Hello, I’m joining Caitlyn and Chris representing Team Fatima Zahra, the little-known (but very cool) Moroccan cousin of Maha and Nisreen…okay, so obviously al-Kitaab never gave us a Moroccan version of our favourite crowd-phobic Egyptian. And that’s probably because students of Arabic are usually warned off Moroccan, even/especially by other Arabs.

The most common responses I got when telling people I was studying Arabic in Morocco were “You’re learning French,” “come back to Jordan when you want to learn real Arabic”, and “you’re learning African” (…okay).

And yes, Moroccan Arabic (darija) has some pretty crazy mangled French and Spanish words in its vocabulary. For example, the word for sneakers is sberdila, coming from the French éspadrille. The word for a baguette is komeera, coming from the Spanish comer (to eat). The grammar is also a bit different, and some words come from the Amazigh (Berber) languages of Morocco. It’s also true that most Arabs outside the maghreb don’t understand darija.

But don’t write it off. Morocco is the second-largest country in the Arab league, and you will be able to chat to Algerians and Tunisians too. You will feel like a cool spy when you leave your friends from Jordan bewildered. And its top exports are hash and Saad Lmajarred songs, two things I’m sure you will all agree make learning Arabic much more enjoyable. It’s also a relatively stable and fun country to visit to learn Arabic.

So, here are some first basic points about Moroccan Arabic.

Vowels

In my first darija class they wrote in vowelled Arabic and it was just sukoons on sukoons. This is why darija can sound a bit weird at the beginning. There are some long letters but often there will just be a very short helping vowel. So “I went”, مْشيت, is pronounced mshit (I don’t bother to write the long vowels as ii or aa because there aren’t really short and long in darija, more like semi- and full vowels.)

The same goes for the article, which is usually just l- rather than al-, and prepositions. My favourite thing about living in Fes was that I got to say “ana sakina ffes” which was fun to say and looks ridiculous written down.

Prefixes

In Levantine present tense verbs are prefixed with ba-, bt- by-, but in Moroccan it’s ka:

Kankteb (note also the n- before first person present)                  كَنْكتَب

Katkteb, katketbi (male/female)                                              كَتكْتَب, كَتْكَتبي

Kaykteb                                                                                                   كَيكْتَب                              

Kanketebu (also here the first person plural ending)                      كنكَتبو      

Katketbu                                                                                                  كَتكَتبو 

Kayktebu                                                                                                 كيَكتَبو          

Verbs

Past tense verbs aren’t that different to other dialects but one key thing to note here is the ending for “you” is –ti whether you’re speaking to a man or a woman: شفتي, shefti (you saw).

Ktebt                                                                                                    كتبت

Ktebti                                                                                                   كتبتي

Kteb                                                                                                       كتب

Ketebat                                                                                                 كتبت

Ktebna                                                                                                   كتبنا

Ktebtu                                                                                                    كتبتو

Ketebu                                                                                                     كتبو

There is/are

Not fii as in other dialects but كاين, كاينة, كاينين  kayn, kayna, kaynin – like the ism fa3el of كان.

Plurals

In Morocco, forget whatever you know about non-human plurals or plurals up to 11 or whatever (clearly I have already!). If something is plural, it is plural, the verb is plural, everything is plural. Sometimes adjectives might be feminine singular, as in other dialects. So if you wanted to say “the chairs were in the garden”, you would say الكراسة كانو فالجاردة l-kerasa kanu fel-jarda (another helpful French word there).

Top four useful words

I don’t want to overwhelm anybody too much with this crash course in Moroccan, so finally here are some words which really distinguish Moroccan from other dialects:

Bzaf – means ktir, stretch out the a if you really want to emphasise what you’re saying. E.g. how much do I love Moroccan Arabic? Bzaaaaaaaaaf.

Safi – use instead of khallas. The title of a brilliantly terrible Moroccan pop song, and used all the time.

Za3ma – used sometimes instead of ya3ni

Mzyane – means good, just like kwais in Egyptian Arabic

If your brain is exploding but you’re keen to learn more Moroccan Arabic, there are actually quite a few useful resources online including the Armchair Arabist blog. I’ll be putting up shorter posts about specific words and phrases and almost certainly some translations of Saad Lmajarred. And everything will be mzyane bzaaaaaf!

I’m going to posit that بتاع – ‘thingy, thingamajig, whatever’ – is one of the most important words in Egyptian Arabic. It has several flexible grammatical uses and is thrown around constantly; the word is especially important for Arabic learners because you can expand your vocabulary tenfold by just replacing words you don’t know with this convenient linguistic evasion. Yes, it is a cop out, but whatthefuckever! Egyptians use it copiously anyways and you’ll fit right in. Anyways. How it works:

 

The word بتاع can be used both as a noun, and as a particle.

As a noun, بتاع replaces the name of an object you’re too lazy to remember the name of; hence, ‘thingy.’

[pointing to something]: هات البتاع دا – Give me the thingamajig.

هاخلص البتاع واجيلك – I’m going to finish the thing and come to you.

جربت بتاع التكيلا مبارح؟ – Did you try the tequila thingy yesterday?

انا هنجوفر فشخ عشان البتاع دا – I’m super fucking hungover because of that thing. (note: if anyone knows a word for hangover in colloquial Arabic other than the English, get at me. I am so curious.)

 

As a particle, بتاع \ بتاعة expresses ownership. The gender of بتاع matches the gender of the object being described, and you stick the pronoun indicating who the object belongs to onto the end of the word, much as you would with عند.

الموبايل دا بتاع ابو شنب دا ولا بتاع مين؟ – Does this phone belong to that guy with the moustache, or who?

.الشنطة دي بتاعتي, شكرا – This bag is mine, thank you.

 

In a more abstract sense, you can use بتاع to express a person’s inclinations or something they do often. For example:

الراجل بتاع النظافة- The cleaning guy

 

It can also be used as a filler word meaning something close to ‘whatever/and so on’:

قالتلي انا مش عايزة اضيقك وبتاع – She said, ‘I don’t want to upset you,’ and whatever…

A synonym for this would be مش عارف ايه, which is often combined with بتاع in a series like so:

قالي النهارده لازم تنظف الاوضة وتلم الزبالة ومش عارف ايه وبتاع – He told me today, you need to clean the room, pick up the trash, yada yada yada…

 

Finally, بتاع can also be a euphemism for a penis (just like ‘thingy’ in English – epiphany ooooooh ahhhhh!) and thus طلّع البتاع = to whip it out.

And please, dear reader, don’t ever say the above out loud in real life – it’s just kind of an FYI thing. Although I genuinely hope you’re never in a situation where there is surprise whipping out involved and this expression comes up.

Today’s guest post includes a very exciting announcement made by our new friend Chris.

Nisreen frustrated about the perennially high degree of humidity in her native New York

Nisreen frustrated about the perennially high degree of humidity in her native New York

This is Nisreen. Nisreen is a chronically lonely Syrian-American living in New York, with a Syrian father and a Palestinian mother. She is, in fact, Maha’s doppelganger – and Maha’s falling in love with her cousin out of sheer loneliness, and Nisreen’s parallel love story with her own paternal cousin, might well have been avoided if they’d only managed to meet one another instead of spending all their time looking woefully into a camera and monologuing about their respective misery.

In case you hadn’t guessed or seen her before, Nisreen is Maha’s Syrian double from the super rare Levantine edition of the عامية videos from al-Kitaab, the Arabic resource everybody loves to hate and hates to study from. Nisreen – poor, neglected, Nisreen – has been forgotten for too long. I am not Team Maha. I am, proudly, Team Nisreen! In this spirit, I’ll be contributing some Levantine posts to this blog, trying to give Levantine colloquial expressions some of the same great exposure Caitlyn has been giving to Egyptian.

Of course, Levantine is spoken in Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and encompasses a huge number of local accents and varieties. A lot of words – especially slang, but also very normal terminology – have several different local variations. And some words, as you might expect, will not even be understood in other parts of the same country (try calling a curtain a jlaale to a Latakian and see how far it gets you). The dialects I’m most familiar with are those of urban Syria and Lebanon – which are more similar to one another than they are to urban Jordan and Palestine, generally speaking – but I’m going to try and include stuff from as many major dialects as possible, and point out specific regionalisms and features of particular dialects. As a rough guide and for people who are familiar with only one Levantine dialect or not at all, here is a list of the major differences:

  • Kint vs kunt: most Lebanese and Syrian urban dialects (there are exceptions, like Homsi) do not have distinct i and u sounds in stressed syllables. Words like كنت are pronounced kint, قدام as eddaam, شفت as shift. Exactly what the vowel here sounds like depends on the consonants around it and the dialect of the speaker – some Lebanese people, like the lead singer of Mashrou’ Leila, pronounce kint more like Most Jordanians and Palestinians, meanwhile, have distinct vowels and say kunt, shuft etc (an exception to this is Galilee Arabic).
  • -a vs -e vs -i: With the exception of people from the southernmost areas of the Levantine area, most urban Levantine speakers pronounce final ـة not as –a, but as some kind of –e sound. Some speakers, particularly of Lebanese dialects – see Marcel Khalife or Feyrouz, for example – pronounce it –i. This also applies to some –a sounds which are not, in MSA, ـة – شتى is shite or shiti (have you heard the song حبيتك بالصيف by Feyrouz?), for example, and some people say soode or soodi for سودا. Some speakers who pronounce the –i say something closer to –e for ـي to keep the sounds separate! Also, many Syrians and Lebanese use inte for their masculine ‘you’, and some Lebanese say ane for ‘me.’
  • Aa vs ee: Aleppan and many Lebanese dialects have very ee-ish long aa sounds similar to a long version of the e in English pet – Egyptian has a similar sound – and these are sometimes so similar to ee that they can be rhymed with long e, as in the Mashrou’ Leila rhyme:

واذا كنتو اتنين يا اهلين شي فلتان w-iza kentu tneen ya ahleen shi falteen ‘and if there’s two of you, oh wow! What a scandal!’

  • Byiktob vs biktob – most Palestinian and Jordanian dialects, and some Syrian dialects (e.g. Homsi) use aktob/baktob and yiktob/biktob for ‘I write’ and ‘he writes’. Most Syrian and Lebanese dialects, meanwhile, use iktob/biktob and yiktob/byiktob. This can be very confusing at first when meeting speakers of other dialects. Most Syrian and Lebanese dialects also drop the ‘I’ prefix before single consonants: biddi ruu7 ‘I want to go’.
  • I6la3 vs 6laa3 – most Syrian and Lebanese dialects have an imperative of form one verbs which works by lengthening the internal vowel – طلع becomes طلاع, كتب becomes كتوب ktoob and نزل becomes نزيل nzeel! Jordanian and Palestinian dialects, however, form the imperative in the same manner as MSA.
  • The qaaf: most urban speakers pronounce the ق as a glottal stop, but many Ammanis, particularly men, pronounce it with a g sound, as do many speakers of non-urban dialects. Some Palestinians instead pronounce a k, whilst Druzes and Alawites often pronounce it as a q! Almost all speakers preserve a qaaf in some words, like ثقافة or موسيقى, although even here there are exceptions (especially for Lebanese people for some reason).
  • -aan words: All of us who have studied al-Kitaab or Egyptian 3aammiyyah are familiar with words like تعبان for ‘tired’, even if they’re not strictly speaking proper MSA. Levantine dialects have a lot more of these than any other dialect, particularly in the Syrian/Lebanese area, and within that, most specifically within parts of Syria itself, where many, many verbs form their active participle this way. Some specifically Syrian examples are وصلان for واصل, عرفان for عارف and my personal favourite, فطران fa6raan for فاطر – i.e. ‘having had breakfast.’
Upset because she’s not fatraane

Upset because she’s not fa6raane

That’s all from Team Nisreen for now – but stay tuned for more guest posts (ان شاء الله) that will finally give Nisreen the platform she’s been forced to concede for so long to her sinister Egyptian doppelganger.

We took a bit of a break for travel and are back with arguably the most important post you have ever encountered & maybe WILL ever encounter on this blog: proper use of popular Egyptian swear فشخ (fashkh).

I’ve heard rumors that the original meaning of this word refers to the exact moment where a woman opens her legs, which, honestly, sounds about right. There are a multiplicity of forms of and uses for this word, with the basics explained below. As always with curse words, use with caution.

فشخ – Ex: الجو حار فشخ = ‘It’s really fucking hot.’ Here, فشخ works as an adverb, describing an adjective (har/hot). It’s basically a way to both swear and say the word ‘very’ at the same time. If you want to really emphasize the misery of how fucking hot it is, draw out the خ a little longer, like so: الجو حار فشخخخخخخخخخخخخخ

مفشوخ – fucked, as in: انا مفشوخ بجد – ‘I’m seriously fucked.’ Al-Kitaab friends–this is ism maf3ol! Think about it: the ism fa3el would be whatever is doing the fucking (the fucker, if you will–this can be school, work, the guy who gave you a parking ticket, etc.), while you–“the fucked”–are the object of the fucking.

فَشَخ (verb) – To fuck over or up, as in: الشغل فشخني = ‘Work fucked me over.’ هافشخك – ‘I will fuck you up.’

اتفشخ – To become fucked: اتفشخت من الضحك – literally ‘I became fucked from laughing’ or more accurately ‘I laughed soooooo fucking hard.’ Shout out to the awzan: Form five, reflexive.

فشيخ – This means ‘really fucking awesome.’ Like, الالبوم دا فشيخ = ‘This album is so fucking awesome.’

فشاخة  – This is the noun form of faskh. Thus: ايه الفشاخة دي – ‘What is this awesomeness?’

تفشيخ – Example: الشغل اليومين دول تفشيخ – ‘Work these days is a piece of cake.’ تفشيخ here means that something is easy and not tiring. (Looking at you, Form II.) Not super commonly used, but goes with the theme of this post.

افشخ – Superlative form of fashkh, aka, more fashkh that something else. مبارح كان افشخ من النهارده – ‘Yesterday was more fucked than today.’

And my personal favorite: فشخومية – A fake number expressing a fucking LOT of things. Ex: عندي فشخومية كتاب في اوضتي = ‘I have a shit ton of books in my room.’ I still don’t actually believe that this is a real thing that people say, but I encourage you all to casually drop it in conversation and report back on what happens.

And I think it’d be appropriate to add a note to the authors of Al-Kitaab here before we wrap it up: Mr. Batal et al., I am realizing right now that you had the chance of a lifetime to leave behind the legacy of legacies and use فشخ as an example to demonstrate the ten forms and all other grammar concepts throughout al-Kitaab, thereby revolutionizing how students retain qawa3ed. But you passed this opportunity up, and now, we’re forced just to remember you for Maha. Sad days.

مش عارفة انام

mesh arefa anam” (said by a female)

This actually strangely means “I can’t sleep.” The structure مش عارفة (I don’t know) is used very commonly in Egyptian to mean ‘cannot.’

True story: when I went back to America for a visit last year after just 6 months in Egypt, I said a whole host of ridiculous things, including “I don’t know how to open the door mom,” as well as the above. Another good one I almost said before catching myself: “I won’t know how to come to the party” (مش هاعرف اجي للحفلة / I can’t come to the party). The main idea here is, once you get to a certain point, Arabic syntax will creep its way into your native language and wreak havoc on your speaking  ability, so just prepare yourselves for that.

Anyone have other examples of Arabic grammatical structures invading your English speech?

أنتي ساكنة في الدقي؟ 

Enty sakina fil do2i?

Smoother translation: Do you live in Dokki?

In Egyptian colloquial Arabic, verbs are often replaced with a structure called the ‘Ism Fa3l,’ a concept that I like to call a ‘Verbal Noun.’ For example, when we want to ask the question ‘do you understand?’ instead of using a verb as you would in MSA (هل تفهم؟), it’s more common in Egyptian colloquial to employ the ism fa3l (فاهم؟ – Are you an understander?) and drop the هل because هل is for squares.

Since the ism fa3l forms a mysterious noun-adjective entity (trying not to get too grammar-heavy here), the gender of the ism fa3l must match the subject. Thus since the question inspiring this post was posed to a woman, we get ساكنة instead of ساكن. This is only used to replace certain verbs, though, so don’t go too crazy changing random verbs into ism fa3l before you hear them used that way by a native speaker. Be on the look-out for this structure in future posts–you will encounter this structure a LOT in both Egyptian and Levantine dialects.