Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Arabic language challenge

Moving from Arab country to Arab country, the spoken languages change. The biggest changes seem to start with the most common phrases. "How are you?" for instance, is said; "Izzayak?" in Egypt; "Keefak?" in Lebanon; and "Labas?" in Morocco.
"I want," is another good example. "Ayiz," in Egypt, "Bdee," in Lebanon, and "Bgheet," in Morocco.
Then there are frustrating changes. Moroccan, for instance, has a lot of French words peppered into the language. For instance, I went into a shop to ask for a pen. "Bgeet wahid qalam," I said, I'd like one pen."
"Quoi?" the shop owner said.
"Wahid qalam," I said, refusing to speak with him in French.
"Shnu?" What? He asked.
"Qalam, qalam," I pointed to the rack of pens behind him.
"Ahh," he said. "Stylo."

Another miscommunication. In Egypt, orange, both the colour and the fruit, is said as bortuqal. A lemon, is pronounced Leemoon.
So I go to a Moroccan shop one day and ask for a kilo of oranges, "Wahid kilo bortuqal."
"Bortuqal, bortuqal." I point to the rack of oranges.
"Ah, leemoon," the vendor says.
"La, bortuqal," No, oranges. I roll my eyes as though he's an idiot.
He shakes his head and starts grabbing oranges, "Nam, nam." I said. "Yes, yes."
I pay and leave. At home, I explain to my wife, "I go to order oranges, bortuqal, and he tries to sell me lemons. What's wrong with these stupid vendors?"
Siham laughs.
"How do you say orange in Moroccan Arabic?" she asks.
"Bortuqal," I say.
"Nope," she laughs again. "Leemoon."
"What, then what the hell do you call a lemon?"
"Citron," she says.

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