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The letters lighted up at the back of my brain

from Saturday, January19th of the year2008.

Robert Worth has a really excellent article about learning Arabic at the Times. Specifically, he addresses the strange phenomenon of being shocked, as a student of arabic, at being able to understand hardcore Al-Qa’eda speeches and not standard colloquial Arabic. He also says:

At the same time, all Arabic words have simple three- or four-letter roots, with systematically derived cognates that allow you to unfold a whole range of meanings from a single word. The word for “to cook,” for instance, is related in a predictable way to the words for “kitchen,” “dish,” “chef,” and so on. Arabic speakers are often dismayed to discover that the same principle is less common in English.

As the months passed, the sounds of the language were gradually transformed. Arabic’s hard “h” letter, so difficult to pronounce at first, began to seem like a lovely breath of air, as if countless tiny parachutes were lifting the words above their glottal base. The notorious “ayn” sound, which often takes months for English speakers to produce, lost its guttural edge and acquired, to my ear, the throaty rumble of a well-tuned sports car.

ayn.JPGTotally. The ‘ayn sound is a particularly difficult one, but it is one that is also found in posh English accents (see my post about it here). Check out this article from Al-Ahram weekly, too, on the letters of the alphabet.

In Icelandic, there are a bunch of really subtle sonic things that happen in the course of a sentence that I’d be interested to read any studies on, if they exist. There is a practice of emphasizing words by splitting them in half with actual silence (rather than the English practice of elongation) or with glottal H-sounds; you see this if somebody is telling a story and splits up the word “hlaupa” (to run) with an ENORMOUS pause between the Hlau-sound and the final pa.

800px-pickled_capers.jpgLast night I started work with Shoplifter on our project for the Kitchen on March 7th and 8th of this year. It’s going to be really great; I can’t really describe it in any detail yet but it’s going to be visually and musically engaging and a lot of fun, without a doubt! Afterwards, we went to La Lunchonette where I managed to consume an entire calf’s head: sweetbreads & brains. Strangely, my craving last night was not so much for innards as much as for capers, which is the one thing my fridge will never be without!


  • never enough capers…

  • No “e” in La Lunchonette — unless you are emphasizing the name of this (quite charming) restaurant by splitting it in half with a silent “e”?


    Nico responds: Point taken! I do love that (quite charming) restaurant. The post will be amended.