The boring bit – feel free to skip 🙂
The Arabic language is quite complex. Whilst there is the formal language known as ‘Fus-ha’, it is only really used for formal purposes, such as, newspapers, documents, books, and the like.
In everyday life Arabs speak colloquial Arabic. Unfortunately, here the plot thickens. There are many dialects and the differences can be huge. Mostly the differences lie either in different words for the same thing or difference in pronunciation.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
In formal Arabic a pen ‘qalam’, in Egypt it would be called an ‘alam’ whilst in the Emirates it would be a ‘galam.’ Incidentally, the formal pronunciation of al-Sharjah is al Shariqah and you may hear non-Emiratis refer to it as such.
On top of that, much of the grammar used in formal and classical Arabic is not used in the colloquial and if you have Arab acquaintances, no doubt at least a few of them have told you how much they disliked Arabic grammar at school.
Let’s get started with greetings
As salam alaikum . (Literally ‘peace be upon you.’) The response is ‘walaikum salam’ meaning ‘and upon you be peace.’
Ahlan wa sahlan (Welcome)
For ‘how are you?’, you can ask ‘kayf halak for a man or ‘kayf halich” for a woman. (Literally, ‘how is your situation?’)
You can also use ‘shoo akhbarak’ or ‘shoo akhbarich’ for a lady. (Literally, ‘what is your news?’)
Kayf aylatak/aylatich? – how are your family? (Note: a man should not ask another man how his wife is. The same goes for women and husbands.)
If you’ve paying attention and worked out that the ‘ak’ ending is used when talking to a man and ‘ich’ when talking to a woman.
* Note, the ‘kh’ is ch as in the Scottish word loch and the ‘ch’ is as in chair.
Zayn (good) You can also use alhamdulillah (all praise be to God.)
You may already have noticed that Arabs don’t usually ask how you are just once, but ask several times in different ways.
For example, a conversation may start with ‘kayf halak?……Kayf aylatak?…….Shoo akhbarak?… Kayf sahitak?’ (The last one means ‘how is your health?’)
Ma’a salama -goodbye, literally ‘with peace.’
Nowadays you will sometimes hear Emiratis using the word ‘bye’ even between each other.
What’s your name? – Shoo ismak? (to a man) Shoo ismich? (To a woman)
When it is said fast, it may sound like ‘shismak?’
My name is Adam. – Ismee Adam.
What’s your family name? – Shoo ism aa’ilatak (to a man) Shoo ism aa’ilatich?
My family name is al Muhairi – Ism aa’ilati al Muhairi.
(The Arab naming system is to have a your first name followed by your father’s name, grandfather’s name and often your great grandfather’s name. You may then also have a family name at the end. )
What’s her name? – Shoo isim-ha?
Her name is Maryam – Isim-ha Maryam.
What’s his name? – Shoo isma?
His name is Mahmoud – Isma Mahmoud.
And now you’ve introduced yourself, let’s turn to a little small talk in Emirati Arabic
Where do you live? – Wayn sakin (to man) Wayn sakna? (to woman)
Villa – feela, house – bayt, apartment – shagga
- I’m engaged – ana makhtoob(a)
- I’m divorced – ana muttalag(a)
- I’m widowed – ana arrmal(a)
- I’m single -ana aazab/azba
Note: You don’t usually ask the opposite sex about their marital status in Emirati culture.
Maybe you have worked out from the sentences above that adjectives describing females add -a at the end like mutazawija.
Talking about family
- Father – ab
- Mother – oom
- Children – awlad, iyaal
- Son – walad (plural. awlad)
- Daughter – bint (pl. banaat/banayat)
- Brother – akh
- Daughter – ukht
- Paternal uncle – 3am (3 represents the guttural sound of the letter ayn)
- Paternal aunt – 3amma
- Maternal uncle – khaal
- Maternal aunt – khaala/khaalu
- Husband – zawj/rai-ali
- Wife- zawja/hurma
The word iyaal is used locally for children (as in offspring) but if a man says iyaali, it could include his wife or might even be just his wife. In conservative cultures, men often don’t refer to their wives to people outside the family and so if he says ‘I went on a trip with iyaali’ it may mean he went with his children, his children and his wife or just his wife.
- How many children do you have? – Kam awlad 3andak (3andich for female)? (3and is the sound and with the guttural sound at the beginning)
– I have one daughter – 3andi bint wahda
– I have one son – 3andi walad wahid
– I have five children – 3andi khams awlad
- Two daughters – bintayn
– Three/four/five daughters – thalath/3arba/khams banaat
– Two sons – waladayn
– Three/four/five sons – thalath/3arba/khams awlad
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