Reading Arabic Literature: An Interesting (?) Structure


root: ر-ك-ب / verbal noun of form II / plural: تَراكيب / definition: (grammatical) construction

If it seems like the last post in the Reading Arabic Literature series was almost a year ago… that’s because it was, unfortunately. (January, apparently?!)

And this doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading any Arabic literature—because as you might have read in my step-by-step literature translations, like this one—I’ve actually got more than one Arabic novel on the go, thanks to my as-of-yet-not-started and just-applied-for-as-of-Friday PhD. That makes for a mouthful.

Anyway, I’m still in the process of reading the novel لا سكاكين في مطابخ هذه المدينة which has pretty much been on hold since we went through the translation of an excerpt from it in Step-by-Step Arabic Literature Translation #10 and #11.

So today I was getting some reading done on the train back home (fellow Londoners may agree that the new Elizabeth line is much more conducive to any sort of productivity compared to Central) and that’s when I read this:

…ترسم […] أغناماً وأحصنة رؤيتها ترعب أمّي…

You may be able to make out my excited, pencilled scribble drawing attention to the grammatical structure here: “struc!”

Now I am well aware, being the Arabic-grammar nerd I am, that the word “interesting” in the title of this post may not be everyone’s term of choice for what you can see above (hence the “(?)” following it, so as not to raise hopes of discovering something ground-breaking), but it definitely caught my attention enough to underline it on the page.

Let’s take a closer look:

…ترسم […] أغناماً وأحصنة رؤيتها ترعب أمّي

Literal translation: she draws sheep and horses, seeing them frightens my mother

What I might have expected to see instead of this structure, based on the many similar phrases I’ve read, is:

…ترسم […] أغناماً وأحصنة ترعب رؤيتها أمّي

…i.e., the indefinite relative clause (جملة الصفة, which is underlined) starting with the verb ترعب rather than the verbal noun رؤيتها.

But when I did see the phrase “ترسم […] أغناماً وأحصنة رؤيتها ترعب أمّي”, the structure instantly made me think of a corresponding one in English: she draws sheep and horses, the sight of which frightens my mother.

As for whether the verbal-noun-then-verb order in the phrase makes any difference to the grammar or meaning, I’m not sure and need to do a little investigation. But if you know, I’d love to hear!

!مع السلامة

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