Linguistics of Arabic and English Contrastive Morphology Research Paper

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Linguistics of Arabic and English

Contrastive Morphology Between English and Arabic Languages: The Use of Prefixes and Suffixes in Both Languages?

There are many contrastive elements between the English and Arabic languages, beyond the obvious historical and cipher differences that are readily apparent to the casual observer. Arabic is a Central Semitic language from the Semitic language family; English is a West Germanic language stemming from Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the British Isles. Both languages currently have in excess of a quarter billion native speakers. Some of the fundamental differences between the languages include the number of characters in each alphabet (English with 26 and Arabic with 28); directionality of script writing/reading (English written and read from left to right and Arabic from right to left); word order (English is typically subject-verb-object and Arabic is typically verb-subject-object); and the noun gender (prevalent in Arabic but not English). Arabic sentences may not contain a verb while a set of words in English without a verb is not considered a complete sentence, but a phrase.

Prefixes and suffixes that show tenses and aspects

There are three key aspects pertaining to the subject in order for the conjugation of verbs in Arabic to be in agreement. The person, that is to say, the tense, is critical. There are three person cases, first, second, and third, in both English and Arabic and both are important to verb conjugation. The gender of the subject, animate or inanimate is vital to verb conjugation in Arabic only; there is no gender neutrality in Arabic. Thirdly, the number of the subject, that is, whether or not it is plural, is important in both languages, but Arabic has a provisional conjugation agreement for duality as well as singularity and plurality.

The elements of verb tense are similar between English and Arabic, with both demonstrating differences in morphology and grammar pertaining to voice and negation. In Arabic and English, passive and active voice are used. In Arabic, the verb demonstrates the action of the subject in active voice and in passive voice, the verb demonstrates the action of the object. There are suffixes in both languages that demonstrate negation. The element of the perfect tense is also seen in both languages, indicating that a sense of time/space distance between the event happening and being described. Whereas the most common suffix to denote the past tense in English is -- ed (eg walk/walked) in Arabic, the standard suffix attached to a verb stem to indicate singular past is -- tu and-umu in plural past.

Prefixes and suffixes that show number?

There are demonstrable discrepancies between English and Arabic in terms of case, number, and gender. English does not have a form of numbered suffixes; number is designated by specific (eg. three) or ambiguous (eg. several) descriptors or, less commonly, through the use of numbered prefixes, such as the is found in biannual, monotone, etc. English also does not have a prefixal definite article as is seen in Arabic, an observation made in a case study of the use of repetition in Arabic-English translations due to the differing linguistic conventions pertaining to the morphology of the two languages (Shunnaq 1993). The way in which number, case, gender and mood affixes are demonstrated in Arabic with prefixes and suffixed are not seen in English.

In English, while nouns have no grammatical gender, there are many nouns that refer to gendered entities (brother/sister), but the contextual understanding is necessary to understand this function, as there are but a few irregular suffixes used to indicate gender (such as actor/actress; waiter/waitress). In general, nouns that are not contextually gendered entities are gendered in anyway, and many of the concepts of gender expressed in English (mermaid, niece, nun) bear no special linguistic distinguisher and rely upon contextualization alone to convey the gender of the subject.

2. Prefixes and suffixes that show gender?

It has been noted that gender is a far more central element of Arabic than it is in English, where nouns are never given gendered articles. The centrality of gender to the articulation of Arabic is hardly unique to Arabic however; many Romance languages have similar gender categorizations of nouns, seen in the assignment of gendered articles.

"Compared to English, gender plays an extremely important part in the grammar of Arabic. It combines with the number to inform intricate concord systems which might link together, or set apart the various elements of the large units such as the phrase and the clause" (El-Sheikh 1977: 222).

The demarcation of gender in Arabic is seen in the substantive. "In Arabic, gender is an obligatory category and every substantive is categorized either under masculine of feminine. (Shunnaq 1993 90). There is not a gender specific suffix morpheme for each gender generally; feminine substantives usually bear the (-a) suffix morpheme while a lack of suffix morpheme is the expression of the masculine in Arabic.

In the construction of a sentence, the gender marker suffix morpheme directs the gender orientation of the prefixes and suffixes in the verbs and adjectives and pronouns for the rest of the sentence. The number inflection system in Arabic can indicate singular, dual, and plural number case. A lack of overt marker indicates a singular case, while prefixes (such as al-,a definite article) or suffixes (such as -- un, a multiuse indicator of case, number, and gender) are added to the stem to indicate specificity and plurality.

In English, there is typically a noun root that is considered to be singular to which the addition of the suffix -- es or -- s is an indicator of plurality. The demarcation of number in regards to gender is by no means a regular system in English, however, and there are many exceptions to this rule (eg. curricula/curriculum, policeman/policemen, mouse/mice). English, due to its many areas of influence and rapidly expanding lexicon, is a highly semantic language, meaning that there are a great many specific, contextualized noun classes (Quirk 1985). Nouns of place and specific persons and entities are often classified a proper nouns in which the first letters of the associated nouns are capitalized. In lieu of the morphological specificity of case and order in Arabic, English uses many noun-specific collective nouns to indicate plural collectives (eg. A gaggle of geese, a flock of bird). English also has a well-articulated syntactic system of modification which assist in creating a specificity of identification beyond the addition of definite articles. Nouns can be modified with adjectives (usually preceding the noun in question) and by other nouns, which are placed in relation to the subject or object noun in question (El-Shiek 1977).

Prefixes and suffixes that form parts of speech

There is a unique system by which root words in Arabic may be articulated as varying parts of speech. The used of the nisba suffix is a prevalent morpheme used in order to adjectives from nouns or to create connections between two adjectives. The morpheme takes the form of -- I or iyya. The nisba suffix creates number and gender agreement between the word to which it is applied and the word to which an adjectival connection is created through its application. The -- I suffix is an indicator of masculinity in addition to its primary adjectival morphological function. Contrastly, the -- iyya suffix fulfills the same functions but with the overt feminine indicator in tact. Not all Arabic adjectives bear the nisba suffix, but it is commonplace for it to be used when there is to be a sequence of noun-adjective or noun-noun or noun-adjective (Stetkevych 1970 26).

In English, there are a wide array of suffixed that are used to indicate part of speech; the use of prefixes is far less common for the purposes of distinguishing grammatical positioning of the root word. The use and application of suffixes and prefixes in English is exhaustive and indicate far more than just the part of speech of a word. They are another example of the way in which English is a highly contextual language. Suffixes such -- ity are indicative of the state or quality of noun and can modify a verb of noun to give it characteristics of an adjective (eg. captivity, luminosity). Other suffixes can alter the application of a verb into an adjective, or vice versa; the suffix -- en can be applied to an adjective (short) and turn the root into a verb (shorten).

In a paper on patterns of repetition in Arabic forced by the morphology of the language in Arabic-English translations (Shunnaq 1993), the author points out that definite articles are much less common in English (the) than they are in Arabic (al). The author described the article al as "the communist way of marking nouns and adjectives in Arabic" (Shunnaq 1993 95). It is an article that serves two distinct functions, generalizing and particularizing. "Whereas the English contrast between a and the is a contrast in the relevancy of individualization, the Arabic contrast between the article and zero is one of unambiguousness…

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