Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Riddle of Arabic Dialects…and I thought Algerian was complicated!!

Oh God!! I’m truly shocked! First I had to get used to the Tunisian dialect, which had a lot of new vocabulary, faster pace of talking and weird toning in question or comment phrases. Then I had to learn French deeper to know what Tunisian conversations are all about. After all this I meet few Libyan people, who have their own speed of speech and their somehow different vocabulary than Tunisians, but it was a piece of cake to me, because compared to the Tunisian dialect the Libyan one is easy.
I then get to meet some Algerian people, very few actually, but I used to know an Algerian girl in university and I understood nothing while she spoke in her dialect. She explained that it’s more difficult than eastern dialects and that in the North African countries it’s among the fastest and maybe the most difficult to some people.
In a quick visit to Jordan I got to meet many Algerian passengers on my way to Jordan and back to Tunisia, I understood nothing while they talked to me. I thought back then that it was the most complicated and most difficult dialect ever.
Not until I got this job I have now, which gives me the chance to contact so many nationalities, specially Moroccans.
On the phone, I can never manage to speak in Arabic in any dialect I know with a Moroccan. It’s impossible. I don’t understand a word they say, and they don’t understand anything I say even if it was in the Tunisian dialect. And if I was lucky enough, the one I’m talking to would know English, if not, then I’m telling you It’s a DISASTER!! Because even in French, they speak unbelievably FAST! And for a person with basic knowledge in French, like me, it is really hard.
Anyway, other than the sticky situations I have to get in every time I have to speak to a Moroccan, I got really curious and started tuning in to Moroccan and Algerian TV channels to learn more about their culture, their dialect and their traditions. And it was a great idea. I loved noticing these tiny differences in the music instruments, the beats, the clothes, the cooking and mostly the dialects.
To be honest, Algerian is a lot easier than Moroccan, and as it’s the case with all dialects, I guess it’s just a matter of getting used to a dialect that makes it sound easy and understandable or not .
And listening deeply to the dialects, it is a great joy to know how people place words, what structure do they follow and why.
And I mean no offense to Moroccans, they’re great people, but their dialect messed up the positions of words we’re used to. I heard many sentences in which they replace the phrases weirdly. I wish I can give examples, but I felt it was just like translating French sentences, in French structure, and French order. It was weird. And talking of French, well, Moroccans use French more than Tunisians and Algerians.
An interesting fact I noticed is that the Tunisian, Libyan, Moroccan and Algerian dialects have some things in common, things that eastern dialects do not have.
Here are some examples of what I’ve personally noticed, and it’s just a personal remark, depending mostly on my knowledge of the Tunisian accent. Here we go :
1. Most of the words in the 4 dialects are pronounced by beginning and ending with what we call in Arabic (Sokoun) I don’t know how to say it English, but I can give examples, Sokoun is like the “g” in “grey” not like “gothic” for example. Or like the “d” in “dress” and not “domestic”. It’s the status of pronunciation of a certain letter as it is, and without being accompanied with an “o”, “a”, or “i/e”. Ah, bad interpretation, but well, I did my best :) Anyway, in eastern dialects, we call the moon: “Qamar”, in North African dialects they call it: “Qmar”. We have the name “Hassan”, they have the name “Hssan”.
2. In the east, we pronounce the “a” straightly, like “harm” for example, except for Lebanon, who pronounce most of the “a” letters like the North African countries as an “ay”, like “bay” for example and write it in English or French as an “e”. So we say: “Islam”, they say “Islem”, we have the name “Marwan”, they have the name “Marwen”.
3. North African dialects use a lot of “sh” in the end of some words, more than the eastern ones. For example to ask “how” in Arabic, it’s supposed to be “Kaifa” in standard Arabic, in eastern dialects, we say “Keaf”, and in North African ones they say “Keefesh”. They add the “sh” to make a verb interrogative as well, like when we ask: “isn’t lunch ready yet?”, in eastern dialect we say: “jihiz/ hidir il ghada?”, in Tunisian they say: “hdarshi il ftour?”, or when asking: “didn’t I tell you?” , in the east we say: “ma oltillak/ ma hakeetlak?” but here they say: “qoltlakshi?”. Also when saying: “did you like it!” we say: “ajabak”, but here they say: “ajbekshi?”. Of course they can also use the verb without the “sh”, but I’m listing the things that are odd compared to the eastern dialects whether used regularly or not that often.
4. In eastern dialects the letter “qaf” which doesn’t exist in English, and let me symbolize it with “q” is pronounced either: “a” as in (add), or “k” as in (car), or “g” as in (goal). But in North African dialects they mostly pronounce it as it is “q”, if not then they pronounce it as “g” like (goal). So for pen we say: “alam, kalam, galam” and they say: “qlam”.
5. The plural is different. In eastern dialects there are two kinds of plural, taking Tunisia as an example, it’s mostly what we call in standard Arabic the “takseer” plural. That doesn’t mean that one of the dialects is necessarily more correct than others, because sometimes a word can have two different yet correct plural forms. So for “birds” we say: “asafeer”, they say: “a’safer”. For “buildings” we say: “binayat, or amarat” they say: “banyat”. LOL! Just remembered a couple of weird plural forms Tunisians use, one is for “horses”, we say “ohosne”, they say “hsonya” looool, I wish I knew how they got to such a complicated and weird form. The other word is for “balloons” we say: “baloonat”, they say “anbeyil”, lol, it’s really weird, I mean we mostly use one of either forms, so in the east, let’s say for trees for example, you can either say “shajarat” or “shajar”, for papers either “waraq” or “wraq”. But for cars you can only say: “sayyarat” and for walls only (heetan) it’s so close to standard arabic. In North African countries, it’s different, they have a form for each group of words, they don’t have a rule, it’s weird, for example:
A lamp is “anboubah”, plural is “anboubat”, a balloon is “anboula” but the plural is “anbeyil”. A luggage “feleejah” in plural is “ feleejet”, but a sock “kalseetah” in plural is “klaset”!
“Bnayya” (girl) in plural is “bnet”, whereas the plural of “sbeya” (lady) is “sbaya”. “Imtihan” (exam) in plural is “imtihanet”, but “hsan” (horse) in plural becomes “hsonya”!! “kar” (bus) becomes “keeran” but “dar” (house) becomes “diar”!! “karhba” (car) in plural is “kraheb”, but “maktba” (library) becomes “maktbet”?! The plural of “shebbek” (window) is “shbebek”, but the plural of “kteb” (book) is “ktobbah”. “Mongela” (watch) becomes in plural “mnegel”, yet “nemmelah” (ant) becomes “nemmel”. “S’han” (plate) becomes “osohna” in plural, but “qlam” (pen) becomes “aqlem”, and “qjarr” (drawer) becomes “qjarret”…and so on. I just love this :)

6. The stressed syllables differ. In eastern dialects it’s so close to the standard Arabic. The stress is mostly on the first syllable, whereas it’s mainly on the last when it comes to Tunisia for example. So we’d say the name “amal” more like : [A]mal, whereas they would say it: am[AL]. We’d say: [MO]na, they’d say mo[NEEE]. We say [MUS]tafa, they say must[FA].
7. They have the tendency to give more length to short names, lol, I like that. So we’d say Hiba, they’d say Heeeba, we’d say Suha, they’d say Suheee.
8. This point only Arabic speakers will understand, which is the difference between 2 letters that do not exist in English. Let me point to the first with “d” as is “dayyiq” (tight) and the other with “dh” as in “odhfar” (nail). Now in east (except for Gulf areas) they use the “d” to pronounce all words with either “d” or “dh”, whereas in the North African countries they use the “dh” more. But there is a little problem, which is in east (except for Gulf areas), in schools they pronounce both and teach the difference between both, but in North African countries and the Gulf area, most of the people are not aware of the difference in pronunciation therefore children face big difficulties distinguishing between both letters and use the “dh” to all words with “d” or “dh”.

I find it always fascinating to learn about Arabic dialects… There are many other exciting differences, some I know, but I feel I’ve already written too much :P and some I don’t know of because I didn’t get deep enough in other North African dialects.
Anyway, each dialect has its own taste and its own beauty, but well, I miss my dialect and I guess it’s natural for me to feel it’s the easiest and most practical :)