Finnish-Arabic: Meeting #5

25.3.2021

This meeting was Arabic’s turn, we agreed to watch a cartoon episode on YouTube. The cartoon is Gingerbread Man or رجل كعكة الزنجبيل.

I have prepared the text beforehand and was able to examine all the technical matters of it. One thing I noticed while preparation is how the language of the cartoon, which is relatively new, is different from what I used to watch when I was a kid. It feels like nowadays the standard Arabic (for children) is moving towards simplicity, compared to the more sophisticated language I was exposed to during my childhood. The line between the standard and the spoken is becoming vaguer and the language is getting more extended over a spectrum. Previously, Arabic dialects were isolated entities. In Finnish, the difference between Kirjakieli and Puhekieli is already positioned over a spectrum, according to my Finnish teacher!

This wasn’t of Ilona’s concern; in fact, we spent our time listening, reading, and comparing what we heard to what we read.

One challenging aspect of reading Arabic texts is the حركات (literally movements). Those are characters that are put on top/beneath letters to express short vowel sounds with consonants (so they move consonants :D). For example, the letter D = د  can be دَ , دُ , دِ  which are equivalent to Da, Du, Di. This is different from the long vowels A, U, I = ا , و , ي which can be written as Daa, Duu, Dii. Unfortunately, the more annoying part (to non-native speakers) is that we don’t write those movements necessarily (except for certain or old texts) and we know how to pronounce the words from memory only. In other words, the way we write doesn’t reflect what we say; any word can be read in very different ways because the movements can be a combination of any.

I spent most of the time trying to deconstruct this issue with the help of examples from the episode. I totally admit that this is challenging; however, there are patterns that can be observed by practice. I tried to explain some of those, bearing in mind to be compassionate and reminding that a somehow similar challenge is faced even in English! In English, the same character is pronounced in very different ways based on the word itself. E.g. letter G in the words: Bridge, Glass, Neighbour, Tough. So, it is really a matter of getting exposed to the language. I know people who have mastered this issue before, and so could Ilona one day!

Link to the episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uGA9Tn9k4A&t=47s

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