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How People Express Laughter in Different Languages

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Laughter is a universal yet culturally-tinted phenomenon. It draws people together and has the power to stimulate physical, emotional, psychological and social changes. Ever wondered how people from different cultures conveyed laughter and humor? Join us as we explore laughter and humor in five different language-cultures!

 

1. PERSIAN

In Persian, laughter is transcribed as either خخخخخ (khkhkhkhkh), ههههه (hahahahaha), or هاهاهاها (ha ha ha ha). 

Central to Persian popular humor is the figure of Mulla Nasruddin Khodja. Born in Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in the 13th century, Khodja was a philosopher and a wise man who imparted his wisdom through witty jokes and funny tales. A famous Khodja tale that Persian-speakers (and others) chuckled to over generations goes as follows: 

Mulla had lost his ring in the living room. He searched for it for a while, but since he could not find it, he went out into the yard and began to look there. His wife, who saw what he was doing, asked: “Mulla, you lost your ring in the room, why are you looking for it in the yard?” Mulla stroked his beard and said: “The room is too dark and I can’t see very well. I came out to the courtyard to look for my ring because there is much more light out here”.

 

2. ARABIC

In Arabic, laughter is written as ههههه (hhhhh or hahahaha), هاهاها (hā hā hā), or even هع هع هع (ha’ ha’ ha’). 

Like Mulla Nasruddin Khodja in the Persian-speaking world, Arabic-speaking countries too have a popular figure who effortlessly combines humor and wisdom. Known as Juha, Djoha, or Goha, this figure first appeared in Al-Jahiz’s 9th-century book “Saying on Mules” (القول في البغال). However, over the centuries, the character of Juha was merged with that of Mulla Nasruddin Khodja. Juha appears in thousands of tales, always witty, sometimes wise, and other times gently absurd – a butt of his own jokes. 

In one story, a man sees Juha across a raging river. “How do I get across?” the man cries. “You are there already!” Juha shouts back.

 

3. SPANISH

In Spanish, laughter is expressed as jajajaja (hahahaha). 

The Spanish sense of humor is well encapsulated in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a mock epic which satirizes early modern obsession with noble knights, ridiculous quests and chivalric attitudes. Published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615, it is considered one of the founding works of western literature. Humor in Don Quixote is subtle but sharp. Cervantes sets his story as follows, before going on to describe the absurd adventures of his titular character:

“En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no hace mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.”

(‘‘Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.’’)

 

4. ARMENIAN

In Armenian, laughter is transcribed as հա հա հա (ha ha ha). 

Humor, in more recent times, has been used by Armenians as a form of resistance and empowerment. The famous Radio Yerevan jokes are an example. Popular in the 20th century, these jokes took a Question & Answer format, mimicking that of popular series on Armenian Radio. 

When asked ‘‘Could an atomic bomb destroy our beloved town, Yerevan, with its splendid buildings and beautiful gardens?’’

Radio Yerevan answered: ‘‘In principle, yes. But Moscow is a far more beautiful city.’’

 

5. FRENCH

In French, laughter is often expressed with the initials mdr’ for mort de rire (dying of laughter) – equivalent to LOL in English. 

French humor is celebrated in cartoonist André Franquin’s Gaston, a gag-a-day comic strip first published in 1957 in the comic strip Spirou. The series focuses on the everyday life of Gaston Lagaffe (meaning Gaston “the blunder”), a lazy and accident-prone office junior working at Spirou’s office in Brussels. It is much loved not only for its perfectly timed comedy, but also for its warm outlook on everyday life.

Explore humor and laughter in different languages this New Year with NaTakallam’s native language partners! Sign up for sessions here or spread the laughter (it’s contagious!) with a loved one by gifting a NaTakallam session here – an experience like no other.

Gaston comic visual source: philonomist.com/en/article/innovation-smile-gaston-lagaffe

8 New Year’s Traditions Around The World

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

As we ring in New Year 2022, here are different traditions that mark the beginning of the year from around the world!

 

1. Syria & Lebanon: a ‘‘white dish’’


In Syria and parts of
Lebanon, New Year’s is celebrated with a “white dish” representing the hope for all things good for the year. The ‘‘white dish’’ could be a scrumptious plate of shakriyeh, kibbeh labanieh, sheikh el mahshi, muhalabia or just a simple bowl of cereal with milk1. As in several other cultures, the color white is considered particularly auspicious for New Year’s as it is associated with new beginnings, peace and prosperity. 

 

2. Ecuador: burning the Año Viejo (‘‘old year’’)


In Ecuador, the New Year is ushered in with the burning of effigies of all people/things that represent the year gone by. These effigies could range from that of politicians, television personalities to that of beloved superheroes and cartoon characters. As a part of the
tradition of Año Viejo, revelers jump over the burning effigies twelve times for each month of the year in a symbolic cleansing of the bad from the past year before commencing the New Year.2

 

3. Armenia: breaking of the ‘‘year bread’’


In Armenia, a sweet bread called the
‘‘year bread’’ (also known as gata, darin, or darehats) is baked to mark the New Year. Although the recipe for this bread varies from region to region, it usually consists of flour, sugar, butter, eggs and often an Armenian yogurt known as matsoni. A coin, walnut, or a button is hidden in this bread and when it is broken (yes, broken not cut)3 on New Year’s the person who finds it in their piece is considered to have the best fortune for the year. 

 

4. Spain: las doce uvas de la suerte (the 12 grapes of luck)


In Spain, twelve grapes are eaten, synchronized with the sound of the twelve strikes of the bell marking the New Year.
This tradition is believed to lead an individual into twelve lucky and prosperous months. In more recent years, the grapes are stuffed into the mouth all at once and the ringing of the bell is substituted with loud cheers from family and friends.

 

5. Peru: three potatoes 


In Peru, three potatoes – one peeled, one half peeled, and one unpeeled – are hidden under a chair or a couch before midnight. When family/friends gather at midnight, a potato is picked at random.
This potato is believed to predict the person’s/family’s fortunes for the year to come. The peeled potato signifies bad financial fortune, half-peeled signifies a normal year, and unpeeled signifies a great bounty in the year ahead.

 

6. France: galette de Rois (‘‘Kings’ cake’’)


In France, New Year celebrations extend to January 6, when the feast of Epiphany – marking the three wise men’s visit to baby Jesus – is celebrated. On this day, people tuck into a sweet pastry called
galette des Rois. Two little figurines are hidden inside the pastry; whoever finds it is deemed King or Queen for the day. 

 

 

7. Iran: the haftseen (هفت‌ سین), spread of seven S’s


Iranians celebrate their New Year,
Nowruz (نوروز), at the beginning of spring (on March 20th or 21st). They usher in the New Year with a ‘haft-seen’ table, set with seven symbolic dishes starting with the Persian letter seen (س, S). These may include sabzeh (سبزه, sprouts) for rebirth, sekkeh (سکه, coins) for wealth, sib (سیب, apple) for beauty, samanoo (سمنو, pudding) for bravery, sumaq (سماق, spice) for sunshine, seer (سیر, garlic) for health, and serkeh (سرکه, vinegar) for patience. 

 

8. From ancient Babylonia to you (wherever you are) today: New Year’s resolutions


The Babylonian
akitu festival is one of the oldest recorded New Year celebrations in the world. It developed from a semiannual agricultural festival to an annual New Year’s national holiday, and reached its zenith in the first millennium B.C.E.4 As a part of the festivities, Babylonians would make promises to gods to return borrowed objects and to pay any outstanding debts – these became an early forerunner to our own New Year’s resolutions today! According to a 2016 study, 41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. They are, after all, a triumph of hope over experience.


As we see above, different countries and regions of the world usher in the New Year in their own unique ways, however, common to them all is the hope for a new year full of happiness, peace and prosperity. 

If your New Year celebrations this year include a resolution, consider learning a new language or brushing up an old one! If you’re on the fence, check out our top 10 reasons why learning a new language will benefit you. NaTakallam’s language learning is taught by displaced, native speakers and is available in Armenian, Arabic (MSA+ dialects), English, French, Kurdish, Persian and Spanish. This New Year, learn new languages, create new experiences!

Wishing all our readers and learners a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year 2022!

 


1  Siham Tergeman. Daughter of Damascus: A Memoir. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. p.52. 
2 This symbolic jumping over flames can also be found in Iranian New Year (Nowruz) celebrations. See, no. 7 to learn more.
3 To some Armenians, bread symbolizes abundance, and hence, it is never cut with a knife (but broken) so as not to curb their good luck. For more, see: Nane Khachatryan, New Year in Armenia: A Festive Dinner, ecokayan.com/armenia/travel/explore/new-year-dinner-in-armenia. 
4 Julye M. Bidmead, The Akitu Festival: Religious Continuity and Royal Legitimation in Mesopotamia. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2004. Introduction.

 

3 Reasons Why The Gift of Language Is The Ultimate Gift

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

On a quest for a meaningful gift for a loved one? Look no further. Online language lessons are the ultimate gift for a culture aficionado or a perennially curious language enthusiast in your life. Perfect for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.

Plus, it’s shipping-free, impact-driven and starts at only US$25.

1. IT NOURISHES YOUR MIND

Learning a language physically changes your mind – making one a stronger, more creative thinker. A study at the University of Edinburgh demonstrated that young adults proficient in two languages performed better on attention tests and had better concentration than those who spoke only one language. The study also showed that adults who had become bilingual later in life performed better than those who had not – exhibiting more robust general intelligence and thinking abilities. 

Learning a new language can make you a better listener. A study at Northwestern University found that bilinguals are better at juggling linguistic input, instinctively paying more attention to relevant sounds and ignoring irrelevant ones – making them more effective in challenging or novel listening conditions. 

Language learning is essentially a workout for your mind. It challenges it in order to keep it sharp and cognizant. It mustn’t be surprising then that language learning is an effective therapy to help delay the onset of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

2. IT NOURISHES YOUR SOUL

Learning a new language provides an avenue to explore new and exciting cultures that ignites the soul! It helps one to interact with people from around the world and acquaint oneself with their experiences. This can help broaden one’s perspective in ways that many other educational experiences cannot. Dan Roitman points out that ‘‘as a language learner, you’ll not only become a more conscious thinker and listener who can communicate clearly and think creatively, but you’ll also gain the most significant benefit of multilingualism: a broader, more global perspective.’’ 

Learning a new language can also help transcend political, geographical and cultural boundaries. It encourages one to try to comprehend experiences that are remote from their own, develop a sense of empathy and work towards the common good, and go beyond headline narratives. The people, stories, and experiences that a new language brings you truly has the potential to nourish your soul!

3. IT NOURISHES YOUR HEART

When you learn a new language on platforms such as NaTakallam, you not only nourish your mind and soul but also your heart! NaTakallam leverages the freelance digital economy to provide income to refugees, displaced persons and their host communities by hiring them as online tutors, teachers, translators and cultural exchange partners, regardless of their location and status. Learning a new language with NaTakallam allows one to connect to local cultures, initiate cross-border friendships and have a holistic language-learning experience that’s good for your mind, soul and heart! 

Give your loved one a unique language-learning experience with NaTakallam’s Gift of Language and Conversation. Available in Arabic, Armenian, English, French, Kurdish, Persian, Spanish, and suitable for all ages and levels.

What’s more? NaTakallam’s language sessions take place virtually from the comforts of home and make the perfect last-minute (yet meaningful) gift that requires no shipping. Gift a language, surprise a loved one, change a life.

Gift Guide: 6 Social Enterprises that Support Refugees

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

It’s that time of year again! This holiday season, kill two birds with one stone by considering impact-driven gifts for your loved ones. Make a difference with our list of 6 social enterprises that support the talents, skills, and livelihood of displaced persons – refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants – through their unique and thoughtfully-collated products that will leave a lasting impression (and impact).

 

1. MADE51 | Starting from £12 

MADE51 is a UNHCR initiative that connects refugee artisans to global markets. It is a lifestyle brand selling beautiful home decor and fashion items that merge contemporary design with traditional craftsmanship. Each product in the MADE51 collection is handcrafted by a refugee artisan who lives in a hosting country in Africa, Asia, Europe, or the Middle East. Whether it is their Amaryllis Basket, crafted by Burundian refugees living in Rwanda, or their Gold Glow Nuusum Statement Earrings, crafted by refugees from Myanmar, Syria, and Afghanistan living in Malaysia – each piece in this collection tells a story of skill and perseverance and would make a perfect stocking filler this holiday season! 

MADE51 offers flat-rate worldwide shipping and free shipping with a minimum purchase spend. Find out more here.

 

2. Migrateful | Starting from £20 | Digital Gift Option

Migrateful is a social enterprise based in London that gives asylum seekers and refugees looking for jobs in the UK a space to share recipes from their countries, their culture, language and stories through cookery classes – in person or digital. They also receive professional training and English-language lessons. Participants in these classes can learn recipes from all over the world from chefs coming from: Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Albania, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cuba and Ecuador. Migrateful’s online or in-person cookery classes are an ideal gift for foodies and culture enthusiasts in your life, near or far!

The Migrateful cookery classes can take place in-person in London, Bristol, Kent or Brighton or online on Zoom. Shipping-free and guaranteed fun with impact.

 

3. Sisterhood Soap | Preemptive Love | Starting from US$10

Looking for gifts that are good for your skin, the environment, and the world? Preemptive Love’s Sisterhood Soap, hand-milled by refugees in Iraq, using natural and sustainable ingredients will not disappoint. They use natural ingredients such as 100% pure olive oil and wild grown herbs. Their motto for the latter is: if it hasn’t been grown wild for hundreds of years, don’t use it! Sisterhood Soap does not use any dyes, artificial fragrance, glycerine, sulfates or parabens – making it safe for all skin-types. In choosing their individual soaps, gift sets, or their quarterly soap subscription, you’re empowering a refugee soapmaker and growing the sisterhood! 

Rebuild lives one bar at a time. Preemptive Love ships worldwide from the US. Shipping rates and times will vary according to items, courier and location.

 

4. Anchor of Hope Box | Starting from US$36

The Anchor of Hope Box is a monthly subscription box filled with original, lifestyle items handmade by refugees, survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable situations. In doing so, they endeavor to give hope and dignity to individuals who are working to overcome poverty and injustice that has impacted their lives. The monthly subscription boxes include well-thought-out and researched products ranging from jewelry, ceramics, art works to home decor and spices. Each month, the subscription box will contain 3 quality, handmade items as well as an information card about the products and the artisans that made them. Gift a loved one an Anchor of Hope Box this holiday season and share the joy of a gift that keeps giving! 

Anchor of Hope Box currently only ships to the US. Shipping rates and times may vary according to the location.

 

5. SEP Jordan | Starting from €35

A Swiss-based social enterprise, SEP Jordan is a luxury fashion & lifestyle business with a social impact focus. Its mission is to bring thousands of refugees, located in the Jerash “Gaza” Camp in Jordan, above the poverty line: by leveraging their skills and talent in hand embroidery. They currently work with over 500 embroidery artists, mostly women, enabling them to regain their economic and emotional independence. Their hand-embroidered keffiyehs (كوفية‎), beautiful cashmere shawls, and bespoke accessories, all packed with love and heritage, would make quality gifts for loved ones. Additionally, they offer Gift Card options starting from €50. 

SEP Jordan ships worldwide via DHL Express. Shipping rates and times may vary according to the location.

 

6. NaTakallam | Starting from $25 | Digital Gift 

Last, but not least, NaTakallam is an award-winning social enterprise that pairs language learners with native tutors from refugee backgrounds for one-on-one online lessons! You can choose from an array of languages – including Arabic, Armenian, Kurdish, Persian, French and Spanish – and gift packages to fit your budget. With NaTakallam’s language sessions you can give your loved one an experience of a language and culture while also supporting the livelihood of tutors from displaced backgrounds and their host communities. It makes a perfect stocking stuffer for a beloved language-enthusiast looking for a life-changing experience (both theirs and their tutors alike)!

Give the Gift of Conversation to a language lover in your life, near or far. Suitable for all levels and ages. This gift is paperless and shipping-free (i.e it can be “virtually” shipped worldwide).

Beatboxing as a Gateway Between Worlds

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Director’s Notes of the Multilingual Beatbox Video

Contributor: Daniel Te, Summer Intern – Program Support Officer at NaTakallam

 

Two years ago, I beatboxed on the streets of Athens, Greece, on the last day of my study abroad program. During the performance, I felt some sort of connection towards the locals, as they challenged me to beatbox battles, shimmied along, and even gave me a smoothie. That’s when I knew there was more to discover about human connection at the intersection of music, language, and different cultures.

This past summer, during my internship at NaTakallam, I wanted to use the opportunity to tie in my passion for beatboxing together with the experiences of the language partners from displaced backgrounds at NaTakallam. This is where the project idea was born.

Universality and Distinctness in Language

Languages have many sounds in common. The “voiced bilabial stop” (another way of saying the letter “B” in English) can be found in a wide range of languages worldwide, and it is also the most fundamental sound for beatboxing. Practically any language has enough hard consonants to create a strong, basic beatboxing rhythm.

However, not only do different languages have sounds that are less common (such as خ, a sound in Arabic that is like a rough “K” vibrating at the back of the mouth or the Spanish letter J, “jota”), but even languages that do share many sounds can be pronounced quite differently. As a result, beatboxers that speak different languages produce rhythms that are structurally similar but aurally distinct.

In parallel, to a certain extent, the refugee narrative holds similar patterns. With over 80 million displaced persons worldwide (as of 2021), the journey of displacement is common among many people, but the character of their journey is shaped by their individual circumstances and the crises they flee. At NaTakallam, each language partner has their own unique story of displacement. This is what the Multilingual Beatbox video aims to portray.

The Process

The Multilingual Beatbox video combines each story of displacement into the general refugee narrative (universality), while highlighting a chosen word in their native language that represents their journey (distinctness). Each language partner introduces themselves by saying, “can you say [(word) in their native language]” to simulate a NaTakallam conversation session.

An early storyboard of the project.

 

After drafting a storyboard, I connected with various language partners, including translators and interpreters, on Slack (a communication channel for organizations). I aimed to gather a diverse group, reflective of NaTakallam multicultural team and language services in a wide range of languages.

Gathering a multilingual team for my beatboxing project (a “CP”, or “conversation partner”, is an internal term for language partners at NaTakallam).

 

It truly was a pleasure getting to know the language partners from all corners of the world. During the remote recording sessions, we had a great time and many of them got to meet some of their co-workers for the first time.

A meeting with Sayed, a Persian language tutor from Afghanistan based in Indonesia, and the fourth language partner featured in the video.

 

After the recording sessions, I looped the audio of each language partner saying their chosen word, editing it in the style of a beatbox rhythm. While it would have been exciting to have each of them do their own beatboxing, that would have been hard to coordinate remotely.

 

The video was produced in Adobe Premiere Pro, and the audio track was created in Adobe Audition.

 

 

 

Reflections on the Final Piece

This project hit close to home for me. My parents were refugees of the Cambodian Genocide in the 1970’s, so the journey of displacement was a recurring theme growing up. Throughout my life, I have been haunted by the question of what can we do in a world that still suffers constant refugee crises and how we can enable displaced persons to rebuild their lives. I have come to two conclusions.

One, open yourself up to the world. Embrace the universe. Beatboxing is my gateway, in that it helps me recognize what we have in common linguistically, as humans living in one world, and it only colors my vision more as I use it to engage with other cultures.

Two, enter others’ worlds and find the nuances. Engage in the issues that have persisted for displaced persons for decades and enable them in host communities. Speak their language and immerse yourself in the way they experience reality. With the Internet and services like NaTakallam (meaning “we speak” in Arabic), venturing into new linguistic worlds has never been easier.

To borrow the words chosen by the language tutors, it can be disheartening to hear that people around the world still face “discrimination” (“ubaguzi” – in Swahili) in their end of the “universe” (“l’univers” – in French), and experience “endless escaping” (“هروبٌ لا نهاية له“- in Arabic). The resolution of one refugee crisis doesn’t stop another from happening. Yet, seeing the Cambodian refugee community rebuild their lives in America, while still facing many struggles, gives me hope that displaced persons around the world have a genuine chance at “peace” (“صلح” – in Persian) and finding their new “earth” (“tierra” – in Spanish).

One day, I hope that “we speak” (or “we beatbox”!) as humans invested in each other’s well-being, compassionate of the struggles (universal and distinct) that people go through all around the world.

My beatboxing performance on the streets of Athens, microphone in hand.

 

Contributor: Daniel Te is a second-generation Cambodian-American with a zest for life. He interned as a Program Support Officer at NaTakallam and recently graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and a minor in Urban Studies.

 

 

5 ways to change the world – even under lockdown

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Lockdown, round 2? 

Believe it or not, that act of staying indoors—in itself—is saving lives. 

As we continue to experience pressure these days – worrying news worldwide, anxiety about an even greater winter Covid-wave and, getting used to remote work (again) – something remains unchanged: the aspiration to make a difference.

Here are our – non-exhaustive – suggestions of 5 great ways to change the world from home.

1. Support worthwhile causes

While many of us are taking a financial toll due to the new restrictions, others are fortunate to be able to continue working from home, business (almost) as usual. If you’ve saved cash from skipping restaurants or shopping, consider donating to cause or browsing the web for holiday gifts with a cause.

There are plenty of phenomenal organizations to choose from, and many have lost funding due to a shift towards covid-related initiatives.

→ CharityWatch provides a topic-based list.

2. Grow your own urban balcony garden

Grow your own urban balcony garden. Pollution in many areas under full lockdown went down earlier this year, so while we breathe cleaner air, the climate crisis continues to threaten the survival of hundreds of species – including our own.

Growing an urban garden will allow you to get in touch with nature, its rhythm, cycles, feeling part of something bigger than yourself. Your balcony will look even greater, and might even come in handy for a bit of cooking! You’ll also reap benefits to your mood and productivity!

3. Get inspired by a talk or podcast!

Everyone loves a good podcast, TED Talk or other. Get cozy, and get inspired.

In line with our mission to support displaced persons, here’s a selection of powerful refugee and displacement related content (and a few uplifting ones!).

Are We There Yet? by The American Life, to hear what it’s truly like in refugee camps in Greece

Let’s Help Refugees Thrive, Not Just Survive by Melissa Fleming, real talk more relevant today than ever

Border(less) by Kerning Cultures, on navigating Europe’s elusive borders as refugees

→ The Surprising Science of Happiness by Dan Gilbert, when you need a ~scientific~ reason to 🙂

How to Make Stress your Friend by Kelly McGonigal, when you have overwhelming days.

 

4. Take advantage of online courses, especially those in social change and impact!

5. Boost your language learning skills 🙂

We will be honest: our mission is to support refugees and their host communities worldwide. We would love for you to consider learning a new language while supporting our incredible refugee tutors, teachers, and translators.

Travel the world through your screen with NaTakallam, make a new friend, practice a language!

Click here to learn Arabic, French, Kurdish, Persian, or Spanish!

* * * * *

And if you’re able to… stay home! Flatten the curve, protect yourself and those around you. Above all, stay positive 🙂

5 Spanish words with Arabic origins

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We have all learned and witnessed how languages evolve over time and geography. The roots of a language are often tied to their region of origin, their birthplace so to speak. The European Romance languages such as French, Spanish and Italian evolved from Latin while the Semitic languages such as Arabic, Amharic and Hebrew all originated in the modern day Middle East.
That said, languages are full of complexity, often interacting in dynamic and organic ways. For instance, when traveling through Spain, it is near impossible to avoid local vocabulary and names derived from… Arabic! The influence of Arabic on Spanish language (and culture!) largely originates from Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula between 711 and 1492 AD.
Because the origins of words can be fascinating… Here are our top five Spanish words borrowed from Arabic!

1. Almohada / المخدة

Has indoor time and chilly fall weather got you snuggling up more these days? Spanish speakers owe their good night’s sleep to Arabic! Almohada comes from المخدة (al-mikhadda), meaning cushion or pillow – and potentially one of our favorite quarantine objects. And it inspired Palestinian writer Mourid Barghouti’s beautiful poem.

2. Jirafa / زرافة

According to Oxford Languages, the earliest recorded origin of the word “giraffe” – “girafe” in French” and “jirafa” in Spanish – is actually from Arabic, زرافة (“zarafa)”, which roughly translates to “fast walker” – nothing to do with its height nor its distinctively long neck!

3. Mezquino / مسكين

Did you know the Spanish word “mezquino” meaning “stingy” or “petty” is derived from Arabic’s مسكين (miskeen) meaning “poor” or “miserly”? ¡Si! The Arabic word itself is a loanword from Akkadian, the oldest known Semitic language, spoken in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq).

4. Ojalá / إن شاء الله

Ojalá”, which means “hopefully” or “let’s hope so”, comes from the Arabic phrase “inshallah” (إِنْ شَاءَ اَللَّه), which means “God-willing” and is also used in Arabic to reflect the hope that something will happen. Nowadays, it is used by all Arabic speakers, regardless of faith groups.

5. Barrio / بري

The word “barrio”, meaning neighborhood, actually originates from the Arabic word “بري” (barriy) which refers to the outside or the exterior. This year we’ve definitely learned to love and value both barrio and بري a whole lot more than earlier!

Fascinated by etymology and languages? Look no further. With NaTakallam, pick up Spanish and/or Arabic with our native tutors from displaced and refugee backgrounds! Sign up here.

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