August 29, 2008

Variations on a Verb...

I am no linguist, but as far as I can remember I have always held a strange fascination for Language.

There are so many kinds of languages, so many forms, so many levels of understanding Language...

Language is a world by itself...Hence it is no wonder that in the beginning was the Verb.

The Verb is the Source from which all least in Arabic, it is.

From the Verb comes the noun and the adjective, the past, the present and the future.

Take for instance the verb Kataba which means to write. From Kataba you have Kitab - a book or a written text. Then you have Maktab - an office or desk where things are written. You also have Kateb - a writer. And you have Maktoob - a letter or a pre-written, pre-ordained Destiny.

This is just one example of the Verb branching out, in the Arabic language. So many branches from one Verb and so many Verbs...

It is simply impossible to understand a people without at least a partial cognizance of their language. Language is the window and the door. The entry points. But knowing a language as in speaking it is not enough. You need to get into it. Re-read that again please - GET INTO IT.

By getting into a language, past -- the alphabet, the syllables, the phonetics, spelling and pronunciation, past the grammar, past...pass through and you will get into the structure, into the edifice, and from there on you can wander around, contemplate and understand all you need to understand...

The Arabic language is a very powerful language. It is rich, varied, deep and bears multi layered meanings and symbols. And it is one of the most difficult languages to "master". Content yourself with a few words here and there, and you will be making a total fool out of yourself...Mastering the Arabs means mastering their Language. And no foreigner has managed that, not even your Lawrence of Arabia nor your Isabelle Eberhart, neither your Glubb Pashas...They were all eventually way or another.

The Arabic language is a captivating one. It contains a combination of deep passion and at the same time a high logicality to it. It is both highly poetic and rational. And the non-semitic mind is incapable of experiencing both at the same time.

The Arabic grammar is both -- terribly tedious and at the same time exhibits a high level of Logic, almost mathematical. Yet the logic transmutes itself in heavily loaded words with such deep meanings, almost esoteric, that ramify themselves just like branches from one tree, ad infinitum... Covering all the subtleties, nuances, intensities of a single Verb.

For those who are literalist in thinking and language, it can prove almost impossible for them to capture the essence of what I am trying to convey.

Take another example - the verb to Love in Arabic. There are over 99 ways to express the concept/feeling/state of Love in Arabic.

I am yet to come across a language that prides itself on its Love variations like in Arabic.

Love through and under all of its states is to be found in different verbs expressing the one thing -- Love. A yearning Love, a longing Love, a passionate Love , a liking Love , a burning Love, an infatuating Love, an ecstatic Love, a deep Love, a missing Love, a caring Love, a friendly Love, a bitter Love, a sorrowful Love, a grieving Love, a cruel Love, a platonic Love, a lustful Love, a waiting Love, a jealous Love, a possessive Love, a conquering Love....and keep counting over 90 variations of the verb to Love.

One state of Love in Arabic is "Shagan". "Shagan" is excessively hard to translate into English. Shagan is a state of Love where one experiences - yearning, longing, lamentation, waiting, nostalgia, tinged with a subtle taste of bitterness of something that has gone to pass but one is still hoping for...but nonetheless a creative, inspired state of Love, almost melodious in its Hopefulness...

See what I mean - this is the brilliance of the Arabic language, a language that combines in one word Shagan all those seemingly contradictory states of both despair and hopefulness -- of finally meeting and uniting with your Beloved, against all odds.

The state of Love produced by "Shagan" is a very peculiar one...It is an almost obsessive one...because everything reminds you and takes you back to the Beloved.

Everything - a smell, a color, a look, a familiar face, a taste, a perfume, a memory, a song, a melody, a scenery, a text, a letter, a book, a name, a word, a verb, a Language...

Painting: Iraqi artist, Abdul Hussain Al-Twaij.