Why I think Arabic is the hardest language in the world

I’ve seen a lot of articles out there proclaiming this and this language as being the hardest language in the world. So now 7 weeks into my Arabic classes, I’d like to make my case for Arabic.

Let’s start with the Arabic alphabet:

ArabicAlphabet

At this point, I still thought it was ok. Sure it looks different, but it’s nothing compared to the complexity of Chinese and Japanese characters. Japanese even has three types of writing systems (one for native Japanese, one for words that came from foreign languages, and kanji, or Chinese characters). The pronunciation is hard, with sounds that I’ve never made before in the four languages I’ve studied (English, Mandarin, French and Japanese), and includes the dreaded French “r” throat sound that I’ve never been able to make. Still, I’m sure with practice I’ll get it (so far I’ve gotten the “ghain” sound right once, and everyone in the class clapped). Reading right to left is also kind of jarring, but I got used to it pretty easily (I started out reading traditional Chinese, which is right to left and top to bottom).  So even though it’s like no other language I’ve ever seen before, I didn’t think too much of it.

Then the teacher showed us this:

arabic_alphabet2

There are four different ways to write each of the letters above, depending on its location in the word, and which letter it follows or precedes. Also, some letters can be connected in certain cases and not in others, while some are never connected. That also affects how to write the letter. Sometimes when two letters are next to each other, it creates a whole new squiggle not present in the alphabet.

I started to get a little worried…

Then we learned some accents that would help us learn how to pronounce the different letters.

image002

So now we can add the sounds “a”, “u”, and “i” to the original alphabet. For example, if you add “buh” to “a”, it becomes “bah” and so on and so forth. Sounds easy enough right?

Nope, WRONG. We only get these helpful accents while we’re learning Arabic. In regular Arabic, they don’t include these accents at all, and you have to rely on your knowledge of the language to know which sounds to make.

hope-word-arabic-caligraphy

This word is prononunce “al-amal” (hope). the “l” in “al”has combined with the “a” in “amal” to create a different letter. There’s no accent above “m” to indicate that it’s pronounced “ma” and not “mi” or “mu” or “m”. Because the “a” in “al” is the first character of the word, it’s a straight line and doesn’t have a squiggle in it like the “a” in “amal” (which was put in for stylistic purposes and may or may not appear in other pieces of writing).

Confused yet?

Now let’s get a little bit into grammar. I’ve studied grammar of four different languages, and I’d like to think that I know a little bit about it.  French has masculine feminine nouns (usually indicated with “la” or “le”) that requires conjugating adjectives (usually an extra “e” at the end for feminine nouns). English and French had singular and plural forms (just add “s” except for uncountables), while Chinese and Japanese use counters to indicate plurality. All four languages indicate possession with a possessive noun (my, mine etc).

Arabic has the masculine/feminine nouns that French has, except without the “le” and “la” to help indicate masculine femininity. It not only has a plural form that is completely different than its singular form, but it also has a dual form! To clarify, singular=1, dual=2, plural=3+. There are no possessive nouns in Arabic; they change the noun to indicate possession.

For example, friend is saudikuh.  Two friends is saudikan (صديقتان). Three or more friends is astikau (أصدقاء). My friend is saudiki (صديقي). And then there’s the feminine form, which I’m just not going to get into (it involves a different conjugation for each of those forms I’ve already mentioned).

Here’s a little chart I made to illustrate the differences.

English French Chinese Japanese Arabic
Singular Friend Ami 朋友 友達 صديق
Dual Friends Amis 朋友 友達 صديقتان
Plural Friends Amis 朋友 友達 أصدقاء
Fem. Sing. Friend Amie 朋友 友達 صديقة
Fem. Plur. Friends Amies 朋友 友達 صديقات
My + singular My friend Mon ami 我的朋友 私の友達 صديقي
My + plural My friends Mes amis 我的朋友 私の友達 أصدقائي

*Note: Japanese and Chinese does have counters to indicate plurality, but it isn’t necessary unless it you want to specify it.

If you look closely, every single one of those Arabic words have a different conjugation, and the plural and singular form doesn’t look like each other at all, which means you will have to memorize the plural form separately. The closest one in complexity is French, but at least it has a consistent root.

That’s it for today! Next time we’ll do numbers (I’m learning to count past 10 now) and possibly more grammar…I’ll need some time to make more charts!

Disclaimer: I’m just a beginner in Arabic, so if I got something wrong, please let me know and I’ll fix it!

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