Purity in corruption.

purity.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

There is a long standing disagreement between supporters of classical Arabic الفصحى vs. supporters of colloquial Arabic العامية with regards which should prosper. The former group sought to avoid colloquial words at all cost, regardless of how correct they were or how well they expressed the intended meaning, while the latter group avoided unfamiliar and uncommon words claiming they were difficult to pronounce.

In reaction to this conflict there emerged a number of authors, led by Ibrāhīm ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Mazinī, who deemed it necessary to try and bring these two factions together, by employing in their writings many words that are commonly uttered by the colloquial tongue, but which are actually correct and classical words.

There also appeared a new branch of lexicography which dealt with this phenomenon of words commonly accepted as colloquial, but with strong classical roots. Among these were Tahdhīb al-Alfādh al-‘Āmmiyyah by Muhammad ‘Alī al-Dasūqī, al-Muhkam fī Usūl al-Lughah al-‘Āmmiyyah by Ahmad ‘Īsā, al-‘Āmmiyyah al-Fushā by Mahmūd Taymūr, and Alfādh ‘Āmmiyyah Fasīhah by Muhammad Dawūd al-Tanayyur, which includes one thousand four hundred words so commonly used in speech that people think them to be colloquial words, but which are “pure, standard Arabic words, acceptable to use in writings, speeches, literature, stories, plays and the like.”

Many such words are those in which the hamzah ء has been diluted into an alif ا sound (more commonly) or sometimes a wāw or a yā’ sound, such as in the colloquial word istannā استنى (‘wait’) used in the place of ista’annā استأنى, badayt بديت (‘I began’) used in the place of bada’t بدأت, jā جا (‘he came’) used in the place of jā’a جاء, and commonly used in the construction jā bi-al-[ta’ām for e.g.] جا بالطعام* instead of jā’a bi al-ta’ām, shā شا instead of shā’a شاء as in the phrase Mā shā Allāh ما شا الله instead of mā shā’a Allāh ما شاء الله, wayn وين (‘where’) used in the place of ayna أين, and so on. This omission of the hamzah is permissible when done for the sake of takhfīf (ease) in speech, as takhfīf is accepted to be one of the dialects (lughāt) of the Arabs.

Other examples of common words wrongly thought to be colloquial are:

Ikhsa اخسَ as in the phrase ikhsa ‘alayk اخس عليك used to rebuke someone. This is actually used in the Qur’an as in the verse (23:108):

قَالَ اخْسَؤُوا فِيهَا وَلَا تُكَلِّمُونِ

He (Allah) will say: “Remain you in it with ignominy! And speak you not to Me!”

and (2:65),

فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُواْ قِرَدَةً خَاسِئِينَ

We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised and rejected.”

It is correct in its colloquial usage.

Idayh إديه used in place of yadayh يديه (his two hands). This is one of the dialects of Arabic, and is acceptable to use.

Imbārih امبارح (‘yesterday’). It is used in place of al-bārih البارح, and is acceptable because in the Yemeni dialect the letter lām is turned into a meem, and thus they say law mā لوما in the place of law lā لولا .

Aysh أيش used to mean ayyu shay’ أي شيء. This is an acceptable example of naht and is fine to use formally. It is mentioned in Shifā’ al-‘Alīl that this was heard from the Arabs.

Kikh كِخْ is a words used when speaking to children to indicate something is bad. It is mentioned in a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that al-Hasan or al-Husayn** ate a date that was bought using money given in charity, so the Prophet (may the peace and prayers of Allah be upon him) said to him, “Kikh! Kikh! Do you not know that my family is not allowed to take charity?!”

So carefully consider your speech next time you scold a person for using colloquial words, for you may be scolding them for using pure, correct Arabic!

*Note that it is not jāb al-ta’ām جاب الطعام in the colloquial, as is commonly thought

** The children of ‘Alī and Fātimah (may Allah be pleased with them). As Fātimah was the Prophet’s (may the peace and prayers of Allah be upon him) daughter, al-Hasan and al-Husayn were his (may the peace and prayers of Allah be upon him) grandchildren.


20 responses to “Purity in corruption.

  1. al-Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatullah.

    Is the aammiyyah of one area better or closer to fusha than that of another?
    The Shaamis say their way of speaking is closer to fusha yet the Jordanians say the same!

    Wa Jazakamullahu khairan.

  2. wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmatullaah,

    There is alot of disagreement regarding the answer to your question, and for me to provide a definitive answer would require much more research than I have done. Perhaps the lexicons mentioned above will help bring us closer to the real answer, as there are many words that do seem completely colloquial (such as kharabeesh, and maskharah, both from the shaami dialect) that Muhammad al-Tanayyur asserts as actually being faseeh.

    While the people from the Levant/al-Shaam (which btw, includes Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and also Jordan) do claim their dialect is closer to fusha, so do the people from Yemen. Dr. Abdullah al-Tayyib mentioned some arguments/proofs for the Sudanese dialect being the closest to fusha in his book “al-Murshid ilaa fahm ash’aar al-Arab wa sinaa’atuhaa.” But Dr. Muhammad al-Mukhtar also brings arguments supporting his view that the Hassani dialect of Mauritania is the closest to fusha.Two of the points he argues with are:

    1. The idafa is kept intact without a middle word (such as حق or ديال or مال as used in other dialects).

    2. Some of the mazeed verb patterns are present, which are not present in other dialects. Such as the pattern infa3ala.

    However, I know that these points also hold true for the levantine dialect.

    In light of what I had read from al-Tanayyurs book, I was discussing this issue with a friend who speaks in the Saudi dialect yesterday, and I was actively listening to the constructions and expressions within the dialect. Apart from the accent. I did not find many words that I could say were not fusha. My friend, also an arabic student, then paid attention to myself speaking the shaami dialect, and was also hard pushed to find many words that were not fusha.

    So Allaahu a’lam on which dialect is closest. As it stands, I am sorry, I know what people say on the issue, but I really do not know the truth of it.

    wa al-Salaamu ‘alaykum

  3. Bismillaahi wass-Salaatu wass-Salaamu’alaa Rasoolillaah.

    Wass-Salaamu’alaikum wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatuh.

    I know it’s too much to ask, but with all the coders offering so very complex and useful scripts, along with huge databases online these days, I was wondering whether there’s any website that gives you the gender of different words. It’s one of the (amongst so many other) big problems that us novices (even the word novice sounds too much for me) have to face while dealing with this complex and beautiful language.

    Jazaak-Allaahu khairun katheerun for the lovely blog.


    Wass-Salaatu wass-Salaamu’alaa Rasoolillaah. Walhumdulillaah.

  4. Jazakamullahu khair al-Jazaa’.

    Wassalamu’alaikum wa rahmatullah.

  5. السلام عليكم

    جزاك الله خيرا كثيرا

    وعليكم السلام


  6. I love your blog 🙂 Though I do not speak Arabic, it is fascinating and I recommend it often to those who study the language.

    Ya Haqq!

  7. assalamu alaikum,

    LOL i used to think yemeni dialect was closest to fushah, but then I heard that sudani dialect is closest yet someone else said mauritani dialect is…but never heard shami was.

    I have a question though (please bear with me because my arabic is not really good); you mentioned that in yemeni “laam” is turned to “meem”; I’ve personally heard people in oman say stuff like “ana maa `araf” instead of saying “laa” and I was used to saying that but some one told me that dont say maa (because that means what). So, i was wondering if it would be ok to say “maa” instead of “laa” in the sense of street language…

    JzakiALlahu khaira

  8. this is by far my favourite blog =)
    Jazakallahu khair for your posts!

  9. al-Salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmat Allah,

    Hassan, wa iyyakum. I do not know of such a website, maybe others can help if they do. When I was learning Arabic, I just used to use the Hans-Wehr dictionary for the gender of words (sadly, it is not online). I will keep a look out in shaa’ Allaah, and maybe one of the coders or programmers reading the site may take up your suggestion in shaa’ Allaah.

    Yusuf and Yaser, baraka Allaahu feekumaa.

    Iriving, thank you. Hopefully one day you will read something on the site that will be a catalyst for you to start learning Arabic, in shaa’ Allaah.

    sleeplesslonging, wa iyyaakum. With regards your question: maa can mean what (when used interrogatively) but it is also one of the particles of negation, so it is fine to use maa in the sense you described, and this is nothing to do with the Yemeni dialect.

    Qudsiya, thank you, and baaraka Allaahu feeki.

    wa al-Salaamu ‘alaykum

  10. As-salaamu `alaykum

    Jazaakumullaahu khayran!

    Me and my friends are always in debates over this topic :-D, actually I admit I’m always trying to get them to speak pure fus-ha. Lately, I’ve began to realise that many of the words in ‘Aamiyyah are actually from the fus-ha so I have backed down (much to my friends’ delight perhaps!).

    Arabic gems, don’t you see it as a problem though that there is this increase in people who only know ‘Aamiyyah (i.e. uneducated in ‘arabiatul faseeha) topped with a fierce campaign of trying to anglicise many arabic words? I remember one of my teachers in Cairo was on a board for assessing new international/english terms and trying to derive an arabic equivalent – she really disliked the many ‘movements’ that were going against the fus-ha.

    Btw, I don’t know how the Kuwaitan/UAE’s “Aysh lawnek” is derived from the fus-ha (if at all) to mean ‘how are you?’ 🙂

  11. Assalamu 3alaikum,

    “Aysh lawnek” would literally mean “What is your colour?”. I guess the color of ones face is often associated with one’s mood of state (e.g. green with envy).

    Also, in the Qur’an Allah differentiate between believers and disbelievers on the Day of Judgement by the color of their faces: the disbelievers will have faces which are blue or black to signifiy humiliation and sorrow, whereas the believers will have faces which are white or yellow to indicate their happiness and joy (Read Surah 2:106-107, Surah 20:102, and Surah 80:38-42 ).

    This expression is used widely all over the Gulf, not just UAE by the way. I’m probably way off, but that’s my guess 🙂

    Please keep me in your du’a

    Assalamu 3alaikum.

  12. wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam,

    fajr, wa iyyaakum.

    I do agree that there is a major problem with people only knowing ‘amiyyah; the campaign is not only to anglicise Arabic words but also to ‘modernise’ classical Arabic (or even MSA), by dropping the dual case, rewriting the rules for the number conjugation, and so on. I feel that this reaction may have partly come about due to the pressure from Arabic ‘puritans’ (for want of a better word) deriding people for their use of ‘amiyyah. I do not see anything wrong with the use of ‘amiyyah in certain contexts, especially when the words used are in fact faseeh! So I believe it is important to educate people who support both ‘amiyyah and fusha on this issue, so a middle ground can be reached which would not call for such radical attempts of ‘modernisation’.

    With regards to what your teacher was involved in, it sounds like the Majma’ al-Lughah al-‘Arabiyyah; they have this committee in a number of countries such as Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, and it is a committee that is supposed to ‘control’ the language, try to keep it in line with all the modern requirements of a language while still maintaining its ‘Arabness’ and not resorting as much as possible to loan words. Thus, the would come up with things like calling the telephone a ‘haatif’ (derived from the verb ‘hatafa’ which means ‘to call out’) instead of the loan word ’tilifoon’. While people still do use the loan word, there is still the official alternative. And of course, this is all made easy due to the excistence of the root system and the ishtiqaaq phenomenon in the language.

    re: ‘Aysh lawnek’ – jazakum Allaahu khayran for your reply Billo, very helpful and insightful. Just to add to that, Ibn Faaris says in Mu’jam Maqaayees al-Lughah that the root laam waw noon – which is the root for the word ‘lawn’ – refers to the sa7nah سحنة of a thing, which is its appearance or mien, and from this the meaning of ‘colour’ was developed. So to ask someone what their lawn is, is I guess tantamount to asking them what their demeanor or outward mood is on that occasion.

    Allah knows best.

  13. as-salaamu 3alaykum,

    I think the problem with 3ameeyah is that it represents the disunity of Arabic speakers (Muslims) and the divergance of the Muslim Ummah away from her common heritage to seperate and distinct natio-linguistic entities. As a Muslim who considers the Arabic language to be sacred in a sense, that is a rather profane concept.

    Also I think 3ameeyah can be associated with “wildness” in that it has no real authority or clear set of rules which govern its development, and instead it just develops according to the whims of the speakers, and therefore moves further and further from the path of Fus7a.

    Even though many words, as mentioned have roots in fus7a, they are butchered and corrupted from their original forms.

    I guess one of the benefits of the diglossic nature of the Arabic language (ie. the duality of fus7a and 3ameeyah) is that the fus7a remains pristine and untouched, and the 3ameeyah undergoes all of the change and development, thereby acting as a shield/buffer for the fus7a in a sense.

  14. Abu Rashid,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I agree with you, if you are speaking about the 3amiyyah that is extremely far-removed from the fusha, but the point of the post was that what may seem far-removed very often isnt. We should remember too that in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) there were various tribes each with different dialects and ways of saying things – sometimes the different words were just plays on one other with different words substituted (for example the dialect of Yemen would replace the laam with a meem, so the colloquial word for ‘yesterday’ used in the Sham today – imbarih – actually has its roots in this dialect, for if you change the meem back to a laam, you have il-baarih, which is ‘al-baarih’ (fusha) with an accent.) Sometimes the words were completely different, and you can see this in some tafseers that speak about the lughaat of the different tribes.

    Regarding the no clear set of rules which goven the development of 3amiyyah, I think you would find that many experts in this field would disagree with you. I am not an expert, but I took ‘lessons’ in egyptian 3amiyyah and read a little on najdi 3amiyyah, and there do seem to be some rules. I do agree, however, that they are not encompassing to all of 3amiyyah, and there does remain an element of ‘wildness’, especially with the new amount of loan words that slip into youth-slang of today.

    It is an interesting point you make about the protective nature of the 3amiyyah though. Jazakum Allaahu khairan for your insight.

  15. Sorry it’s been a long time since I first commented, I have been in Hajj, and only just returned.

    You mentioned that even in the time of the Prophet (saw) Arabs had differing dialects, and this is true, but they weren’t like the 3ameeyah of today. The 3ameeyah of today has developed as a result of the political disunity of the Islamic lands, and also as a result of their subservience to foriegn powers. This development has mostly been in the direction of simplification of the language by commoners and the standardisation of mispronunciations etc. For example the useage of the word gooz (spouse) in 3ameeyah is the standardisation (in egypt, perhaps other places as well) of a mispronunciation of the word zawj. So the letters have effectively been reversed (from zayn waw jim, to gim waw zayn).

    So the 3ameeyah of today is very different from the variation which existed in the time of the Prophet (saw). Look at the degradation of the demonstrative pronouns (ism ishara) in Egyptian 3ameeyah for instance. Fus7a has many different demonstrative pronouns, probably well over 20 different forms, whilst Egyptian 3ameeyah has only 3.

  16. May Allaah accept your Hajj, Ameen.

    Jazakum Allaahu khairan for your clarification. I would just like to emphasise that I do not promote the use of the syntax and grammar of amiyyah, and I am extremely in favour of fusha being used over ‘amiyyah. I believe, however, that many new learners of fusha take an extreme view of it, criticising for example the use of ‘aysha’ instead of ‘limaadha’, when such usages are also faseeh.

    That is the point I was trying to make in the post; that care should be taken to learn what is pure amiyyah and what words from amiyyah may be acceptable in fusha speech, before making condemnations out of ignorance.

  17. افضل حسن

    salam’alaykum wa raHmah allah,

    baraka Allah feeki for these gems. I’m also about to embark on a masters in arabic, and I hope I can begin to reach the level of Arabic you have.

    Just a few comments, please: is استأنى the tenth form of the root? why are the final two consonants doubled, ought not the transliteration be ista’naa rather than ista’anna?

    Please please can we stop calling arabic ‘fuSHa’ ? let’s call it what God called it: ‘Arabic’. The qur’an names its language as ‘lisaan al ‘arabiyy – calling it ‘fuSHa’ is a ruse to distance it further from people. it’s all the more Unfortunate that Arabic is half dead: no-one speaks it as an everyday language anymore. It’s defunct.
    Then the utter cheek: Arabs dare to call their ugly hideous frankentein monster vernaculars ‘arabic’! They certainly prefer speaking English or French to speaking the language of the Qur’an. They laugh if you speak the language of the Qur’an.

    Then they hav the gall to say Arabic is the language of Paradise! See for example how the author of ‘Arabic [sic] in three months’ (Hugo publishing) -Muhammad Asfour, villifies Arabic, as ‘unnatural, affected, uncomfortable’ etc. Those who relegate Arabic to ‘formal-ness, written-ness, fuSH-ness. Complete codswallop. هذيان بحت

    wa salam alaykum,


  18. افضل حسن


    May I just add a post script query please: speaking of haatif = telephone; what on earth happend to another word for telephone: إرزيز ? in Wehr, it’s listed under رز . The IV form is the verb ‘to telephone’ yet the noun is entry is listed as obsolete. It’s intriguing that a technological term has become obsolete seemingly so quickly – if indeed it did have any currency at all.


  19. Excellent work…

    May allah reward you for this

  20. I guess one of the benefits of the diglossic nature of the Arabic language (ie. the duality of fus7a and 3ameeyah) is that the fus7a remains pristine and untouched, and the 3ameeyah undergoes all of the change and development, thereby acting as a shield/buffer for the fus7a in a sense.

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