Life is inconsistent. Duolingo strives to teach real-world skills more than academic ones, and I agree with that approach. What’s easier isn’t necessarily what’s more useful. Your brain will eventually find the patterns with enough practice, and you’ll be grateful for the variety once you start using your skills in real-life :-)
It's true that there is variance, but not within a phrase. Grammatically, nouns and the adjectives that describe them must be declined the same way and agree, but the computer frequently prounounces them so they do not agree, producing sentences where adjectives disagree with their nouns in formality.
Ideally, to "strike a balance", students should be able to focus on a spoken register or two, and then be able to switch to the formal register when necessary.
Giving students umgramatical sentences where nouns and adjectives disagree in declension and formality and expecting students to just know they should all agree and just intuit which forms are formal and informal doesn't seem appropriate.
I tend to agree with hugh____ here tbh, there reeeeeeeeeeeeally is no such thing as a 'balance between MSA and spoken Arabic' (or rather, there is no such thing as 'spoken Arabic' - that would be dialects, or MANY kinds of spoken Arabic...).
better to stick to MSA.
However, maybe some more advanced grammar rules like tanween and mubtada2-khabar may be covered at a later stage. They are actually, pretty essential in MSA.
The makers of the course referenced the way an TV interviewer would use MSA as an example of that balance. In practical terms, a TV interviewer would rarely pronounce nunations and would replace rarely used MSA vocabulary with well pronounced ones from well known dialects around the Arab world, like the Levantine dialect.
In the recording the "ا" in "جار" sounds like IPA a (like at the doctor's say aahh), but when I mouseover just the word in the lesson it sounds like IPA æ (like in at). Are both pronunciations for "ا" ok, or is there a difference depending on e.g. whether an adjective follows?
There is a tendency for the short and long "a" vowel to be pronounced more toward the back of the mouth, as in, "bought" or "bot", when it is adjacent to and especially when it's immediately after the consonants ح خ ر ص ض ط ظ ع and غ (but not ز). Here it's pronounced that way because it's right before ر.
In most other cases it's closer to the vowel in "bat" and even "bet".
It also varies by dialect, and can affect the u which can be pronounced more as in "book", and the i which can be like "bit" or even "beta", when they are in the vicinity of those specific consonants.
A search term to Google for more information on this is imāla, إمالة, meaning "slanting". Some people classify three levels of imāla. Others say there are up to five.
Arabic actually does have a verb for "to be". It's probably the most used verb in the whole language. كان, meaning "he/it was", along with it's other possible conjugations, which everyone reading this should look up on Wiktionary. It is used for most of the compound tenses, just not for the two most basic conjugations, the present imperfect and the past perfect, or for simple noun-adjective sentences about the present.
hmmm, this isnt the same tho as 'to be' in English.... bear with me...
It has to do with the mode of thinking in Arabic being different than in English where a verb is sometimes not needed. The present form يكون may be thought of more like as 'to become' or 'to exist as' in other words, there is a transition in the state of being from something to something else. Note it is derived from the same root as كون which can mean 'universe' or 'all of existence,' in a way synonymous with 'creation'.
This has to do with Classical and Koranic Arabic, where God just demands that something 'be' and it 'is' (i.e., it 'becomes' 'something' from 'nothing') in other words, there is STILL some sort of transition, even if it this transition is the very existence of the thing, from nothing.
When the verb يكون in its present state tense is used, the Arabic mind hears transition, not description (unlike 'is' in English). So say if you say البيت هناك (the house is there) and you say it in a different way البيت يكون هناك (the house is there) but with this verb, then the reader hears an added detail in his head, either that the house was not there before, or that there was no house to begin with before, and that there is a house there now.
In the Arabic mind, there is no 'need' for a verb unless something is actually dynamically occuring, either someone doing something, or something transitioning, but for static descriptions of state, then verbs are dropped and unneeded.
So what happens in the past tense? When projected into past tense كان it doesn't translate exactly to the English understanding of 'was' nor 'became' but more like 'it used to be as such' and this applies to both description and action, like كان الولد حزينا the boy was sad. In this case there is no escaping the verb, but: somehow the reader still kindof hears transition (it is the nature of the language), like that was the boy's state at a certain point of time in the past, he has either transitioned into this state of sadness from a different state, or transitioned out of it and into a different state, and the reader or converser waits for the rest of the narrative to know what made the boy sad, or how the boy feels now.
so it isn't exactly the same as 'to be' as it is understood in English.
It's not exactly like "be", sure, but it seems like it often gets translated to a conjugated form of "be", right?
Like in "qad yakuunu kadhaalika", "It may be like that."
Would it be better to translate that as "It may be becoming like that."? Or "It may become like that."? Or "It may have become like that."?
Or "kaan huwwa ya'kulu", "He was eating."
Or "kaan huwwe sawfa/raH ya'kulu", "He was going to eat".
Am I wrong?
Should these last two be interpreted more like "He became into a state were he was eating/going to be eating."?
You say kaan meanse "used to be such" but isn't that pretty much the same as "was"? You say the boy has either transitioned into or out of being sad, but the past tense verb "was" in English also seems to imply that there was some other time, either before or after the sadness when he was not sad.
Especially when "be" is used in the imperative, as in "be quiet", we can see that it can have a quality of transition.
hmmm, like i said, it may help to think less in terms of what things may mean in translation and more of what they mean intrinsically in Arabic.
but at another level, it may help if you think of the verb as: is it describing something dynamic, actually happening, or is it employed to describe the state of being of something.
The best holistic translation of قد يكون كذلك is: 'maybe such as that' but the way the sentence comes into existence in Arabic is quite different. break it down a bit.
Take قد for example: if placed before a verb in the present tense it weakens the verb (becomes 'may') but if the same word is placed before a verb in the past tense it makes it stronger, like 'for sure' - the opposite of 'may'. And that is the exact same word (this alone is worth thinking about because it tells you a lot about the language and its evolution).
In this case, it helps to think of 'قد يكون' as a joint and necessary construction that translates to 'maybe' rather than the understanding of the verb 'is' in English - like the verb is ONLY there to make the description weak. But if you are sure that 'it is like that' you would say هو كذلك and drop the verb altogether, you do not need the verb - BECAUSE you are just describing something, there is no transition.
so this particular word 'to become' depends on its context and is not simply meaning 'is' (note the Koranic use I mentioned earlier). Are you talking about the state of existence of something (ie, static) or someone doing something or something transitioning (dynamic)?
كان يأكل is an actual dynamic action that he was doing, so it is like translating into He was eating.
But: كان الجو باردا (the weather was cold) denotes describing a state - in which case the verb is placed as a description of a state of being of something (the weather) at a point of time in the past. When the native Arabic speaker hears this particular sentence, it is implied in his head that there has been some transition of sorts in the weather either before that point of time in the past or after it. And it is far less independent in implied sense than its English counterpart, in the sense the listener is waiting for you to give him more details about this transition. What happened? was it snow? Did it warm up after it?
I say 'used to be as such' in the sense that يكون 's closest meaning in English would be 'to become' (closest, not exact) rather than 'is' whereas its past tense كان is not 'became' but rather: (1) 'was' if describing something dynamic like 'He was eating' or (2) 'used to be in a state of' if describing something static, the second case coming with an implication in the listener's mind that this state has changed since or has changed from something before it.
The imperative version of this verb is a whole other minefield.
Is what I am saying making any sense? it is hard to put it in words :D But, think in Arabic! :) This is a language where verbs are not needed to describe states of being.
like you said, it isn't ideal to interpret Arabic meanings based on how they translate to English, but rather better to start from scratch and see how they are perceived by in Arabic :) especially these verbs of existence of state if you may.
كان is simple enough in Arabic. in its classical Arabic etymology, it actually translates to 'was brought into this state of existence (from nothing)' when used as a description. It freezes time. As opposed to the English 'was' which is a 'past continuous'. It could help if you consider that the verb تكوين means 'to shape' or 'to form' or 'to create', kaan strongly implies the state changes before (ie, from nothing) or after (into something else) that time when it was used to describe the entity.
All I can say is, do not think of it in translation or in English, the very thinking mode is different, but start it from scratch in Arabic :) This is a tip:
There are a bunch of words (called 'kaan and her sisters') kinda close to what modal verbs are in English. Look at all of them together.
كان أصبح أضحى أمسى بات ظل صار ما برح ما انفك ما زال ما فتئ ما دام ليس ما ظل
ALL of these, are verbs of transition, if you notice, they are somehow related to time of day. And they can be used in their literal sense, to events that came into being through transitions with respect to times of the day. But they also have a deeper meaning, a more common employment of use, where the nature of change that occured before or after you describe a state of existence using that word, is viewed as a parallel to a human cycle during the course of a day. Like you would say أمسى جميلا which means it became beautiful or أصبح جميلاwhich also means it became beautiful.
But the first one is derived from 'evening' which 'it became beautiful' after a long journey, a mature beauty (like it passed through the phases of a day), whereas the second means 'it became beautiful' almost instanteously (because that is the start of the day), there is no way to translate these things exactly...but they make sense in Arabic, in Arabic both sentences are different. In English they are the same.
If you think in English, all these verbs would all tanslate to 'was' or 'became' (and their negations), but they all are different in Arabic and mean different things. Arabic is multi-axial when it comes to 'existence' and 'change' and a simple word like 'was' can say a lot. Whereas word like 'is' isn't even needed.
Anyway, hope this helps, this is a good exchange :)
I'm going to have to read this a couple of times, but thanks for the detailed explanation!
Anyway, I agree it seems like a bad idea to try interpret Arabic grammar based on how it would be translated into English. I guess my point was that "kaan" is a very common copular verb, and it conveys complex tense/aspect/time information, similar to "be" in English, but also clearly quite different.
Is that a fair statement?
Thanks Fix -- wanting to reply specifically to your nearby post that referenced "kaan and her sisters" -- but comment-nesting-level restriction seems to block that, so am posting as a reply here instead -- here's a quote that seems apt for semantics of "kaan and her sisters", even standing alone, but more so in the context from which it's taken (Ibn Arabi's "Tarjuman al-Ashwaq") -- لَقَد صارَ قَلْبِيْ قابِلاً كُلَّ صُوْرَةٍ
-- and musing further on semantics of "kaan and her sisters", it just hit me that a phrase from the classic song "Al Laylu ya Layla" resonates, at least for me, like the Ibn Arabi quote I just posted, with what Fix said about "'aSbaHa jami:lan" and "'amSa: jami:lan" being kind of untranslatable, even though both could be translated simplistically as "it became" -- anyway, here's the song phrase, and again I think it can kind of meaningfully resonate alone, but goes even better in the context of its song -- وغاب ربيع أيامي وليلى لم تزل ليلى
I think the inconsistency in nuniation comes from the TTS (automatic text to speech) system used. At least for me it appears inconsistent.
I found discussions from 2 years ago on Reddit arguing for TTS over recorded speech. See also https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/machine-learning/powering-language-learning-on-duolingo-with-amazon-polly/
It's a possible transcription of this letter: ع called ayin, ayn or ain. Similar to when teenagers who think they are particularly clever write "4" instead of "four". The letter can also be transcribed with ʿ (note the direction of the apostrophe; the other direction tranacribes another letter). Btw I'm really annoyed that a) Duolingo is apparently teaching slang and b) didn't provide any explanation to such a confusing practice.
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