October 18, 2019 0

Arabic Grammar: An Overview of Broken Plural Patterns in Arabic جمع التكسير

Arabic Grammar: An Overview of Broken Plural Patterns in Arabic جمع التكسير


Ahlan wa sahlan! Right now we’re going to talk
about ‘broken plural’ patterns in Arabic, or what we call جمع التكسير. We call
them ‘broken plurals’ because we take the stem, the three-letter the tri-
consonantal root of our singular word, and we break it, and we shift the
consonants into different syllable patterns. And these patterns are used in
both formal and colloquial dialects of Arabic without too much of variation in
between them. The simple fact is that there are a lot of broken plural
patterns in Arabic, too many, in fact for me to demonstrate on this board. And that
makes it especially important for us to use our ‘phonographic memory,’ the same
kind of rhythmic sense that you use when you listen to music, for example, to hear
the rhythm of the different plurals. And as your vocabulary expands, you’ll start
to develop a sense for which singular nouns are likely to fit into which
plural patterns, but in order to hasten the development of that sense, it’s
really important for the moment that you you try as hard as you can to always
learn the plural form of any nouns that you encounter. So let’s take a look and
a listen at a couple of examples. ‘kitaab,’ if we’re talking about more
than one ‘kitaab,’ a group of three or more, we would call, we would refer to
them as ‘kutub.’ ‘madiina,’ now you see a ‘taa marbuuta,’ so if you didn’t know any
better it might be a decent guess to think of madiina madiina madiina, ‘madiinaat,’
but in fact it has a broken plural, as well which is ‘mudun.’ Try saying those
to yourself: ‘kutub,’ ‘mudun.’ The vowels, the internal vowels of the plural patterns
are exactly the same. Some other examples in a different pattern: ‘walad’ turns into ‘awlaad,’ ‘اسم,’ ‘أسماء’, ‘شيء,’ a ‘thing,’ turns into ‘أشياء’. ‘awlaad,’
‘asmaa,’ ‘ashyaa’—again, we have the same rhythm, the same internal rhythm for
these words. Some other examples: speaking of ‘taa marbuuTa,’ again, we have to
be careful, because we could be, we could be thinking, oh I see a ‘taa marbuuTa,’ I’ll just
add the ‘alif-taa,’ that sound feminine plural pattern, but not always. Sometimes
we have words like غرفة which turns into غرف, or أسرة which turns
into أسر, or قصة, which turns into قصص Or, one final group just as an
example, بيت. بيت بيت بيت… بيوت. صفّ… صفوف… Or بنك, as in ‘bank’ in English; if we want to talk
about more than one bank we refer to a group of بنوك. ‘Bank’ is a long word from
some European language, but the plural is Arabized. It’s a broken plural. One more
example of that would be فيلم, a movie, a film; in Arabic, follows the same
pattern as these words: أفلام. It can seem a little bit outlandish, but
this is how broken plurals work. And if you devote yourself to the
challenge of trying to hear those internal rhythms, it really will help you
along, and eventually you’ll be able to play a little bit, to enjoy the sound of
that rhythm. Again these are just a few patterns–there are a couple dozen in
Arabic; some of them are archaic and hardly ever seen, and some of them we see every day. Most of these words are fairly common,
there’s nothing too obscure. So for now when you’re memorizing new vocabulary,
make sure to listen to that plural and see if it fits into one of the paradigms
of another plural that you already know.

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