Arabic Observations: الإتباع


root: ت-ب-ع / verbal noun of form IV / definition: to make something follow something else

It was a long time ago when I first realised that a linguistic phenomenon that occurs in various languages—like my heritage language, Turkish—can also be found in Arabic.

Now I wish I could remember the exact Arabic example I came across all that time ago, but… alas.

Anyway, what reminded me of this is that I found the Arabic term for this linguistic phenomenon in the Hans Wehr a little while back:

So الإتباع, as stated above, is when we repeat a word but we change the first letter of the second instance. Like حَسَنٌ بَسَنٌ or شَذَرَ مَذَرَ.

الإتباع can be used for emphasis, mockery, or for stylistic reasons.

In the case of the two examples above, they occur in Arabic dictionaries as part of the following phrases:

  • رجل حسن بسن (“a very good man”)
  • تفرّقوا شذرَ مذرَ (“they scattered in all directions”)

There are also other examples to be discovered in the dictionaries, such as:

  • عَطشان نَطشان
  • وَسيم قَسيم
  • حَيص بَيص
  • حَوثاً بَوثاً

…and so on!

I’ve seen a few Arabic research papers on the topic that I might like to read through but, considering all the reading I need to be doing for my PhD proposal at the moment (that’s another post altogether), I think I better save them to my “to-read” list for now.

Does a similar phenomenon occur in your native language? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to check out the other posts in the Arabic Observations series!

!مع السلامة

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2 thoughts on “Arabic Observations: الإتباع

  1. In Tamil (one of the South Asian languages) similar but not identical phenomenon occurs.
    In one instance, the same but very short word is repeated twice (only) to emphasize the idea or for poetic reasons, however, individually the short word does not have meaning. [Grammar: Irattai kilavi]
    In another instance, a word is repeated (twice or more) for emphasis or rhyme, however, here individual word has meaning. [Grammar: Adukku thodar]

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