Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Glories of Grammar: The Dual

Because I espouse communicative teaching methods and teaching Arabic dialects, and also object to calling formal language "correct" or "proper" people often assume I am "against" grammar.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as I actually love grammar, especially discussing and learning about grammar.  I simply have a different definition of grammar and conception of how it should be taught.  As an example of the glories of grammar, I offer one of my favorite parts of Formal Arabic grammar, dual agreement.

In Arabic, there is a singular noun for one item, a dual noun for two items, and a plural noun for three or more items*.  So, we have:

one cat: qiTTa
two cats: qiTTatan
three + cats: qiTaT

In formal Arabic (although not in the dialects), adjectives, verbs, demonstratives and relative pronouns must all agree with dual nouns.  The lovely part about this is that they all get the same ending (aani or ayni depending on the case) so then you can compose an entire sentence where every word rhymes*, such as the following:

هتان القطتان الكبيرتان اللتان تلعبان مجنونتان
haataani al-qiTTataani al-kabiiirataani allataani tal3abaani majnuunataani
these      the-two cats    the-big              that         play           crazy
(these two large cats that are playing are crazy)

How exciting is that!?

*actually 3-10 items, as at 11 it goes back to the singular if you are using the numbers

*My husband thinks this is why Formal Arabic is ridiculous.  In return, I have been thinking of the longest possible dual sentence to recite.


  1. The dual is high on my list of Why Arabic Is Totes Awesome. I don't know if it beats out Forms I-X, but it might.

    Oh, wait. Feminine plural forms. That's the killer app. I nearly forgot that.

    Wa al-qittataani al-saghirataani majnuunataani kathalak, fi baiti. :)

  2. My husband says that my family in Argentina is the only family he ever met where grammar was a recurring subject during the traditional Saturday lunch (which nobody is allowed to skip, no matter how hangover you are).

  3. If it's not a verb, it declines, rather than conjugating.

  4. Good point, I'll change it to agree.