Friday, February 19, 2010

How to Speak Arabic

I'm reading The Arab Mind by Raphael Patia. There are numerous wonderful quotes. Here's one:

[A] simple assent [saying yes] from an Arab can be, for him, nothing more than a polite form of evasion, while the same word may mean for his English interlocutor a definite, positive commitment....

A simple "Yes" or "No" is, for the English speaker, a definitive statement. His Arabic interlocutor, however, conditioned as he is by the exaggeration and overassertion that are the rule in his own mother tongue, is simply incapable or understanding such brief and simple statements in the same sense. For him, "Yes" only means "Perhaps." ("No" has for the Arab a similarly indefinite meaning.)

Only if the English speaker had said: "Yes, I am telling you definately, yes; I assure you positively and emphatically, yes; my answer is irrevocably and permanently yes!" would the Arab have got the point that what the English speaker really meant was "Yes."


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