Once a Bedoiun was asked, ‘do you believe in God?’ He replied, ‘the manure there and the footstep marks on the sand, is..
This post is on Semitic languages, atheism and the donkey’s manure.
Continued from previous post. Please refer to it for context.
I’ve been told, that in Semitic languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic), every action (verb) must be followed by a doer. In Arabic you can’t just say, ‘run.’ It’s either (he) run, or she, or they or them etc. And this can said with one word, not two. And with that same word, you’re also indicating past, present/future tense or a command.
There are certain things that just is in some languages that isn’t in others, and it’s tricky for anyone to understand if they know only one language. Or two of little difference, like knowing English and Malay. Such people (like I was) may take a while to grasp the concept of feminine and masculine words as it doesn’t exist in either of the two.
There is no word for ‘is’ in Arabic. In English the placement of your words are key for meaning. In Arabic, you place the word almost any way within a sentence and it still can mean the same thing.
So in Arabic, even when the doer is not mentioned, it’s a case of it not being mentioned but there’s still a doer. To illustrate – he broke the glass (kasara az-zujaj). It can be ‘the glass broke’ (kusira az-zujaj), or the glass broke itself (inkasara az-zujaj). The presence of the doer is there still.
Once a Bedoiun was asked, ‘do you believe in God?’ He replied, ‘the manure there and the footstep marks on the sand, is enough of a sign to show that it was done by something. And here you are asking me about the Heavens and the Earth?’
As I mentioned before, languages reflects fundamental things. I’ve yet to read enough on this but one person explained to me before. The Malay language and culture, was rich before Islam came.
When they became Muslims, the religion brought a fresh air and lifted them even further, like how a friend of mine once described the initial coming of Kanye West and John Legend. Anyhow, Arabic words like ‘awal’ and ‘akhir’ entered the Malay language (beginning and end), because it just didn’t exist prior. So did ‘wujud’ (existence).
These words were required not just in the absence of it from within the existing language developed, but also to apply, reflect and describe their (new) way of life and how they understood the life and the world.
What’s important to a people.
In English there’s the beard, moustache, sideburns and I suppose one or two other words. In Arabic there are almost twenty words to indicate each different types of hair on one’s face. And it may work differently for another thing in Mandarin or Tagalog.
Like many Malaysians, I wonder though if we can ever find a way to describe to non-Malay speakers, what ‘manja’ means. I’m not sure what’s the source but I suspect it shows how important love and affection are in this part of the world.
*Pic source: Flickr account of Africances. Taken in front of Masjid Jame’. Central mosque of Tareem.