Arabic words in English

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Hani, May 10, 2007.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    According to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu-Arabic_numeral_system#History, Indian scholars developed the symbols from which the numerals 1 - 9 are derived long before the Islamic era. They developed the decimal positional notational system in the 6th century C.E. (I.e., "thirty-three" is written with two 3's, instead of "thirty" and "three" having different symbols as in the earlier Greek and Hebrew systems.) Arabs and Persians adopted the system and the symbols in their then-current forms at the dawn of the Islamic era. Zero was represented by various awkward means, including a blank space, which to this former mathematician seems the most awkward of all. There's some controversy over who invented the symbol for zero, but the earliest documents in which it occurs seem to all be from India, toward the end of the first millennium C.E.

    These are now called Hindu-Arabic numerals. They were only used by mathematicians until fairly modern times. Merchants and other citizens used various older systems including that of the ancient Babylonians. Leonardo Fibonacci (he of the Fibonacci Series 1 2 3 5 8 13 21...) translated Arabic texts and brought the numerals to Europe in the 12th century, and they came into common use there in the 15th century. I don't know when they were adopted by non-scholars in India and the Middle East but Europe is credited with the first adoption by common folk.

    Today there are essentially three versions of the Hindu-Arabic numerals but they all derive from the same source. One is used in India, one in the Middle East, and one in Europe and Moorish Africa.

    Chinese uses a curious but basically satisfactory and efficient system that was influenced by its non-phonetic writing system. As we all know, English "thirty" is a mashup of "three tens." Chinese wrote this with the kanji for three ten so it is still pronounced that way. (There is no singular/plural paradigm in Chinese.) They read "1958" as "one thousand nine hundred five ten eight" and they write it with the characters for those words. It's not exactly a true positional notation because it would be difficult to use for math, but it does have only one series of ten numerals including a zero. Considering that they have a separate word for ten thousand, it works pretty well in common speech and they use our numerals for science and high finance.
     
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  3. Hani Registered Senior Member

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    Thank you Fraggle Rocker, excellent summation.

    I just want to say that I don't believe in anyway that Islamic intellectual culture, or that of the China or any other culture is comparable to the western one. Comparing Islamic culture to western culture is, in my opinion, analogue to comparing shit to diamond. I just want to point out some good things about Islamic history, though I know now that westerns have the same sensitivity to this issue as Muslims.
     
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    "Western" culture is essentially the modern form of Greco-Roman civilization, which itself was essentially a descendant of Mesopotamian, one of the world's six (known) unique civilizations. Only three of those six survive; the other three (Egypt, Aztec and Inca) were obliterated by armies of the European and Arabic branches of Mesopotamian civilization. Destroying the competition doesn't quite seem like a fair way to achieve our "superiority."

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    In any case that superiority is transitory. During the thousand years of ignorance and squalor known as the Dark Ages, when European culture was suppressed by Christianity, China, India, and the Middle East surpassed us in science, philosophy, art, and civil government.

    Now we find ourselves ascendant, with India derailed by our imperialism, China by a whimsical economic system of our own making, and the Middle East by religion. This too shall pass.
     
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  7. Hani Registered Senior Member

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    I don't think that other civilizations were going anywhere, because they wouldn't probably have what Europe's intellectuals had, secularism, i.e. separation between religion and thought. This is what has created this fine culture, and if it were lost, the west will be again like Muslim world is today.
     
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I think that China has already started down that road. The Dao and Confucianism are not, properly, religions, and I don't believe they present the risk that true religions do. Even Buddhism as it's practiced in China is pretty compatible with rational thought. China's biggest philosophical roadblock is communism, and they seem to be finding their own unique way around it. Napoleon warned us to beware of the awakening of the Sleeping Dragon and I suspect we may be witnessing the first fluttering of the eyelids.

    China is: 1. The world's oldest continuous civil government and 2. The only defunct Great World Power to regain that status. It bears watching.

    And then look at what's going on in India right now!

    I see a very exciting and optimistic future for this planet and it is not hanging by a thread on the fate of Euro-American civilization.

    My major concern is the strong influence of the Abrahamic religions with their regular-as-clockwork eruptions into genocidal violence. So to me, a shift in power to non-Abrahamist China and India, for all their faults, will be a blessing.
     
  9. Zephyr Humans are ONE Registered Senior Member

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    Funny that alcohol should be an Arabic word when Muslims don't drink it

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    The rise of China will be an amazing thing to watch. I just hope they don't have any superiority complexes. (The superiority that tries to assimilate - not so bad, if their culture truly is superior. The superiority that tries to eliminate - that's the scary one.)
     
  10. Hani Registered Senior Member

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    China was always a peaceful nation in history, but what worries me is their thinking; they see the world just as Muslims do, "Evil" nations conspiring against their "good" one, and here lies the risk… also they still have not got a democratic regime, very scary too.
     
  11. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    Thats how Americans think- "they hate us for our freedom"

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  12. Jeremyhfht Registered Senior Member

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    hani: did you know that most of the words we supposedly received from arabics (that we hadn't even conversed with in so many years after this country began) the arabics themselves stole from other languages (including tons of other words and phrases)?

    The same goes for their numerals, and thousands of other inventions the Arabics stole from other nations. Arabs are largely a pure loan-nation.

    But I must also say this: Who. The. Fuck. Cares? English has thousands of loan words from even more languages. The arabs, especially from such a small list as you gave, is hilarious at best. What are you insinuating?
     
  13. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    The Arabs stole from other languages? What a moron.

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  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Apparently you've never heard of araq. It's an anise-based liquor like sambuca or Southern Comfort. Quite popular throughout the Arab world and the national drink of Jordan.
    China, the country whose name for itself is "the center country," a superiority complex?

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    Every culture has its elements of superiority.
    Historically, China expressed its superiority by teaching their culture to others. Korea, Japan, Vietnam and other eastern countries were culturally colonized by Chinese monks who saw themselves as teachers rather than missionaries of the Christian or Muslim type. They brought Buddhism (itself a religion of assimilation rather than conversion) but they also brought written language and a couple thousand year head start on philosophy, literature, art, technology, and the general trappings of what went on to become the world's oldest continuous civilization.
    I don't know the history of the region well enough to say whether their cultural evangelism ever encountered serious military resistance or they were clever and humble enough to avoid inspiring it, but internally China has had its share of bloody civil wars right up to the recent ones that installed Sun Yisen (Sun Yat-sen in Cantonese) and Mao Zedong. As I mentioned in another forum, Mao's civil war is one of only four conflicts subsequent to WWII that had a seven-figure body count.

    China, Greece, Rome and England each used specific colonization tactics that they saw as appropriate to the situations they encountered in "barbarian" lands--and to their own sense of national destiny of course. The "colonizing" efforts for which America is famous everywhere but in America were a mix of popular culture and economic charity. The former were wildly effective but the latter have backfired as often as not. China's current colonizing efforts are pure commercial economics and time will tell of their success or failure externally, but they're sure doing wonders for China itself.
    I was a member by cohabitation of the Chinese-American community for a while. I can speak first-hand of their unconscious matter-of-fact sense of superiority. And they have their racist streak, although it's directed more at other East Asian peoples like Koreans and Filipinos than at the Caucasians they generically refer to as "foreigners" even when they're living in our countries. But personally, I've never heard a Chinese speak of another people as "evil." (And as "the clever foreigner who tries so earnestly to speak our language" I've surprised a few of them by understanding things they thought were said behind my back.) I think their spirituality, with its grounding in the Dao, Confucianism and Buddhism, simply does not present them with that paradigm.

    As you know from my postings, I am no fan of the pathetic one-dimensional model of the human spirit that the Abrahamic religions have imposed on much of the world, with everything forced to take its place on a linear scale of good vs. evil. But the Chinese seem to make better use of their one-dimensional model of yang and yin. They recognize that there's good and evil in everything and everyone.

    I think that sense of foreigners conspiring against them was an element of communism (a western philosophy, to our eternal shame), not Chinese culture. I don't think that previously they ever felt threatened by outsiders. Their history reinforces that sense of comfort: China has assimilated every army that thought it had conquered China, much the same way England ultimately absorbed the Norman occupiers. The Mongols became Chinese. As for the Manchus, not only did the people become Chinese, but Manchuria itself is now just a set of Chinese provinces. If WWII had gone the other way and China were left under Japanese rule, Japan might now be a province of China too.

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    Even the army of communism "conquered" China, but after wrestling with it for sixty years they are well on their way to triumphing over it and assimilating it into something that would make Marx turn over in his grave.
    Yes, that is hard for us to deal with. Confucianism is an authoriatarian philosophy. It's been argued that we don't understand North Korea because we think Kim Jong Il rules in a Stalinist model, when in fact it's a Confucian model.
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2007
  15. Jeremyhfht Registered Senior Member

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    ...uh...excuse me? You'd prefer I said "cultures"?
     
  16. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    How do you "steal" words?
     
  17. Jeremyhfht Registered Senior Member

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    -.- the fact you knew what I meant makes this all the more ridiculous. If you didn't, then I'm not wasting my time telling you.
     
  18. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    I find it very interesting that you think the Arabs "stole" words while the "others" were merely "loans"; could you care to explain the difference?
     
  19. Zephyr Humans are ONE Registered Senior Member

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    Is it only a loan if you give the words back later?

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    Either way, English has more (borrowed? stolen?) foreign words than almost any other language; that's why it's such a flexible, expressive tongue.

    Like an anteater.
     
  20. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    Oh noooo. Please tell me you didn't write that.
     
  21. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    I had this argument the other day with a faculty member about using the word prepone; imagine my astonishment when I found out its an English word used chiefly by Indians!

    So is that a loan or a theft or a hijack?

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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prepone
     
  22. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    Gift.
     
  23. Zephyr Humans are ONE Registered Senior Member

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    I didn't write that; I distinctly remember typing it . . .
    I've never heard it before, but it seems a logical enough extension. Neologisms like that pop up every so often (e.g. according to Wiki, prequel wasn't used before the 1970s)
     

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