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18 September 2002

I've been studying a little Arabic recently; bought one of those Teach Yourself Foobarese textbook-plus-dialogue-cassette packages and learned to read the alphabet while riding the subway or tanning on the beach at Fire Island. The Arabic alphabet seemed impossible to learn for the first few days, until I started writing out the letters myself, and the calligraphic logic of the dots and hooks and upstrokes suddenly began to make sense. I made flash cards for the words that came up in the book's dialogues...

Kareem: assalaamu alaikum!
Nabeel: kaif Haalak?
Kareem: bi khair, al khamdu li-laah...

...and now I have a vocabulary of a few dozen words. But only yesterday did I finally get up the nerve to try it out with the Yemeni guy behind the counter at the deli. (In my neighborhood, all of the delis -- and they average two per block on Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue -- are run by guys from Yemen, for some reason.) His eyes just lit up and he broke out grinning as soon as I greeted him in Arabic; I was relieved that his pronunciation sounded so much like the tape, since the different regional variants of Arabic are said to be mutually incomprehensible, or very near to it. For an encore, I sounded out the headline in the newspaper he had spread across the counter. I didn't understand the noises I was emitting, of course, but in that respect I was probably no worse off than the average madrasa graduate in Urdu-speaking Pakistan.

posted by Throbert | 9/18/2002 12:27:00 AM |
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