Grammars etc.

Beginner’s Iraqi Arabic

by Nawal Nasrallah & Nadia Hassaniiraqi
Hippocrene Books, 2006
365 pages, $36.95, paperback & 2 CDs
ISBN 978-0781810982

The blurb on the back of the book says that it’s “designed for both classroom and self-study” but then you open it up and there’s not one word written in Arabic. What? Although not on the cover, the title page helpfully includes the descriptive subtitle “An Introduction to the Spoken Language of Iraq”. The chapters follow the usual subjects found in phrasebooks. On the two CDs the 114 tracks are not as pleasant as one might hope, as they involve stilted reading from script; the english sections are particularly… imperative. I was unable to find any key connecting the audio tracks to the text.

The painting on the cover, Dialog, is by Khalid Al-Jadir and it’s lovely.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANawal Nasrallah is an Iraqi native who taught English language and English literature at the Universities of Baghdad and Mosul. Her other books include Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of Iraqi Cuisine.
Nadia Hassani obtained her master’s degree in Islamic Studies from the University of Bonn in Germany.
Her previous books include a German-language travel guide to Tunisia, and the cookbook Spoonfuls of Germany.


Introduction to Qur’anic Script

by Syed Barakat Ahmad001111410-hq-168-80
Curzon Press, 1985, revised edition
172 pages, $54
ISBN 978-0700710690
Rating: ✭ ✭

Meant for those wanting to read the Qur’an: the author states he is concerned only with reading, not writing, although there are pages on proportions of letters. Interesting chapter on Qur’anic punctuation, which is largely about how to recite the Qur’an, hence markings for stops, breaths, and places where it is better not to stop. Marginal marks are explained; these show the division of the Qur’an into surah, ayah and ruku.

It seems that many non-Arabic speaking Muslims have a wealth of services, on  line and at mosques, for help with learning to read Arabic. For the general learner, this is a very focused text and may not cover general concerns.

In this early 1970s picture Syed Muhammad Fazal Shah Sahib presides at an annual Majlis (urs of Hazrat Haider Ali Shah Sahib). On his right is his eldest son, Syed Barakat Ahmed and on his left is his younger brother, Nawab Sir Mehr Shah.

In this early 1970s picture Syed Muhammad Fazal Shah Sahib presides at an annual Majlis. On his right is his eldest son, Syed Barakat Ahmed and on his left is his younger brother, Nawab Sir Mehr Shah.

Syed Barakat Ahmad had a doctorate in Arab history and literature. He served in the Indian diplomatic service and retired as India’s High Commissioner to the West Indies. He was also  a student of Arabic teaching at the Al Azhar and Aligarh Universities. He died in 1988.

Read Arabic: an Arabic reader for Arabic students at all levels

41g1DSzydLL._SY300_by Gunna Funder Hansen & Saliha Marie Fettah
University Press of Southern Denmark, 2007
92 pages, $24.50, paperback
ISBN 978-8776741617
Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭

I like it. Offers a remedy to one big problem when reading Arabic as a beginner: recognizing words automatically. I am always sounding out words that I know well but cannot identify at a glance. The authors are aware of this problem and offer a series of readings where repeated words gradually become much more familiar. It’s not so much that you understand every word you read, but that you don’t get bogged so far down you grind to a halt. So beginners can use the book and look up words they don’t understand; intermediate students can improve their reading speed. No vowel markings. No English.

The Connectors in Modern Standard Arabic

41xaseIJp2L._SY300_by Nariman Naili Al-Warraki & Ahmed Taher Hassanein
American University Press, 1994
209 pages, $24.95, paperback
ISBN 978-9774243547
Rating: ✭✭✭✭  

I used to be all of the time looking for Arabic words in the dictionary and not finding them and getting all pissy about it because I couldn’t understand why. The because is that there are a number of one-letter prefixes that add meaning to a word but aren’t part of the word itself. Fa, for example can mean then, and then, for or but. (Plus a few other things.) It gets attached to the nose of the following word, and you end up looking at something akin to fotter. You understand the rest of the sentence but what is a fotter? Because you can’t find it in the dictionary no way no how.

Connectors in Modern Standard Arabic seemed like it might be the answer to my vexation, but it’s a bit too tough for me to decipher. Partly it’s just too advanced and partly there just isn’t enough English translation of the (sometimes) very dense sentences. Actually, I have now twice borrowed it from the library; the second time, a few months after the first, I was able to get more from it.

So this is a valuable book, but not until you have a fairly good facility for reading. At by that time, you would know about these one-letter prefixes, so would you still want this book? Yes, because these connectors have many meanings depending on context, and I think this is a book to return to many times.



An Egyptian-Arabic Manual for Self Study

by Elias A Elias & Ed E Eliasss
Elias Modern Press, 1974
240 pages, no price, paperback

Rating: ✭✭✭✭ 

This is my very first book on learning Arabic, purchased in Alexandria in 1974, hence the high rating. It must have been hot off the press. I read in the preface that it is the “18th enlarged edition”. It has lots of marginalia made by moi back in the day, including a crude drawing of a lion. Lists of words in sections. No grammar. Amusing stilted formal letters in the back pages (My dear Father, You will undoubtedly be glad pageto know that the holidays commence on Wednesday next…) Oh! It’s listed at WorldCat! Who knew? If you happen to be near the North Kansas Central Library it’s your lucky day. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me happy.

Teaching Arabic to the English

by “a group of specialists”ta
No publisher
134 pages, no price, paperback
Rating: ✭ ✭



An odd paperback I got second-hand with anonymous authors and no hint as to the publisher or country of origin. On the cover is a B&W photograph of a couple of rowdy looking characters at leisure on their camels. In the background is some ancient site. Maybe someone can identify it and we’ll have a clue?

Anyway, there is nothing in this book about teaching anybody anything. What there is are lists of words in english with arabic and english transliterations. It seems like a slightly more modern version of my dear old Egyptian-Arabic Manual for Self-Study and so it gets an extra star for that. No vowel markings. some of the sentences include humourous  mispellings on the english side of things which are combined with sentences you may never ever need, such as Now the borometer is rising and I reserved a room by telegraoh. It’s the kind of book I would take into the bathroom with me a spend a bit of time checking out the vocabulary.

Arabic Grammar: a first workbook

mw96uqgZFXszKuXPiuQwIQgby GM Wickens
Cambridge University Press 1980
171 pages, $54.00, paperback
ISBN 978-0521293013
Rating: ✭ ✭ ✭

Few exercises; not for the beginner or faint-of-heart. The professor does present the grammar in his own way, which is useful for a second opinion. I find that often I need to read a second text on any given point of grammar in an effort to understand some point; this book is often what I turn to. Every subject has its own section of one or two dense paragraphs (207 of them). I don’t know why it’s so expensive.

George Michael Wickens was born in London in 1918. He was a professor of Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto, fluent in Arabic and Persian. He died in 2006.

The Essential Arabic: A learner’s practical guide

by Rafi’ el-Imad Faynan 41N2AboUfUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
Goodword Books 1998, reprinted many times
184 pages, $9.00, paperback 
ISBN 9788185063263
Rating: ✭ ✭ 

Published by The Institute of the Language of the Qur’an Inc. And from New Delhi, where the author is (or was) a professor of Arabic at Jamia Millia Islamia. Broken into many lessons and although I wouldn’t want to learn from it, it’s fine as a second opinion on any thorny grammatical issue. Always good to read about something tricky expressed in another way. The arabic has vowel markings throughout. Slightly flowery colonial english. I paid $10 at a small Islamic shop, and then when I got home saw a sticker inside saying “Not for Resale”.