When I was almost eleven, my little brother Andrew was born. It was a lot of fun to watch him go through all the stages of development especially with language. We would giggle every time he didn’t say things quite right, and still remember him saying “packjed” for “package” and “cajjeb” for “cabbage”. He even gave me the nickname, “Jla” (short for Angela) that my family still uses today.
My sweet firstborn, Bethany Grace, did similar things with language – Mommy worked at the “hopsital” and she like putting “cimmanin” on her oatmeal. The refrigerator was the “drator drator”. After a particularly long car ride, she announced, “my bottom is spicy” (being stuck in one position in her car seat caused her bottom to fall asleep). She proved she was definitely Daddy’s girl when at the beach I told her, “Bethany, look at the dolphins” and she said, “I don’t see any football players” (Rick’s favorite football team is the Miami Dolphins)..
Joshua had some memorable things he said too – like telling Bethany, “we don’t cwap in the house” (meaning “clap” not “crap”). And calling popcorn “cockporn” or “copporn”, two equally embarrassing terms we hoped he didn’t use in public. When we first arrived in Jordan, we had been referring to Uncle Usama as 3Ammo (Arabic for Uncle) and Josh finally asked, “Where’s Elmo, Mommy?”. Before he became fluent in Arabic, he told us, “I don’t wike (like) Abic – speak Anguish (English)!”.
Jonathan has kept us laughing with some of the things he’s come up with. This list is not exhaustive but includes: unchonkus (unconcious); pip-toes (tip-toes); jumpoline (trampoline); Pissburgh (Pittsburgh), hankershoot (hankerchief); albejra (algebra); flip floss (lip gloss); hanitizer (hand sanitizer); japatinos (jalapenos); guatemala (guacamole); “I’m this close to losing my ‘temperature’!” (temper); “You ‘broke’ my feelings” (hurt); “You blew me ‘off the wall’!” (away); “we’re ‘cracking’ their butts!” (kicking).
Rick and I became like little children again when we went to Jordan in 1997 to learn Arabic. Arabs say that Arabic is the language of heaven and we think they may be on to something, because it will take an eternity to learn! Studying Arabic was as hard as going to medical school for me. Arabic does not belong to the Indo-European language family; it belongs to the Semitic family, which also includes Hebrew and Aramaic. The script is written from right to left. Arabic is categorized as a State Department “level 3” language — the highest on the difficulty rating scale (1-3), along with Japanese, Chinese and Korean. There are letters in Arabic that we don’t have in English like the “kh”, the “ayn”, the “ghayn”, the “dawd”, and the “dthawd”. There are some unique letters that are hard for our English-trained ears to distinguish between – for example, the word “tiin” with a soft “t” means figs and with a heavy “t” means mud. The word “sayf” with a soft “s” means sword and with a heavy “s” means summer.
Another challenge to learning Arabic is that written Arabic is very different from spoken Arabic (sort of like the way that Latin is different from Spanish or Shakespearan English is different from modern American English); spoken Arabic is not written; and each country has its own dialect. Even within a country, there is often a difference between the way the city people speak and the way the country people speak. For example, the word for heart is qalb – people from Amman don’t pronounce the “q” and instead put a glottal stop in its place (‘alb); the country people pronounce the “q” as a “g” (galb); and the bedouin pronounce it as it is written (qalb). This word is not to be confused with kalb which means dog. First semester Arabic students sometimes sang “Kalbi farhaan lianni maashi ma3 yasuu3” instead of “Qalbi…” – which means “my dog is happy because I’m walking with Jesus” instead of “my heart is happy…”. Rick jokes that it might mean that they stopped kicking their dog when they started walking with Jesus and that’s why the dog is happy ;).
Language learning was definitely a humbling experience for us. I hope this lighter post has put a smile or two on your face, especially those of you who have had the challenge of learning Arabic yourselves.
“Jesus said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.” Matthew 18:3-4