Inversion, anyone?

Harrell, at page 85 (lesson 25) says regular verbs like drb undergo inversion of the internal vowel and consonant when moving from the masculine to the feminine, ie., dreb (he hit) becomes derbet (she hit). The Peace Corp Manual (page 52 - but my page numbering got confused somehow) says absolutely nothing about this. It also says the feminine suffix is ‘at’, not ‘et’. I realize this is a very fluid language, and that these books were written for slightly different audiences, but some clarity is always welcome.

You might be getting the impression that I am stalking you, MalikRumi; I assure you it is not the case.

There is no such thing as an “infinitive”, as we think of them in English, in Arabic. Not only Moroccan, but all Arabic dialects (there are fifteen major living dialect families, incidentally) show the subject’s identity within the verb. The convention used to identify roots and, incorrectly, identify them as “infinitives” is to resort to the shortest form of a past tense verb. That is the singular masculine, incidentally.

Drb means “he hit”; you may add “ny” and have “Drbny”; he hit me. Feminine past tense conjugation is accomplished by adding that ‘t’ to the root; “Drbatny” means “she hit me”. The fact that some people say it’s an ‘et’ while others say it’s an “at” is simply a function of English vowels not being very easily approximated. The thing that matters is the ‘t’, not the vowel.

A strange thing about Moroccan dialect follows: When you want to speak about a person whom we would call “you”, and be relieved that we aren’t obliged by the structure of English to specify whether or not the person in question is a male or a female, is that Moroccans use the female for both males and females. What?

If I want to say, “Did you understand me?” to a woman I would say, “yak, fhemtini?”… if I wanted to say it to a male I would not change it at all… which is not the case in other Arabic dialect families.

I am constantly finding myself explaining to Egyptian and Palestinian men that, when I use “i” at the end of the verb I am not implying that they are effeminate; I am simply transferring what I use in Moroccan into the conversation we are having. Egyptians and others do differentiate… they say, “fhemta” for a man, and, “fhemti” for a woman. In Arabic, there is a long vowel called “yaa” which attaches to the feminine conjugation.

Another peculiarity about Moroccan (North African, really) is that the conjugation for, “I did it” contains an “n”. “N”, in MSA and most dialects, indicates plurality. So, if I want to say, in the present tense, “I understand, already, geese!” I would say, “Kan nfhem, wa Saafi; Baraka mn al 7aDra!”

any native additions and corrections are most welcome by the insomniac pedant…

…and the answer to the question about inversion is…?

Oh, sorry I was unclear. The answer to the question about inversion is that, in my extensive experience with native Moroccan speakers, they usually do not add that e or a before the t which changes the conjugation from masculine to feminine; they swallow their vowels, and are widely known so to do by other Arabs, who have a darned hard time following Moroccan/Moroccan conversations due to this vowel swallowing.

You were asking about Dreb/Derbet; my ear tells me that it is really a difference between Drba and Drbat; I barely hear any vestigial vowel sound between the D and the R in either case. In MSA, each case would require a vowel sound and the differentiation would be accomplished through the adding of the ‘t’ after that ‘b’. Does that help a little more?

I admire your will power with Harrel. Really; I do.

Ok, thank you. That actually makes sense, because when I went back and looked at the Peace Corp Manual, I realized they aren’t using many vowels at all, which would make talk of inversion pointless, and that is presumably their editorial/teaching stance.

I’m a bit confused myself with this vowel business - on the one hand, everyone emphasises the fact that Moroccan Arabic is very tight with vowels. On the other hand, I sometimes see words written with very few vowels yet clearly hear vowels pronounced (as in the SpeakMoroccan Youtube videos). I don’t mean in the Arabic alphabet, but the latinizations; nor long vowels which obviously are written. (take zrk, which I hear as z[sup]a[/sup]r[sup]a[/sup]q, or qhwî that sounds like q[sup]a[/sup]hwî). Are these what linguists call schwa’s, and therefore not written? Or is it that they usually wouldn’t be pronounced, but in singular words they are?

(Maybe this should have been in its own topic? Hmm…)

Hi all,

MalikRumi, i read that moroccans don’t like 3 consecutive consonnants because it’s too hard to pronounce.
It maybe a bit of answer to your question about inversion.

Starting with “dreb”…

First, let’s assume that when there’s nothing after the “b”, we use the “dreb” form… so we have :
dreb for the accomplished, and nedreb, tedreb, yedreb for the unaccomplished.

And let’s assume now that when we conjugate the simple form, it becomes “derb-…”.

If you add a vowel after the “b”, there are only two consonnants, so it’s just fine, and we keep it like this :
derb-et, derb-u for the accomplished forms, tederb-i, nederb-u, tederb-u, yederb-u for unaccomplished.

Now, if you add a consonnant, there will be 3 consecutive consonnants, which is hard to pronounce : derb-t, derb-ti, derb-na…
So, the inversion occurs and makes it easier to pronounce :
dreb-t, dreb-ti, dreb-na, dreb-tu for the accomplished.

To sum-up, if you think of these two rules :

  • when there’s nothing after “dreb”, we keep it like this ;
  • when there is something after, it becomes “derb-…” ONLY IF the following letter is a vowel.

It seems to me that every single conjugated form follows this rule (at least for the 3-consonnant radicals like “drb”).
Does it make sense to you???


Ramadan Mubarak Everyone,

Um, I am painfully aware that I read Fus7a signals in to Darija, and I am attempting to excise those flaws, but,. alas and alak, it will take a long time to accomplish, if it is even doable.

However, and I know this is a very old post at this time, my two cents worth tells me that Moroccans actually do manage to pronounce long strings of consonants without the aid of vowels… perhaps an occasional ‘schwa’ works its way in.

My point is that the rule which prohibits the side by side appearance of more than two unvowelled consonants is very much a Formal Arabic rule; it is violated to the point of complete incongruity with what goes on in Moroccan Dialect; they DO swallow their vowells, absolutley, and long clusters of consonants are the rule, not the exception.

That being said, they also have a proclivity, just as we Engilsh speakers (although this is not yet accepted as ‘proper’ English, it exists in many parts of the South nonetheless) to invert consonants in a somewhat unconscious way over generations and, therefor, change the word’s consonant makeup. The famous southern example which comes to mind is the shift from “ask” to “aks”; I aksed him about that already. There is also the less well known origin of ‘asparagas’; orriginally it was “sparrow grass”.

Having a written language which codifies how things ‘should’ be slows things down and, indeed, renders those who are ‘literate’ somewhat unaware as well impervious to damaging their own language skill 'cortable"… this word is pronounced, by most persons of perfectly acceptable social standing and educational background, as though it were written “comftorble”… and only those who watch out for their pronunciations are likely to make the extra effort to not invert the t and the r, and such hyper-vigilence is sometimes met as though it were snobbery of some sort… but, once it has come to your attention that a shift is taking place in the pronunciation of a word, do you not feel, somehow, obliged to resist it, if the old way is still accessable enough to be understood?

Or, on the contrary, do you feel that it is more authentic to say the words as they are actually spoken, in the main, and that it is reactionary to attempt to hold on to so called historical pronunciations? All of you who read English know what a nightmare its spelling system is. Many have proposed updating it in order to render the spellings in line with the pronunciations, thereby sparing the well intentioned foreign learner the possiblity of saying ‘manslaughter’ when what he really means is “man’s laughter”… the problem with updating a spelling system in order to render it phonetically ‘correct’ is that language, being fluid, will continue to change, and the new spellings will themselves need changing at some point… and then there is the obvious problem of, well, cutting off the English speaking world from its literary heritage; nobody wants that, right?

but that is just a thought… by the way, in the middle of my post I somehow pressed a key which started to over write all of my editing… that’s why it is so messed up. I decided to just let go of it and allow yous guys to figure out what I meant.

I’m sorry, ummaryam99, I think you are completly wrong in most of your apreciations. Don’t you really hear the vowels? Well, may be we can only call it “movements from a consonant to other” but they have a vocalic nature. And I completely agree with takadoum. Dude, your words are gold!

I also try to answer to MalikRumi: I’m a latin native speaker (catalan-spanish), living in Tangiers and learning darija. I don’t speak any other kind of arabic or semitic lenguage that what i’ve lerned in the streets and in the darija books. And I can perfectly notice the -et form for femenin. If it’s at or et is only the listener who can determine precisely, because is not an e or an a as you know it. Is in the middle, or somewhere. It’s true that exists some people that doesn’t pronounce it, but it’s because dialectal diferences (a dialectical specifity).

And it’s right that the vocalic sounds in darija have a tight pronunciaton. It’s really hard to produce some of them, even to identificate it, but yes, we can :slight_smile:

Peace corps book is ok for comunicational purposes. But when you really HAVE TO speak darija and NEED to be understood, then you will need a book with very little e’s and a’s and u’s and w’s and neutral e’s and ê’s, and… so, when you understand the code, dude! you are in! Just check on the dictionary and remember the sounds. Now, i can express myself better than rather understand the others. I have the time to construct, not to decode the meaning of that’s people saying.

About the inversion, just listen to takadoum.

I personaly recomend to you the Francisco MOSCOSO grammar and dictionary. It’s in spanish, but i found no a better one. If you understand spanish, go for it.