On May 10th we held our first Glossika Live session, during which Glossika's very own Imad provided a crash-course overview and comparison of four Middle Eastern languages: (Modern Standard) Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, and Persian.

You may view the video here on YouTube:

Note: The video did not include Hebrew because Imad does not speak Hebrew.

A few key points from the video are summarized below:

The Middle East, geographically

The Middle Eastern languages are clustered around the area where Africa meets Eurasia. Kurdish is special in that it is not confined to a particular country, but rather is spoken generally around Iran and Iraq, forming a rough geographical intersection between where Turkish, Arabic, and Persian are spoken.

The alphabets of these languages (Turkish aside) are also very similar. Persian and Kurdish simply use a version of the Arabic script that has a few extra letters. You can learn to

A quick introduction to Turkish

The Turkish alphabet looks quite similar to the English one — you'll just have to learn a few new letters:

Turkish is an agglutinative language. Whereas English might use several words to convey an idea, Turkish instead tends to give really long "tails" to verbs. Below you can see how "if you didn't" is considered to be part of the word "go" in Turkish.

A final distinctive feature of Turkish is what's called "vowel harmony". Turkish has two different categories of vowels, and as much as possible, it prefers that the vowels of a word be in "harmony" with each other. Most grammatical suffixes come in two pairs, one for the first category of vowels and one for the second category of vowels. If a word contains category-one vowels, then you also use the category-one suffix, and so forth.

If you want to take a deeper dive into Kurdish, we actually have an entire video on it:

An overview of (Modern Standard) Arabic

In addition to a new writing system, Arabic presents learners with several new sounds they'll need to learn:

Arabic is special amongst writing systems in that only consonants exist as letters. Vowels are instead represented by little diacritic markers that appear above or below consonants, as shown below.

Like Turkish, Arabic is also a very harmonious language. Masculine nouns must be accompanied by masculine adjectives, nouns in the genitive case must be accompanied by adjectives in the genitive case, and so forth.

This emphasis on "harmony" also transfers over to the formation of vocabulary words. Many Arabic vocabulary words have a 3-letter root at their base — for example, words related to writing typically contain a "k-t-b". To go from a root to a word, you simply apply a consistent sound "mold" on top of the root. For example, adding "-a-a-a" to a root will yield a verb.

An overview of Persian

The Persian alphabet is very similar to the Arabic alphabet, but it has a few unique sounds: a new S Z and H sound, plus a glottal stop.

Persian and Arabic numbers are also very similar... except for 4 and 6!

Persian is particularly famous for its literature and poetry.

How the languages fit together

While they're all separate languages, there is quite a bit of vocab shared between Arabic, Persian, and Kurdish. Here are a few examples of some words that are similar (and a few that are different.)

Arabic has many dialects

Modern Standard Arabic is a common language used in the news, but most people speak a local dialect of Arabic. Generally speaking, dialects that are close in proximity will be mutually intelligible, while dialects that are further apart won't be.

Should you learn MSA or a dialect?

Both! Start with MSA — it will give you a base of grammar and vocabulary. From there, you can focus on the dialect of the country you have a particular interest in.

You may also like:

  1. How to Tell the Difference Between Arabic, Persian, and Kurdish
  2. How Many Languages You Need to Know to Understand the Middle East?
  3. How to Write and Pronounce Arabic Alphabet
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