Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Musings on Spoken and Written Arabic

I borrowed a couple of dual-language books from our library, in Arabic/English and French/English.

So, at bedtime, BK2 and BK1 asked me to read them التيوس الثلاثة الاخوة جروف , better known as The Three Billy Goats Gruff. 

The girls already know the story in English and French. While I was reading the Arabic version, they kept asking what words and sentences meant, particularly BK2. I found myself translating into colloquial Arabic as I went along.

After a while, BK1 asked:
"Is this book written in Qbailia? (Berber language common in Algeria)"
Me: "No! It's Arabic, can you not tell?"
BK1: "Yes, but why is it different from the Arabic we speak?"
Me:  "I agree, it sounds similar yet different. This is classical Arabic, whereas we speak Algerian Arabic, a colloquial form of the first".

At one point, I read طار في الهواء (tara fil hawaa) and I remarked: "Surely you understand this? We say the same thing: طار فلهوى (tar flahwa)" only to be met with a quizzical look: it's totally different!
Thinking about it, it's akin to similarities and differences between English and German (earth vs Erde) or between French and Spanish (terre vs terra). Being able to map words from one idiom to another does not necessarily mean understanding and mastering both languages.

BK1 reads French and German quite fluently, with no effort from our part other than providing her with books that elicit her interest.
It turns out that achieving literacy in Arabic is going to require quite a lot of input from me. The alphabet is the easy bit. Because of the pronounced differences between the Arabic we speak at home and classical Arabic, it is like learning a whole new language almost from scratch...

ps: BK2 is turning 5 this month, and BK1 will be 8 next month.