Arabic Writing & Pronunciation (2)

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This is why students whose mother tongue is Farsi (Persian), Urdu and Pashto are well advised to learn to write and to pronounce each letter of the Arabic alphabet like true beginners, rather than like false ones, if they seriously wish to study Arabic.

It is the same case with the Latin alphabet, although less accentuated.  Let us take as an example the letter J, which is written in the same way, but is pronounced differently in English, French, German, and Spanish.  In languages which use the Arabic alphabet, there are several letters which are written and pronounced differently.

In these languages, there are also words of Arabic origin, but they have different meanings.  This is why it is advisable for students from countries where the language uses the Arabic alphabet to look up in the dictionary each Arabic word used in their language, in order to make sure of the meaning.  Let us take as examples:

(a) The word milla(t) which means community/confession/religious doctrine, belief, religion in Arabic.  In Persian, the same word simply means nation;

(b) The word mousafir which means traveller in Arabic.  In Turkish, pronounced missafir, it means guest;

(c) The word lahm which means meat in Arabic.  In Hebrew, with a slightly different pronunciation, it means bread.  Thus, in Arabic, the town of Bethlehem means the house of meat, while in Hebrew it means the house of bread.  (However, it does not mean butcher’s in Arabic, nor baker’s in Hebrew.  Another word is used in the two languages.)

This advice is valid for all students of the Arabic language whose language of origin does not use the Arabic alphabet, but which is of the same Semitic family, like Hebrew, or other languages which have no connection to Arabic, but which are influenced by Islam, such as Hindi, Malay, Swahili, Wolof (in Senegal), and the Berber languages, or by Arab-Islamic civilization, such as Maltese, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Often, the same words are found by pure chance in different languages, but with different meanings.  Here are a few examples:

  • The word gift in German means poison; in English, it means present.
  • The word easy in English means fly (insect) in Berber.
  • The world sakana in Arabic means to inhabit, to reside; in Japanese, it means fish.
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