how many? – كم؟

Does كم always make the nouns it modifies singular? Here’s one of the first instances you meet in Pimsleur:

kem walad andak? How many children do you have?

But a few lessons later you learn

fee kem shUKuS b’a’iltak? How many people are in your family?

“shuKHuS” is the word for person, and is singular, as is “walad,” the word for child. But then the instructor says something really weird.

“You notice that the word family, ‘a’ila’, is singular. So we use the singular word for people: shuKHuS.”

That makes no sense for a couple of reasons:

  1. There is no singular word to make “walad” singular in “kem walad andak,” so the precedent doesn’t hold to this rule.
  2. The word modified by “how many” shouldn’t be subject to change by a word in the prepositional phrase that follows – they are separate parts of the sentence.


you speak

The first verb Pimsleur usually introduces in any of their language courses is something along the lines of to speak, to understand, to know. In the case of Arabic, they introduce “to know” first, and “to speak” comes a few lessons later. But by the time it does get introduced, certain conjugation patterns have already been introduced.

To know/understand
I know ba’aref
you (m) know bta’aref
you (f) know bta’arfee

To eat
I eat ‘akul
you (m) eat t’akul
you (f) eat t’akalee

But when “to speak” is introduced, something strange appears, and I’d love to understand the meaning behind the apparent weirdness.

To speak
I speak beHkee
you (m) speak b’teHkee
you (f) speak b’teHkee

So here are my main two questions:

  1. Why on earth are you (m) and you (f) the same? In this instance, it appears that you (m) has adopted the ending that you (f) usually uses — ee (ي) Seriously: is there a reason for this? Or is it just random and isolated?
  2. Are there other verbs where you (m) appears to mimic the you (f) version?

At this point, I don’t know if my blog posts are going to follow this kind of random WTH pattern of questioning, or if I’ll settle into a more streamlined linguistically appropriate methodology. Probably the former, but we’ll see.

In any case, feel free to chime in with thoughts, theories, facts, or whatever.

till then,
مع السلامة



Token first post

Arabic is a language I have tried to tackle more than a few times. As a result, I have some very rudimentary skills in the language, mostly confined to greetings:

Good morning!     Sabah al-kheyr

Thank you!    shuk-ran

Good bye!    ma eh-salaameh

I want to drink beer!    b’heb ishrab beera!

But recent events here in the States have put this language in front of me once again. This country is about to get a whole lot less friendly toward immigrants, particularly those from the Middle East. I’m not in a position to effect policy, but I am in a position to create a more welcoming atmosphere.

So I have joined my church’s task force that welcomes refugees. One of the first families that is arriving next month is from Iraq. How great will it be if I’m there able to say something as simple as “How are you? Welcome to America” to them in their native tongue.

So that’s what I’ll be talking about here, mostly. I’ve already started with Pimsleur’s Eastern Arabic course. Arabic is the kind of language where you don’t benefit from a dictionary study, as the “official” language isn’t something that anyone really speaks. And when you’re going through a dialectical study, especially one that is voice-based like Pimsleur, the written word sometimes doesn’t help. Phrases or words that you hear on the tapes don’t appear in dictionaries. And there really aren’t any grammars that tackle the verb conjugation differences between, say, Palestinian Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).

At this point I’ve gone through 6 lessons. I have a number of questions, and I’ll post them in what I hope will be separate blog posts. If you come across this blog and you are in any way familiar with the Shami or other eastern Arabic dialects, chime in!