Talking about emigration
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be aware of the mounting ~migration crisis~ in Europe, where much debate has been triggered by a wave of Syrian (and non-Syrian, but they don’t get much press) refugees who made their way across Europe from Greece and have ended up in countries all over the place. Although this became a big media issue this year, the idea of seeking refuge abroad is not a new one for Syrians – they were talking about it when I was in Jordan two years ago, and I’m sure they were talking about it before that, too. Debates about the best country to try and claim asylum in are a frequent source of conversation, and they’ve now made their way into TV series (which are beginning to talk more and more about the plight of refugees, unlike the musalsalaat of the early days of the war which tended to completely ignore what was going on). So in that spirit, here is a short clip from one of this year’s Ramadan musalsalaat, غدا نلتقي Ghadan Naltaqi. The series focuses on an abandoned building in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, which has been taken over by Syrian refugees looking for somewhere to live. This scene is from the first episode.
By the way, if you decide to carry on watching it – something I definitely recommend – don’t watch the Emirat TV version. They cut it terribly for time and to avoid ~improper~ scenes and references (and as you can probably imagine, the Emirati idea of what constitutes an improper scene is quite… broad), and the sound quality is awful. The Clacket Media version has much higher sound quality, no blanked-out bits and doesn’t cut out important scenes.
@ – I probably haven’t made it 100% clear that I’m using this to transcribe the helping vowel. The main difference between this and other vowels is that it has no effect whatsoever on stress; Darab@tni is still pronounced with stress on ab as if the helping vowel hadn’t been inserted.
ام عبدو imm 3abdo – he’s talking to his wife. Their eldest son is called عبدو (although we never meet him, and as far as I remember he’s never referred to again after they talk to him over the phone in this episode). It is generally polite to refer to people with children by أبو or إم plus the name of their first child, even if they’re your spouse. In fact, there’s a bit of a taboo about people knowing the first name of married women! When they’re on their own, though, he calls her أمينة amiine which is her actual first name.
بالشهر bi shshahr – بـ is used to express ‘per’, plus a definite article, presumably because the month is generic here.
ألف وخمس ميت دولار alf w kham@s miit doolaar – numbers are much easier in 3aamiyye, with none of that gender polarity or case nonsense to worry about. مية miyye forms an idaafa with a following singular noun.
عم يدفعو – you probably know already that ‘pay someone X for something’ is literally expressed ‘push X la- someone 3ala‘ in Arabic. عم is the Levantine continuous particle which can be followed by the present tense with or without b-, largely depending on speaker and maybe also region.
النفق innafa2 – this is the maSdar of نفَق ‘spend money’, so للنفق literally means ‘to spend’.
هادا عدا العلاج يعني من قلع الضرس للقلب المفتوح لا سمح الله.
haada 3ada l3élaaj. Ya3ni min 2al3 iDDér@s lal2alb ilmaftuu7 laa sami7 aLLaah.
That’s not including medical care! Anything from taking a tooth out to open heart surgery, God forbid!
عدا – ‘except’. Also appears as ما عدا ‘except, not including’.
العلاج il3élaaj – literally ‘treatment’.
2al3 iDDér@s – Dérs is apparently, from what I can gather from Wikipedia and consultation with Caitlyn, a molar or wisdom tooth. The normal word for ‘tooth’ on its own is سن sénn. قلع الضرس however is the normal expression for when a dentist takes a tooth out. 2ala3 yi2la3, verbal noun 2al3, is to pull something out.
القلب المفتوح il2alb ilmaftuu7 – in Arabic, the ‘surgery’ is implied – ‘open-heart’ is taken to mean ‘open-heart surgery’.
لا سمح الله laa sami7 aLLaah – a very normal expression for ‘God forbid’. It is normal to use an expression like this (others include بعيد الشر ba3iid ishsherr) whenever you mention a bad thing, even hypothetically – this even happens on news channels when there are stories about illness, for example.
وهادا كله غير البيت! شو بيت… يا حبيبي. قولي قصر! شفته ع المبايل. قصر, قصر العادة. شلون الفلة تبع ابو عماد بزمانه متلها تماما.
w haada kéllo gheer ilbeet! Shu beet? Ya 7abiibi! 2uuli 2aS@r! shéfto 3a lmobaayl. 2aSr, 2aSr il3aade. Shloon ilvilla taba3 abu 3émaad bi zamaano? Mitla tamaaman.
And all this doesn’t include the house… What do I mean house? My God, call it a palace! I saw it on the mobile. A palace, a real palace. Exactly like Abu Imad’s villa in his time!
شو بيت shu beet – shu is often used to mean ‘what do you mean?’ or ‘what am I saying?’ I picked this usage up from a Turkish drama when I was still not very confident in Arabic and was regularly misunderstood as asking what words meant rather than the more metaphorical use seen here. This stage will pass, though, so get using it.
شلون الفلا تبع ابو احمد… – sentences like this which are structured like questions are very common in Arabic in a way that they’re not in English. If you’re explaining, for example, where your house is, you can say: وين الفلا تبع ابو عماد؟ جنبها. In English you probably wouldn’t use a question structure – you’d say something like ‘where Abu Imad’s villa is, next to it’ or even ‘next to where Abu Imad’s villa is’. It’s also in the present and not the past, even though the equivalent in English is past. shloon you’ll probably have encountered before – it’s very characteristic of inland Syrian dialects (including Damascene) and Iraq, and comes from shu + loon (‘colour’). At least in Damascene I can’t think of any contexts where كيف can be used and شلون can’t.
الفلة ilvilla – villas are maybe something a bit different in Arabic from what they are in English, but it’s a similar idea – a big, expensive, modern house like those owned by Syria’s upper classes. The plural is either villaat or, more commonly, the broken plural vilal.
قصر العادة – this construction – a noun in iDaafa with il3aade – gives the meaning of ‘a genuine…’ or ‘a real…’. It’s a synonym of نظامي niZaami and maybe even أصلي aSli, depending on the context.
تبع ابو عماد taba3 abu 3émaad – I have no idea if they are referring to a famous Abu Imad here. تبع is a replacement for the iDaafa construction that is commonly used in colloquial, equivalent to Egyptian biTaa3. It can either be invariable or can agree in gender with the thing that is possessed (so تبعت tab3et would also work here). In some dialects (Palestinian and Jordanian in particular I think) it always agrees, and has a range of plural forms including تبعون and تبعول.
لك انت مفكر حالك انه شو هاي طنجرة الومنيوم عم تنضفها؟ اه؟ روح هيك لشوف.
lak inte mfakkir 7aalak enno shu hayy Tanjart aluuminyuum 3am @tnaDDifa?! Aah? Ruu7 heek la shuuf!
Do you think this is an aluminium pan you’re washing? Eh? Get away, come on!
This sentence confused me a lot until I realised that Jamal, Abu Abdo’s son, has been scrubbing away at Abu Abdo’s hand by accident for almost a minute before this line. So when he says هاي, he means ‘my hand’ (which is feminine).
طنجرة الومنيوم Tanjart aluuminyuum – ‘an aluminium pan’. طنجرة Tanjara is a pan. The iDaafa structure is often used for ‘X made of Y’.
آه؟ – in Egyptian and in Jordan and Palestine, آه means ‘yes’, but in Syria and Lebanon it means ‘eh?’ ‘hey?’
روح هيك لشوف ruu7 heek la shuuf – I think I’ve mentioned la-shuuf before. Literally it means ‘so I can see’, but it’s often tacked onto the end of imperatives with no real additional meaning.
المشكلة بالسويد انه ما بيعطوكي الجنسة الا بتعرفي تحكي سويدي.
ilmésh@kle bissweed inno maa bya3Tuuki jjinsiyye illa bta3@rfi te7ki sweedi.
The problem with Sweden is that they don’t give you citizenship unless you know Swedish.
تحكي سويدي té7ki sweedi – you will probably have learnt that in Arabic, generic things, like languages, take the definite article. Most of the time this is true, but certain expressions break the rule in colloquial. In 3aamiyye, تحكي السويدي or تتعلم السويدي sound wrong – we drop the article. There’s no b- on this verb because it follows بتعرفي.
إلّا – illa stands alone here in the meaning ‘unless’.
والسويدي صعب, صعب كتير, يعني أصعب من الانجليزي والفرنساوي. يمكن لازم نروح على برطانيا.
w issweedi Sa3b, Sa3b @ktiir! Ya3ni aS3ab mn ilingliizi w l@fransaawi. Yimkin laazim @nruu7 3ala breTaanya.
And Swedish is difficult, very difficult! More difficult than English and French. It might be that we’ll have to go to Britain.
فرنساوي fransaawi – the MSA term is generally faransi, but in Syrian and Lebanese fransaawi is more common.
على أساس انت بلبل بالانجليزي ابي
3al2asaas inte bélbol bi lingliizi 2abi
As if you’re fluent in English, father.
على أساس 3al2asaas – this is a very useful expression meaning ‘on the basis of’ or ‘as if…’ If somebody responds to a question pretending to not know what you’re talking about you can say على أساس انك ما بتعرف ‘as if you don’t know!’
بلبل bélbol – literally ‘nightingale’, but used idiomatically to mean ‘fluent’ (either in the context of knowing a second language or generally being a fluent speaker).
أبي abi – you can probably tell that this family are a bit traditional because instead of saying بابا he says أبي.
اخرس ولا! اخرس يا كلب! يلعنك!
ikhras wla! ikhras ya kalb! Yil3anak…
Shut your mouth! Shut up, you little bastard! Curse you…
ولا – possibly from wayla laka, according to some sources. One of a long list of variants (including wlo, wlak etc) which offensive or aggressive ways to talk to men. Between friends they can be friendly – just like swearing – but they can also be a way of talking sharply to a stranger or a child. There are feminine equivalents (wle, wlik etc) but these should definitely not be used by men to women, and are probably generally considered unladylike to be used by women to women.
Imm Abdo thinks that Jamal’s joke is funny, but she stops laughing when Abu Abdo calls his son كلب ‘dog’, which is very offensive and generally not considered appropriate language. Abu Abdo is generally a very sweary character, and is always saying يلعنك.
لك خففولنا ع الطبل والزمر بقى! العمى كإنه قاعدين على طريق الغوطة!
lak khaffifuulna 3a TTab@l w izzam@r ba2a! il3ama ka2enno 2aa3diin 3ala Tarii2 ilghuuTa!
Give the drumming and the fluting a rest! Damn, it’s like we’re sitting on the road to Ghouta.
Although Ghouta is now better known as the site of the horrific chemical attack that killed many people in 2013, before the events in Syria it was the usual destination for Damascene families who would pour out of the city at the weekend and head for a سيران seeraan (approximately a picnic) in the nearby countryside.
خفّفولنا khaffifuulna – literally ‘be lighter for us’, ‘go a bit lighter on the X for our sake’. Form II verbs are great. You can use this verb in other contexts too: مخفّف سكر شوي mkhaffef sikkar shwayy ‘I’ve lightened up on the sugar [in my tea]’.
بقى ba2a – in some contexts means ‘then’ as in Egyptian, but is often attached to the end of imperatives to make them ruder or more aggressive.
العمى il3ama – damn! Literally ‘blindness’. We’ve seen this one before.
كإنه ka2enno – ‘as if’. A very useful word. Unlike English ‘as if’, it can be used on its own to mean ‘it’s as if’ or ‘it was as if’, etc, depending on context. Can also be used on its own to mean ‘it seems that way’ or ‘seems like it’. If this were MSA, we would expect a ـنا on the end to indicate the subject, but in 3aamiyye sisters of inna can be used without a subject pronoun quite happily.
قلتيلي هاي وردة شو بتشتغل؟
2éltiili haay warde shu btishteghel?
Did you tell me what this Warde works as?
Warde is a woman who lives down the hall – the music is coming from her room. If you go to the bit just before the beginning of this clip, you see her dancing. It is heavily implied that Warde works, or has worked, as a dancer (رقاصة ra22aaSa); in Syria, being a dancer is generally considered a bit scandalous. Not for nothing is ‘stripper’ often translated as just رقاصة. Warde also works for an undertaker as one of the women who prepares the dead for burial; this is also a profession with some considerable stigma attached. She tells everyone she works as a secretary in a mall.
هاي وردة haay warde – when you want to say ‘this [name]’, as in ‘this Warde’ or ‘this Jamal’, you don’t generally use the definite article. Especially in this case I think هاي الوردة would probably be read as ‘this flower’.
بتشتغل btishteghel – the stress on this verb is on the second syllable, rather than the first where you would expect it to be. It is unidiomatic, if not outright wrong, to copy the English construction and say بتشتغل كسكرتيرة btishteghel ka sekrateera. The idiomatic way of saying ‘she works as a secretary’ is just to say بتشتغل سكرتيرة.
sekrateera b mall.
A secretary in a mall.
You can tell from Abu Abdo’s body language and intonation here that he’s a little bit sceptical that Warde is any kind of secretary.