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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: How Similar Are Hebrew and Arabic?

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Can a Hebrew speaker understand an Arabic speaker?

Well, the short answer is "No". The long answer is "kinda, sorta, maybe, but not really, no."

The question of the day is: "How similar are Hebrew and Arabic?"

As someone who has studied both languages, I get asked this question by quite a few people.

And it's a good question, it makes me think, because I'm not quite sure, but I'll give you my best answer.

Basically, Hebrew and Arabic are very closely related languages,

and if you study both, that will become very apparent, you'll see tons of similarities.

And if you know one well already, that will help you learn the other much more easily.

But at the same time, they are not mutually comprehensible.

That means, if you speak one and not the other,

then you won't be able to communicate with someone who speaks the other language. So they're not....

You can't... you can't communicate as though that the same language, it won't work.

OK, so let's talk about some things that are kind of similar, and I'll throw in some differences as I go.

And then I'll talk about how they're... not really useful as a communication tool with each other.

OK, so, they're similar in terms of the verbal system, and in terms of how you create words in the language.

So, in both Hebrew and Arabic, they have a system of roots.

Now, those roots are usually three consonant letters.

And you take those three consonant letters, and you put them into kind of templates that help you create a word.

So the templates are patterns. They're like... a set of... a combination of vowels and affixes.

They could be a prefix, or a suffix or even an infix inside the word.

So, let's take a three-letter root and I'll give you an example,

In Hebrew, you've got the root "Kuh", "Tuh", "Vuh". That's KTV, if you romanise it.

And in Arabic, you've got "Kuh", "Tuh", "Buh" : KTB, if you romanise it.

Already, you can see there's a similarity, that root is almost the same.

The "Buh" and the "Vuh" are different, but those sounds are equivalent.

So if you put them into the templates you can change it.

Let's use a verb conjugation template in the past tense, this is the simplest structure in both languages.

So in Hebrew if you say "I wrote", you would say "katavti".

In Arabic, you would say "katabtu", or in a dialect, maybe "katabt".

In Hebrew, for the second person masculine. For "you": you would say "katavta".

In Arabic, "katabta". So you can see that's quite similar.

For the feminine second person singular, In Hebrew, you would say "katavt".

In Arabic, you would say "katabti". OK, so you can see there, there's a similarity here,

in the way that you put the root into these templates to conjugate the verbs.

And you can see that the conjugations are kind of similar,

the templates are kind of similar, but they're not exactly the same, and there could be confusion.

Like.... for... for the one I said for... in Hebrew, it's "katavti", that's "I wrote",

but "katabti" in Arabic means "you wrote", it's when it's spoken to a female,

So you can see there could be a confusion there.

You might misunderstand and think they're talking about someone else.

Right, but you can see that's the same kind of system,

and that, that kind of system of templates is used to create nouns, to create adjectives,

all kinds of words, just the templates are different,

and have different affixes attached to them... and different vowels.

So that's one thing is that system of roots and templates: It's the same in both.

So if you learned that once, for one language,

it's just getting that concept down really helps you with the second language that uses that same system,

because it's a bit mind-bending at first to adjust to that root and template system

Another way that they're similar is in terms of just a lot of vocabulary.

You already saw that that one root: the "ku-tu-vu" and the "ku-tu-bu".

So there's a lot of vocabulary that's the same, it's not the majority of words though,

it's not like 80% or something like that it's... I don't know the exact percentage,

I would guess that it's about a third.

That's just off the top of my head from my studying experience: a third,

Some of the words are very similar or almost the same, and some are...

some are clearly related, if you examine the words, but you might not notice that just from hearing them,

because the phonology of the languages has become different, due to the language's history.

It's similar in French and Italian.

[In] French and Italian if you read two sentences, equivalent sentences, side by side,

you can look at them and you can say, "Oh this word must be the same as this word,"

"This one must be the same as this one," because the... the words look kind of similar.

They sound different and the spelling is different, but you can look at them and see that they're the same.

They have the same meaning because they look similar.

There are a lot of words like that... like they're... kind of cognates, but they're slightly different.

So I'll give you some examples of both types, like the ones that are very similar.

"yad" in Hebrew and Arabic, that means hand.

"dam" in Hebrew and Arabic that means blood.

Right, there's a lot of words that are similar like that, or almost the same like that,

some that you can figure out quite easily, like the pronouns, like...

I is "ani" in Hebrew, or "ana" in Arabic.

Or in Hebrew "you" for a man is "ata", in Arabic it's "anta". Right?

he is "hu" in Hebrew, it's "huwa" in Arabic.

Right, now, it might depend on the dialect too in Arabic, it's different in...from country to country.

Another one: Kitchen in Hebrew [is] "mitbach", and in Arabic it's "matbach",

So, pretty close, just one vowel changes in the Arabic one,

Some that are [a] little bit more different but you can see the similarity,

especially if you know the function or meaning of the word, like this one:

"to you" or "for you". In hebrew is "lecha", but in Arabic it's "lak".

So if you look at the consonants, you can see "l/k" vs "l/ch",

Those might be the same, right?

"av" in Hebrew is "father", "ab" in Arabic. So again you see that "b" and the "v".

Another one: "ben" is "son" in Hebrew, "ibn" is "son" in Arabic,

so if you just look at the consonants, the "b" and the "n", you can say "Oh, those are related."

Another one "rosh", rosh means "head" in Hebrew and "ra`s", "ra`s" means head in Arabic.

So "ra`s" and "rosh", those are clearly related.

Another one: "tongue". In Hebrew, "lashon", in Arabic, "lisaan",

"lisaan", so the "suh" and the "shuh", hmm, maybe there's a change there,

and also that the "oh" became an "ah" sound,

so there's some shifts in the sounds are going on

"Dog" in Hebrew is "kelev", in Arabic it's "kalb",

so you can see there are a lot of words that have a similar...similar root,

or they, they come from the same word, but they've shifted and become different.

So there's a lot of words like that, that you wouldn't necessarily understand when you hear them.

Another one that's this...

There are some words that are the same, but they have a different meaning like "medina" or "madina"

in Hebrew, "medina" is state,... like "medina t'Israel", the State of Israel,

but in Arabic, madina means a city.

So they're both political entities, there's a connection in the meaning,

but it's not exactly the same meaning, the meaning has become different.

And there are also a lot of words that are just different, entirely, for whatever reason.

It's always kind of strange to discover words that are exactly the same in Hebrew and Arabic,

and then the next word in the sentence is entirely different, and you've never seen it before.

So then why did this one become the same in both languages, but this one is different, why?

So, it makes it kind of interesting, I don't always know... usually don't know the answer, but yeah.

Anyway, there's a lot of different vocabulary.

So you can see that they are quite related, and there's a lot of crossover,

but... you won't understand one, just by learning the other, right?

It will help you learn the other, if you make the effort though.

And if you take what you know and try to apply it to the other language while learning.

So, let me give you an example of when I first went to Egypt in 1997,

I went there after having studied Hebrew for a couple years already,

and I was visiting Israel, and I went to Egypt too, so I tried to use my Hebrew and apply it to Arabic,

because I only knew a little bit of Arabic, I didn't know enough to really have a conversation or whatever.

So I would try to use my very simple Arabic,

and insert Hebrew words into it, and I knew the difference in phonology,

so I would kind of shift and Arabise my pronunciation of the Hebrew words,

and I was surprised by how often people understood me, and the people didn't speak Hebrew,

they weren't Hebrew speakers, but they understood, I guess they could they could hear the word,

and think of an equivalent or similar sounding word in Arabic, or they could hear the root,

and maybe that root was used in a different word in their Arabic dialect or whatever

So they could figure out what I was saying a lot of the time.

And they looked at me strangely, they thought maybe I was a weirdo,

or I remember they often asked me if I was from Lebanon.

So maybe they thought that my bizarre Arabic pidgin language was Lebanese Arabic.

It seemed to be something like that, they kept asking me if I was from Lebanon.

It happened like that in Jordan too, I remember when I was in Jordan the same year...

that I managed to use some Hebrew words in situations where I was surprised that that it went across.

So they understood a lot of my hebrew words when arabised them.

So that's just an example of how the the languages cross over,

and you can apply one to the other, but they're generally not mutually comprehensible,

you have to make the effort to shift it, to change that knowledge into the other language.

So that's why they are two different languages, not dialects of the same language.

Alright, so that's... that's what I wanted to share with you.

Just my experience with how similar they are, to give you some similarities, differences,

[I] hope you understand a little bit better than before.

Alright, thank you for listening, good night!

♫♫♫ English Subtitles by @dangeredwolf <3 ♫♫♫ (re-sync'ed and reorganized by Michel C.)

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