spanish would say Estoy comiendo un sandwich, bit if I was at a restaurant and said "My wife is having the fish, I am having the steak" one would not use the progressive in that sense in Spanish.

Or even in the sense of "Harry was walking home one day when,..."

Again, not native, so could be wrong.
posted by xetere at 6:42 PM on August 23, 2011


All he needs to do now is complain about how Hipsters are ruining Arabic and he'll have hit a bingo.
I don't know if hipsters are, now, actively ruining Arabic (another thread example of the progressive aspect), but that is exactly the sort of thing I would expect hipsters to do to it.
posted by adoarns at 7:17 PM on August 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have a t-shirt with the Unknown Pleasures cover art on it but "Joy Division" is written in Arabic instead of English. And I live in Brooklyn! Sorry guys and gals, already ruined it.

However, it is a great conversation piece at my local delis.
posted by Falconetti at 7:22 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Harry was walking home one day when,..."

That would call for the Spanish imperfect, right? "Un día, Harry caminaba á casa, cuando…"

Somebody, please stop me if my high-school Spanish is getting ahead of me.
posted by Nomyte at 7:22 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


To address only one of the points against this article: in my experience, in the US when you study, shall we say, "politically important" languages, there's usually a contingent of people who are studying said language in order to work in some kind of foreign service, and these people tend to have radically different language goals, attitudes towards study and learning, and even personalities than the other students. That's the most polite way I can think of to put, but often the lack of sensitivity and interest of said students makes me want to describe them in more impolite language.

Also, I want every language to have a root system like Arabic.
posted by goodglovin77 at 7:31 PM on August 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Written Arabic leaves out vowels

that is super annoying.
posted by The Whelk at 7:32 PM on August 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I did. Sorry, not funny, just annoying.
posted by jiawen at 8:05 PM on August 23, 2011


There is no present tense of the verb is in Arabic.
posted by humanfont at 8:13 PM on August 23, 2011


Cool stuff. I would love to see a series of, I don't know, short "coolness grammars"-- little sketches written in a popular tone that explain various AWESOME facets of a given language. I would have wet myself reading such a thing as a proto-linguistics-major high schooler with little outlet for my fascination.

Yeah, I would really love for a linguist to tell me some cool things about Chinese grammar and writing, because it is a difficult and discouraging language and I could use some motivation.

(but from what i've learned so far his claim that it's a "vanilla" language is basically wrong. even leaving out the characters.)
posted by vogon_poet at 8:30 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


As crazy as Arabic grammar and morphology are, nothing beats Georgian grammar for exquisite WTF complexity and irregularity.
posted by LMGM at 9:31 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The article was OK, but the author really doesn't get the fact that 600 years (for classical Arabic) isn't a very long time. I don't have much difficulty reading the clearer Dead Sea Scrolls, and there are inscriptions much older than those. I understand that the same goes for Greek: educated speakers can at least puzzle out texts that are well over two thousand years old, even without classical training.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:50 PM on August 23, 2011


Thanks for the fun and insightful article. I was going to be content with having learned to just pronounce/write arabic, but after this (the 3-consonant root system? wow) I may delve a little deeper.

Just a quick shout out in defense of Chinese though. (I'm choosing to turn a blind eye to his unforgivable crime of grouping Chinese and Japanese together in one sentence, and pretend he's only talking about Chinese here)
And don't fall for the bait and switch with Chinese or Japanese! They might tempt you with an exotic writing system, but after a few months you find out that the underlying language is pretty vanilla, and meanwhile there is a stack of three thousand flash cards standing in between you and the ability to skim a newspaper.
While the author is right about the Chinese grammar being relatively simple (a la "just list the words one after another and they form a sentence"), he stands to be corrected on "the stack of 3,000 flash cards".

Every learner of the Chinese language, after munching through a few hundred characters, soon realises that there is a clear and systematic (and fun!) pattern to how the vast majority of these letters are formed. What I'm referring to is 形声 (literally, "picto-phonetic", where one half of the character gives meaning (the radical) and the other half supplies the sound), and it's actually just one of the six methods (六书) of forming Chinese characters. 形声 is why you can usually pronounce a Chinese word and have a rough idea of what it means, even though you have never seen it before. It is also precisely because of this clever system that new additions can be made to the ever-growing vocabulary of the Chinese writing system, ensuring its survival through the test of time. Yes, it still requires a lot of brute-force memorization (and who uses flash cards when we have Pleco?) but I'm guessing that's the same in learning any new language.
posted by baejoseph at 10:22 PM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


what he means by "vanilla" is that spoken Chinese isn't so different in its grammar structure than English, and sometimes simpler. You have subject-verb-object structure, but no plurals, he and she are the same pronoun. I didn't get very far in Chinese, but the only difficult thing I encountered grammar wise were the number words - how
every noun had to have a special word which went with it (like saying a gaggle of 6 geese or a herd of 10 cows - only for EVERYTHING). Pronunciation was very hard - not the tones (there are only four in Mandarin), but consonants that we don't use in English.

So, yeah, Arabic sounds more challenging grammar-wise. But Chinese sounds prettier :)
posted by jb at 10:33 PM on August 23, 2011


Thanks for that clarification jb.

Re: similarities between Chinese and English, I would even go as far as to say sometimes, their similarity goes so far that it begs the question, "how come?"

E.g. The "I'm afraid" part of "I'm afraid he won't be making it to the party tonight." No other Asian language I know uses the verb 'to be afraid' in that context, where fear has nothing to do with it, except the Chinese. (我恐怕。。。)
posted by baejoseph at 11:08 PM on August 23, 2011


"The books, she is green"

I don't wanna say it but I TOLD YOU SO
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:38 AM on August 24, 2011


Maltese is fun. It's very similar to and mutually comprehensible with some North Tunisian Arabic dialects, has vast overdue fines to pay on loan words from French, Italian and English, and is (as far as I know) the only semitic language written in Latin script.

It is also Not Arabic. Just ask most Maltese.
posted by Devonian at 12:52 AM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry to be pedantic, but: am I the first to notice the article actually lists 11--not 12--reasons Why Arabic is Terrific? Or am I missing something here? (funky arabic/indian numerals? oh I don't know)
posted by baejoseph at 1:19 AM on August 24, 2011


Yeah, I shall jump on the hate-on by noting that after dissing DLI, the author recommends a DLI text-- and gets the title wrong.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 1:37 AM on August 24, 2011


The Whelk: "Written Arabic leaves out vowels

that is super annoying.
"

Written Arabic leaves out vowels, and by nature of its root system, those unwritten vowels are important in distinguishing words! Check out the chart he included in that post, 'books' and 'to write' are written the same way. And 'book' and 'writer' are only one keyslip away from each other. It's not a language for the dyslexic or easily confused.

this is why I took 4 years of Persian, but only one quarter of Arabic
posted by Gordafarin at 5:08 AM on August 24, 2011


"The Unfolding of Language", by British linguistics professor Guy Deutscher, goes into the Semitic root-template system. An example he gives is an imaginary consonantal root S-N-G, for "to snog". From this, he uses the rules of the language (an extinct one like Akkadian or Aramaic, I think, though the principles apply to Arabic and Hebrew as well) to make words with meanings like "I was made to snog myself".
posted by acb at 5:14 AM on August 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


E.g. The "I'm afraid" part of "I'm afraid he won't be making it to the party tonight." No other Asian language I know uses the verb 'to be afraid' in that context, where fear has nothing to do with it, except the Chinese. (我恐怕。。。)

Eh, Japanese sort of does too. We got 恐縮ですが and 恐れ入りますが, both of which are built on fear. (The former might be borrowed whole from Chinese, but I'm pretty sure the latter is a native innovation.)
posted by No-sword at 6:18 AM on August 24, 2011


So written Arabic is similar in that respect to Alphabetic Shorthand?

I did not know that.
posted by mikelieman at 6:40 AM on August 24, 2011


"I was made to snog myself".

God damn it, you said you wouldn't bring up high school.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:44 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no present tense of the verb is in Arabic.
posted by humanfont at 11:13 AM on August 24 [+] [!]


How about the verb كان , يكون - kana/yakunu? As in Allah saying "كن فيكون" - Be and It Is? Of course it isn't used remotely as much as in English, but half the time in English the "is" doesn't carry a whole lot of meaning anyway.
posted by BinGregory at 6:59 AM on August 24, 2011


Al-Kitaab DVD contains is a romantic episodic tale of very lonely Maha and her Egyptian cousin.
posted by humanfont at 7:34 AM on August 24, 2011


Seconding the Deutscher book recommended by acb. I think it was my favorite book of the last decade.

In addition to the cool description of Arabic, he presents a cool theory of language evolution as the result of the tension between the drives for regularity and novelty. I'd never seen such a grand unifying theory of language evolution before, though it'll be interesting to hear what professional linguists will say if they visit this thread.

(He gives a really nice example of the appearance of a new Hebrew verb form dating from about the 1950s. Just like with genetic evolution we can chart the long histories, but it's rather breath-taking to see it happening before your eyes.)
posted by benito.strauss at 9:13 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nomyte, how can you talk about how wacky Russian numbers are, and not mention the год/лет distinction. Russian uses a different word for 'years' depending on the number of years! I don't remember the rules, but Google translate supports this.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:22 AM on August 24, 2011


Idlewords is awesome. If you like his sense of humor don't miss "Dating without Kundera," "Argentina on Three Steaks a Day," and "I Spy." - Also, "French Week" - try the crepes recipe*, it's awesome! Eight years later and I still make it fairly regularly, usually scaled down to a single egg for one person, the sweet version with jam and/or cream cheese.

* use this link, scroll down to "French Week: Day of the Crêpe" on March 15, 2003 - for some reason, the supposed permalink is super-broken. Darn diacritics. I'm assuming.

posted by epersonae at 9:30 AM on August 24, 2011


dammit, only that first sentence was supposed to be in italics, quoting werkzeuger.
posted by epersonae at 9:31 AM on August 24, 2011


If you're a grammar tourist like me I can give two pointers:

1) Dover has a small series of "Essential Grammar" books. They're short (~100 pages) and inexpensive. Sadly there aren't that many of them, and they're mostly confined to European languages.

2) I love the "Teach Yourself" series. They can be of wildly varying quality, and are intended to be used to actually learn the language, but if you skip memorizing stuff (as I usually do), they are fun reads. I limit my consumption of them by only buying them used — I also much prefer the old-school covers to the spiffy new ones. If you want a suggestion for a starter, I really liked the Swahili one (by D.V. Perrott — it looks like the current edition is by a different author, though it might just be a light re-editing of the older edition.)
posted by benito.strauss at 9:38 AM on August 24, 2011


What political stance are you talking about stroke_count?

"...grim military counterpart called the Defense Language Institute, where young men and women learn how to eavesdrop on the nation's enemies...the scary men in turbans replaced godless Communism as a mortal threat to America..."

I guess the tone here rubbed me the wrong way. I prefer the cool parts that follow to these somewhat inflammatory introductory remarks.
posted by stroke_count at 10:37 AM on August 24, 2011


How about the verb كان , يكون - kana/yakunu? As in Allah saying "كن فيكون" - Be and It Is?

That verb is used in the past and future tenses though, not normally as part of a present tense. Hebrew does something similar where the present tense is only used as the name of god (I am Aka Yahweh). I recall reading some long essays on this at some point previously, but my google Fu fails today.
posted by humanfont at 10:58 AM on August 24, 2011


MIIS offers a nine-week program in a bunch of languages and is just down the road from a grim military counterpart called the Defense Language Institute, where young men and women learn how to eavesdrop on the nation's enemies, provided that the enemies speak slowly and limit their conversation to hobbies and the weather.

If the author of this piece knew anything about DLI or the students there who cram several years of intensive study into a course as short as 63 weeks, he'd know that in order to move on, a DLPT score of 2/2 is required to graduate. After graduation, the student moves on additional training in whatever their primary MOS.

Perhaps, he got a little taste of Arabic at MIIS and, given his wobbly ability to express himself about weather and hobbies, he made the incredibly insightful assumption that the soldiers that train to go into the field with a radio pack to listen to static-filled radio communications had a similar level of comprehension that he gleaned in just 10% of the time.

Maybe he could have talked to someone who actually went to DLI. They're not that difficult to find in Monterey.
posted by phoebus at 11:41 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


How did any Mefites who learned English as a second language handle that.
posted by xetere


Hmm, I had no problem with it at all, but then again my English "as a second language" literally means as the second language I started formally learning as soon as I entered kindergarten.


Ergo "right now" I am eating a sandwich, French would use Je suis en train de manger un Sandwich, and Spanish would say Estoy comiendo un sandwich, bit if I was at a restaurant and said "My wife is having the fish, I am having the steak" one would not use the progressive in that sense in Spanish.
posted by xetere


Hmm, it depends on what you mean by "having" in the last sentence? Are they currently eating the fish and steak or will they be ordering it from the waiter in that sentence?

The former: Mi esposa esta comiendo el pescado, y yo el bistec.
The latter: Mi esposa quiere el pescado, y yo el bistec.

You can usually switch quiere for va a tener, va a comer, or any other form really that lets the waiter understand you.

Also, I'm pretty sure point #10 is also true of Spanish though with changes also in the written form of the language. I can tell you that if I try to speak in pure Puerto Rican to a Mexican, Spaniard, Colombian, or Peruvian and they try to speak to me in their form, we will not understand each other. So, we end up switching to formal Spanish.

Though the formal/informal continuum isn't that bad.
posted by lizarrd at 11:57 AM on August 24, 2011


…And I inevitably made a silly mistake. My post should have read as follows:
Russian does something similar to Arabic with numbers, where up to four of a thing gets the partitive singular (четыре вилки), but five and over gets the partitive plural (пять вилок).
This relates to a comment benito.strauss made:
Nomyte, how can you talk about how wacky Russian numbers are, and not mention the год/лет distinction. Russian uses a different word for 'years' depending on the number of years!
So, um, год has a broken partitive plural! It also has a funny nominative plural which exists in two variants: one — года, stressed on — which comes from the old dual; and the other — годы, stressed on -о- — which is the more regular-looking plural.

But it's more common to talk about a number of years rather than just "years," which for numbers over four takes a plural partitive form, which год doesn't have. So you get an alternation, like you get with go/went in English. Where the partitive plural is called for, you get the corresponding form of лето. And you also find other instances where nouns are broken in some declined form or another: ребенок/дети, человек/люди, and so on.
posted by Nomyte at 2:11 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I once saw an explanation of where the conjugation of 'to be' came from. Each of the distinct forms in "am/are/is/are/are/are" came from a different original verb. That reminds me of the way Nomyte explains ребенок/дети and человек/люди work.

Isn't год still a bit more unusual in having a nominative plural that will serve 2-4? If my memory's not too bad, once you have more than one человек, you've got два, три, четыре, пять, etc. люди?
posted by benito.strauss at 3:37 PM on August 24, 2011


I am eating a sandwich= (Yo) estoy comiendo un sandwich.

Now, if your wife is from central America, then yeah, I've had issues (and I'm a native Spanish speaker) with Central American people confusing "right now" with "in a little bit". But both South America and Spain use verb to be + verb(endo/ando) for progressive.
posted by Tarumba at 3:56 PM on August 24, 2011


> I've had issues (and I'm a native Spanish speaker) with Central American people confusing "right now" with "in a little bit".

Ahorita?

> Isn't год still a bit more unusual in having a nominative plural that will serve 2-4? If my memory's not too bad, once you have more than one человек, you've got два, три, четыре, пять, etc. люди?

Один год — nominative singular
Два года — partitive singular
Три года — ···
Четыре года — ···
Пять лет — partitive plural
Шесть лет — ··· and so on.

Один человек — nominative singular
Два человека — partitive singular
Три человека — ···
Четыре человека — ···
Пять людей — partitive plural
Шесть людей — ··· and so on.

But then you run into collective numerals for groups of people:

Двое людей — partitive plural
Трое людей — ···
Четверо людей — ···

Collective numerals peter out at groups of eight or so (восьмеро). More than that and it gets a little silly.
posted by Nomyte at 7:07 PM on August 24, 2011


Oh, so человек/люди does work like год/лет. I guess I never referred to two, three, or four people in my limited experience with Russian. Thanks.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:53 PM on August 24, 2011


In fact, the partitive plural of человек is not so broken as that. You almost always get "пять человек" rather than "пять людей."
posted by Nomyte at 10:16 PM on August 24, 2011


You know those pictures you see of a horse cart in rural Romania, where the front is from a Ford, and they've welded it to a Citroen back-end, they're plunked a brown sofa on top to sit on, and one of the wheels is built out of wood? With its varying degrees of "brokenness", that's starting to become my image of the Russian system of plurals.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:58 AM on August 25, 2011


الجبن قديم جداً. وين الحمام؟
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:41 AM on September 4, 2011


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