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Visualizing a network of keywords in Arabic linguistics

When I read books and articles related to my research I usually take notes of what is most interesting to me, with each note in separate text file. To each file I add one or more keywords from a set list. A note can contain any arbitrary combination of keywords. The idea with these keywords is to allow me to sort or filter the notes by topic. A while back it struck me that these keywords form a network of connected nodes and that this network could probably be visualized somehow.

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Hollow and defective verbs

This is a followup to a previous post in which I presented a way of representing the ten Arabic verb forms. In the document below I have done the same thing, i.e. a table with the ten verb forms in present, past, etc. and with the roots represented by empty squares, but this time for hollow and defective verbs. This is essentially to separate document, one for hollow and one for defective verbs, conveniently packaged in one pdf.

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Arabic verb forms: fill in the blanks

I’ve been toying with different ways of visually representing the ten Standard Arabic verb forms. The traditional way of using the root fʿl (فعل) as a pattern is nice enough, but it does not provide clear visual cues to differentiate between the pattern and the root. What you see is whole words, not roots and patterns. This is something I have tried to amend in the document below in which the three root consonants are represented by empty squares. With the table in this format it is possible see the structure of the verb form at a glance without having to untangle it from root consonants. Or at least this is the intention.

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Minimal pairs in Standard Arabic

Minimal pairs are a good way to highlight and practice unfamiliar sounds in a foreign language. Often in lists of Arabic minimal pairs in teaching materials the authors feel they have to reach towards the very bottom of the Classical Arabic vocabulary bowl, listing words that students may never come across in real life. In the document below I have only included words that are in actual use in Modern Standard Arabic, that are fairly frequent, and that students sooner or later will have to learn.

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Arabic letters and vowel markers

The Arabic textbook Alif Baa (Georgetown University Press, 2014), the introductory book in the popular Al-Kitaab series, lacks a good overview of the Arabic alphabet and how letters connect. (The table on pages 11–12 only shows the isolated forms.) I therefore deviced an overview of the alphabet of the type found for example in Schulz et al. (2000, a.k.a “the red book”) in which all four forms of each letter are shown. This fits neatly on one page, so I populated the second with letters not traditionally part of the alphabet but that nevertheless need to be learned by students (أ إ ؤ ئ ء آ ة and ي), as well as the system of vowel markers. I also crammed in some (I hope useful) information in sidenotes. The intention is for students to have this document at hand as a reference sheet for the entirety their introductory course.

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Typing Arabic in Vim

I often write documents, such as exams and lecture notes, that contain both Latin and Arabic script, often on the same line of text. This can be challenging due to the complications of mixing of LTR (left-to-right) and RTL (right-to-left) scripts. This seems like an easy problem to solve for software developers, and it is, only not in software with graphical WYSIWYG interfaces, such as Word or OpenOffice. (I’m sure everyone who has tried writing mixed direction text in such software share my frustration with them, and I will therefore refrain from rants.) Since my shift to exclusively producing and editing text in plain text formats (.txt, .mkd, .tex, etc.) with the editor Vim, writing texts with mixed directionality has become a lot easier. This post is an attempt to explain how.

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A list of Syrian Arabic politeness formulae

In the different dialects of Arabic there are highly developed systems of polite phrases to be uttered in various situations. Many of these phrases have one specific appropriate response. For native speakers, this is simply part of language and it isn’t given much thought. When, for example, someone says naʿīman to you after you have had a shower you just automatically reply aḷḷa yinʿam ʿalēk. For a non-native speaker like myself, recognizing and learning these phrases can be challenging, and I hope this post may be of some help.

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Word counts and aya counts in the Quran

Another uncalled-for graph. I recently helped a student getting word counts for suras (chapters) in the Quran by running a script on the Quran in plain text downloaded from tanzil.net. I then had this nice little data file and felt I had to do something with it. The result is the document below, which is a graphical representation of the number of words and ayas (verses) in each sura in the Quran. It is intended to be printed on A3-paper. For A4-paper you will need a printer with high resolution since the text will be very small.

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Stretchable kashida and Arabic text justification in LaTeX

This post describes how to make stretchable pseudo-kashidas to lengthen words (كلمة طويـــــــلة) and how to automatically insert these at letter connections in order to justify Arabic text, that is, to to make it have even right and left margins. The problem, solution, and the result is first presented in a non-technical way. Thereafter the implementation of the stretchable kashida in LaTeX is described.

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Emulating Alt-Latin keyboard layout for Arabic transcription in Vim

I’m used to the Alt-Latin keyboard layout to quickly type Arabic transcription. The Alt-Latin is an extension of the US QUARTY layout that uses combinations of the ALT and SHIFT keys to add diacritics such as in and ā, as well as the characters ʿ and ʾ. A nice graphical presentation of this layout and instructions of how to install it on Windows and Mac can be found here. The image below is from that site.

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Writing plots in plain Tikz

The quality of plots and graphs in academic publications is often poor. Typically, a plot is generated in some program and is simply pasted into the final document with fonts and a graphical characteristics that do not match the rest of the document. Here I describe a fairly easy and straight forward way of writing simple plots in Tikz in LaTeX documents. It allows for fine control of the output and an easy way to make us global document settings also inside the plots. This description is meant only to give the basic framework of how to rite plots this way, a proof of concept if you will. There are many ways to improve it and streamline the code. It is the method I used to generate the plots in my thesis, such as the one in page 210:

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Language ideology on AlJazera: Taḥt al-mijhar—Lisān aḍ-ḍād yajmaʿunā

December 4, 2014, AlJazeera aired the documentary Lisān aḍ-ḍād yajmaʿunā [The language of ḍād unites us] as part of the Taḥt al-mijhar series of documentaries, produced in-house by AlJazeera. The program is interesting in that it so clearly illustrates the Arabic language ideology in action, being in effect and inventory of mainstream concerns about the current state of Arabic. This post presents a fairly thorough presentation of the views aired in the documentary.

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Timeline of Arab grammarians

Sometimes when reading about the classical Arabic grammarians I find it difficult to visualize the actual timespan between different authors. Years are of course always mentioned in the literature but it is often still hard to get a feel for how big a chunk of time there is between a series of events. To get a better sense of the stages of development of Arabic grammar I have made a graphical Timeline of Arab grammarians and their major works. It is based on The Arabic Linguistic Tradition by Bohas et al. (2006) and lists all grammarians mentioned in their book and uses their division into periods. A pdf with the timeline can be viewed/downloaded here.

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Reading-notes on GitHub

I have spent some time the last couple of weeks formatting (and in some cases translating to English) notes I took during and my PhD studies. This formatting I did in order to a) make them more useful and searchable for me, and b) to make them potentially useful for others. In line with point b), and also to have a convenient and accessible backup, I have put them as a repository on GitHub, a text/code hosting site. The notes can be found here. The notes are in some cases more or less complete summaries of articles, but in most cases they are only brief notes and extractions of quotes that I found interesting or useful for my project. The README in the repo gives a more thorough description of what the notes contain and how they are structured. Pleas read it if you are interesting in looking through them. I will keep adding to these notes as I read more stuff and edit and update notes as I reread the sources.

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Margin notes for Arabic quotes in LaTeX

This posts describes a way of showing quoted Arabic text in the margin in non-Arabic environments and how this can be achieved in LaTeX. For sentence length quotes this has several advantages over the traditional method of transcribing the Arabic text. It circumvents problems with directionality and aesthetic clashes between the Latin and the Arabic script, the arabophone reader can read it more easily and the non-arabophone reader can more easily skip it. It makes for an interesting and nice looking page.

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Eye-movements in reading: a teaser

I am currently involved in an eye-tracking study investigating some aspects of reading in Arabic. Eye-tracking is a research method in which a person’s eyes movements are recorded while he or she performs some sort of task. By analyzing the eye-movement it is possible to see exactly were that person is looking at a certain point in time, and based on this data one can draw conclusions about mental activities during that task.

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