teaching foreign languages at an early age

Daniel Riaño danielrr2 at gmail.com
Mon Jan 17 21:01:33 UTC 2011

Dear Aya,

2011/1/17 A. Katz <amnfn at well.com>

> For purposes of ease of learning as a new language, Arabic and Spanish, or
> Arabic and Catalan, need not have any elements that can be properly traced
> to historical borrowing or genetic common origin. All that is required is
> that there be some genuine similarity in their present forms of whatever
> origin  -- even mere coincidence.
> This is very true, in many senses. Castillian speakers, for instance, find
much more easy to speak in Greek than they do in French, since the phonetics
of Greek and Castillian are similar, whilst the repertory of French vocals,
just to mention one point, is too exuberant for the typical Castillian
taste. Spanish learners of Greek with just some proficiency may pass as
native talkers of some dialectal variety of Greek, while for French, well
you've heard about the Spanish cow...

But, to me, the hardest part for learning a language is vocabulary, and the
irregularities of a given grammar. For that reason my experience is that,
for a Spaniard, it may be easier to progress in Tagalog than it is in, say,
Russian, in spite of lingustic affiliations. As for Arabic, (and you can
take this with a grain of salt) I don't think Spaniards (speakers of Spanish
or Catalan) have any advantage in learning it (or the reverse); Phonetics
are not specially close (and vocal length pose always an issue for
Spaniards), and there are huge differences in syntax, of course, just to
mention two points. Without much in the vocabulary to help, is no wonder
that Arabic immigrants in Spain seem to find it harder to master the
language than many immigrants coming from other non Indoeuropean communities
(there may be many additional explanations, of course).

> For instance, the definite articles are superficially similar. Are they
> related? Most would say "no." The Spanish comes from Latin ille and the
> Arabic from maybe hal-, but "el" and "al" seem very similar, and this is not
> just a sound similarity, but a similarity of function. After all, not every
> language has a definite article, let alone one that sounds like that.
Hmmmm, I think the relation between the Arabic and Spanish articles a little
bit far-fetched. Of course they share similarities (both are articles after
all) but the Spanish article is, as you say, the old story of
ille-finds-a-new-meaning for its old function & falls in love & become
engaged, so common in most Romance languages, with no special phonetic
changes calling for a foreign explanation. There are big differences in use,
too! It is a bit like the similarities between "potamos" and "Potomac",
which doesn't explain the Corinthian columns of the Capitol (I think). And
articles have so little phonetic substance that chance may play a big role
in apparent similarities.



> As Jo said, it can all seem very mysterious why one language seems easy to
> learn, and the ease is often a subconscious assessment of similarity that
> has nothing to do with the rigors of genetic classification.
>   --Aya
> On Mon, 17 Jan 2011, Daniel Riańo wrote:
>  The influence of Arabic over modern Spanish is amazingly scarce, specially
>> considering the centuries of Moorish presence in the Iberian Peninsula.
>> Probably even less over Catalan. The identifiable influence of other
>> Semitic
>> languages over Modern Spanish (outside toponymy and modern borrowings) is
>> almost zero.
>> Almost all the influence of Arabic on Modern Spanish affects the
>> vocabulary,
>> and even there, the quantity of words of Arabic origin in the common
>> modern
>> vocabulary is surprisingly small, probably around one or (at most) two
>> hundreds, mostly restricted to substantives, and almost all of them
>> belonging to a small number of semantic fields: water and irrigation,
>> warfare, local institutions, building, horses, some crafts, and specially
>> plants and food. Most educated Spanish speakers identify the "al" element
>> at
>> the beginning of many words with an Arabic etymology, with or without
>> reason
>> (usually with). A good number of scientific terms entered the Spanish
>> vocabulary via the arabic scholars, most of them of Greek origin. There's
>> one expresion of Arabic origin ("ojala", "God Willing") that
>> Spanish-speaking people use vey often.
>> With much philological pain it has been collected a list of almost 4,000
>> words of Arabic origin used in documents written in Spanish at some time,
>> but most of them are words out of use, often terms to designate aspects of
>> Islamic life.
>> There is very little of Arabic in modern Spanish morphology: an -i suffix
>> used almost only with Arabic (or muslim-) related realia ("nazarí") and
>> maybe an "a" causative prefix (as in "acalorar") still productive.
>> Most phonetic and syntactical phenomena that have been attributed to
>> Arabic
>> influence, and there's not much of them, are best (and usually) explained
>> otherwise.
>> Daniel
>> P.S. The influence of Berber languages over all romance languages of the
>> Iberian Peninsula is much smaller, limited to local lexical borrowings in
>> some small locations.
>> 2011/1/17 A. Katz <amnfn at well.com>
>>> I don't know much about Catalan, but I am wondering if there might not be
>>> some grammatical or areal feautures of the language that might make
>>> Arabic
>>> not that hard to learn, if you already speak Cat. After all, Spanish had
>>> some Arabic influence in it in general, and I imagine that all languages
>>> spoken on the Iberian peninsula have Semitic influences from both the
>>> moorish conquests and the earlier Carthaginian occupation.

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