Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The System of Derivation in Arabic

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

The following is a translation of Lesson Six in Book Two of the popular al-Kitab al-Asasi series. What prompted me to translate this lesson is that during my stay in Syria many of my friends were taking the Arabic course at the University of Damascus where al-Kitab al-Asasi was the primary text book. Book Two was taught in the third level, and it was particularly challenging as it constituded a big jump from Book One. Consequently, students asked me if I could assist them with the reading and understanding of the fairly long passages and exercises in the lessons that Book Two comprised of. I found al-Kitab al-Asasi quite comprehensive and holistic in a number of respects. All the basic language skills are being catered for and the srudent is exposed to very useful MSA vocabulary. In addition, the student emerges from it with a sound and good working knowledge of all the necessary grammatical elements.

Of all the lessons in Book Two it was Lesson Six that I found particularly useful for the student. Lesson Six provides an excellent and non-technical introduction to the Theory of Derivation which is sort of the Ruh (Spirit) of the Morphological Component of the Arabic language. The Theory of Declension and the Governor , on the other hand, is the Ruh of the Syntactic Component of the Arabic language. The introduction to the System or Theory of Derivation is just that - an introduction - and does not offer to cover the specifics of Derivation. What it does do is to present the System of Derivation in a reader-friendly way and in dialogue form between a Wsetern student (John Adams) and his Arabic professor. It should be borne in mind that this lesson is intended for students who have no idea of the Theory of Derivation in Arabic and who wish to know what it is all about.

Lesson Six

(from al-Kitab al-Asasi Book Two)

The System of Derivation in the Arabic Language

(نِظَام الاشْتِقَاقِ فِي اللُّغَةِ الْعَرَبِيَّةِ)

John Adams is preparing to travel to the Arab countries. His professor at the university is saying to him:

“Don’t forget, John, – while you are there – to read one Arabic newspaper at least every day. Reading Arabic newspapers and magazines will help you to become familiar with Arab society and will help you to improve your Arabic (language) also.”

John: “The problem, Professor, is in the words. I have learnt a reasonable amount of Arabic, but the new words are too many, and the words that I know I hardly find in the newspapers.”

Professor: “The Arabic words appear as if they are new to the non-Arab learner. This is natural, but many of them – in reality – have a relation / bond with the words which he has learnt before. We have studied in the previous lessons that the Executive Power ( السُّلْطَة التَّنْفِيْذِيَّة ) executes ( تُنَفِّذُ ) tasks and the judges ( الْقُضَاة ) in the legislative power ( السُّلْطَة الْقَضَائِيَّة ) deliver judgement / adjudicate ( يَقْضُوْنَ ) on court cases ( الْقَضَايَا ) amongst people.”

John: “Yes… Yes…! Sorry – Professor – for interrupting – (but) you have just reminded me. There is another issue that confuses me. I have in fact observed that a number of words that I have studied constitute groups: each group shares in a number of the letters and at the same time (they are) close to each other (i.e. similar) in meaning.”

Professor: “Like …?”

John: “Like: (1) دَرْسٌ - دَرَسَ - دِرَاسَةٌ - دَارِسٌ - مَدْرَسَةٌ - مُدَرِّسٌ
(lesson – to learn – learning – learner – school – teacher)
and also: (2) فَتْحٌ - فَتَحَ - فَاتِحٌ - مَفْتُوْحٌ – مِفْتَاحٌ
(opening – to open – opener (s.o. or s,th. that opens) – open – key)
and also: (3) لَعِبٌ - لَعِبَ - لاَعِبٌ - مَلْعَبٌ – لُعبَةٌ
(playing – to play – player – playground – toy)

You have just focused my attention on two other / more groups. What is the reality of the matter, Professor?”

Professor: “The reality of the matter – John – is that the words in each group share in a certain number of letters, which in Arabic is called "الْجِذْر" (root) or "الأَصْل" (source, root, origin). Thus, the الْجِذْر in the first group is (د – ر – س ) .”

John: “Hence, the الْجِذْر in the second group is (ف – ت – ح ) and the الْجِذْر in the third group is (ل – ع – ب )

Professor: “Well done (Bravo!). Also, every جِذْر has a basic meaning wherein the words of the group share …”

John: “… and of course, they differ in certain (other) things?”

Professor: “Yes, this الْجِذْر and the words belonging to it are like a tree: it (the tree) has one root from which the stem, numerous branches, leaves, flowers / blossoms and seeds spring. All of them share in one thing which is the root (i.e. الْجِذْر ), but each one differs from the other in certain things.”

John: “Am I also able to say that they are like a family? They share in a (common) grandfather and grandmother (i.e. the الْجِذْر ) and from them the descendants branch out who comprise the sons, daughters, (paternal) uncles and aunts, (maternal) uncles and aunts and the grandchildren …etc.”

Professor: “Yes, this is a good example / analogy.”

John: “The words in every group – then – share in some things and differ in some (other) things?”

Professor: “Right. The word "مُدَرِّسٌ" – for example – denotes the person teaching ( الشَّخْص الَّذِيْ يُدَرِّسُ ) but the word "مَدْرَسَةٌ" denotes the place in which the teacher teaches ( الْمَكَان الَّذِيْ يُدَرِّسُ فِيْهِ الْمُدَرِّسُ ) and the word "دَارِسٌ" denotes the person studying / learning (الشَّخْص الَّذِيْ يَدْرُسُ ), that is, all of them share in the meaning of "الدِّرَاسَة" (studying, learning) ...”

John: “…and (it is) clear that they differ in the fact that each of these words has a meaning that is specific to it.”

Professor: “Yes. Also these words – as we have observed – share in the letters of the الْجِذْر and they are (د – ر – س ) ...”

John: “…and at the same time they differ in the rest of its letters.”

Professor: “Yes. The words of every جِذْر are called "الْمُشْتَقَّات" (derivatives) (the singular form is "مُشْتَقٌّ" ) and every مُشْتَقٌّ (derivative) (1) has a specific form i.e. a specific structure for it letters, and (2) it has a specific meaning. Thus, the word "لاَعِبٌ" (player, is playing) [(note the form / pattern) which is that of "فَاعِلٌ" ] denotes the person playing (الشَّخْص الَّذِيْ يَلْعَبُ ).”

John: “Hence, the word "كَاتِبٌ" (writer, is writing) denotes the one writing (الَّذِيْ يَكْتُبُ ), and the word "قَارِئٌ" (reader, is reading) denotes the one reading (الَّذِيْ يَقْرَأُ ), and the word "نَائِمٌ" (someone sleeping, is sleeping) denotes the one sleeping (الَّذِيْ يَنَامُ ) ....”

Professor: “Right. Also "مُعَلِّمٌ" (teacher, is teaching) denotes the one teaching ( الَّذِيْ يُعَلِّمُ ), and "مُمَرِّضٌ" (male-nurse) denotes the one performing nursing (الَّذِيْ يَقُوْمُ بَالتَّمْرِيْضِ ), "مُدَرِّبٌ" (trainer, coach) denotes the one training / coaching ( الَّذِيْ يُدَرِّبُ ), and "مُدِيْرٌ" (manager / director) denotes the one managing / directing (a company for example) (الَّذِيْ يُدِيْرُ شَرِكَةً مَثَلاً ), and "مُرْسِلٌ" (sender) denotes the one sending (a letter for example) (الَّذِيْ يُرْسِلُ خِطَاباً مَثَلاً ), and "مُتَكَلِّمٌ" (speaker, is speaking) denotes the one speaking ( الَّذِيْ يَتَكَلَّمُ ) …”

John: “…(it is) clear that these words denote the one doing something ( الَّذِيْ يَفْعَلُ شَيْئًا ).”

Professor: “Yes, and for that reason this type of الْمُشْتَقَّات is called "اسْم الْفَاعِلِ" (active participle or the one doing the action).”

John: “There has to be in the Arabic language a type of الْمُشْتَقَّات denoting the opposite meaning.”

Professor: “Well done! Well done! (Bravo! Bravo!). You have started to enter into the heart and soul of the Arabic language. There is an opposite form / pattern and its name is "اسْم الْمَفْعُوْلِ" (passive participle or that onto which the action is done) and you have studied thereof words such as: "بَابُ مَفْتُوْحٌ" [(a door) that has been opened i.e. an open door] …”

John: “Wait … wait … leave me to think (i.e. let me think) … "عَقْدٌ مَكْتُوْبٌ" [a written (contract)] and "شَقَّةٌ مَفْرُوْشَةٌ" [a furnished (apartment / flat)].”

Professor: “Well done! (Bravo!). There is another form / pattern. The word "مَدْرَسَةٌ" – as you know – denotes the place in which the teacher teaches ( الْمَكَان الَّذِيْ يُدَرِّسُ فِيْهِ الْمُدَرِّسُ ) and it is for that reason that it is called in Arabic Grammar "اسْم الْمَكَانِ" (Noun of Place) …”

John: “Am I also able to say that words like: "مَلْعَب (الْكُرَةِ)" [playground (for playing ball)], "مَكْتَب (الْبَرِيْدِ)" [(post) office], "مَطْبَخٌ" (place of cooking i.e. kitchen) and "مَطْعَمٌ" (place of eating i.e. restaurant) are also اسْم الْمَكَانِ ?”

Professor: “Yes, and "مُسْتَشْفًى" (place for curing people i.e. hospital), "مَحَطَّة (الْحَافِلَةِ)" [(bus) terminal / platform / depot) and "مُتْحَفٌ" (museum) are also اسْم الْمَكَانِ .”

John: “That means, we have up to now: the الْجِذْر , the اسْم الْفَاعِلِ , the اسْم الْمَفْعُوْلِ and the اسْم الْمَكَانِ ...”

Professor: “…and also the الْمَصْدَر (infinitive / verbal noun / gerund) like: الدِّرَاسَة (studying, learning), اللَّعِب (playing), الْكِتَابَة (writing), الْقِرَاءَة (reading, reciting), التَّنْفِيْذ (executing) and السَّفَر (travelling) ...”

John: “…like: "السَّفَر إِلَى الْبِلاَدِ الْعَرَبِيَّةِ" (travelling to Arab countries), "دِرَاسَة هَذَا الدَّرْسِ" (studying this lesson), "قِرَاءَة الصُّحُفِ الْعَرَبِيَّةِ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ" (reading newspapers everyday) (and so on) up to the last of (all) the difficult pieces of advice (that you have given me).”

Professor: “Well done! (Bravo!), John.”

John: “…and the upshot is, Professor?”

Professor: “The upshot, John, is that Arabic words appear – at first glance – so many to the non-Arab learner, but the existence of words in groups / sets around lexical roots makes it easy for the student to understand many of the new words.”

John: “Of course, after he studies … after he studies …I have forgotten, Professor, …(after he) studies what?”

Professor: “… the System of Derivation, and now, to the exercises, John, in order that you do not forget this important topic.”


Ichrak Hamdani said...

I'm a Tunisian student. I think that my native language the Arabic language is one of the most difficult languages to understand.You should dig deeper in order to get its meaning. What you did is great, but you can approach other interesting aspects concerning this issue of the system of derivation. Good luck

Ichrak Hamdani said...

I'm a Tunisian student. I think that my native language the Arabic language is one of the most difficult languages to understand.You should dig deeper in order to get its meaning. What you did is great, but you can approach other interesting aspects concerning this issue of the system of derivation. Good luck