Arabic Headline Analysis #8


root: ق-ر-ع / noun / plural: مَقارِع / definition: door knocker

In the photo above is the newspaper page, dated 1991, that was used to wrap up the ornate brass door knocker I bought from an artisan workshop on my last day in Agadir. The newspaper page is now folded up and nestled between some empty notebooks I bought in Istanbul (I’m waiting for something revolutionary to fill them with…) and a stack of Arabic dictionaries and reference books.

The door knocker itself currently has no use, by the way. But it’ll look absolutely beautiful on the door of my Mediterranean dream house I’ve designed and constructed in my mind. The cherry on the cake… without the cake, for now.

Anyway, that’s irrelevant as my point is about the newspaper page which—when I glanced at it again yesterday—made me think to write this Arabic headline analysis.

This week, we’ll be analysing the vocabulary and grammar in the following headline from an article on Project Syndicate (a great resource for Arabic students that I wrote about in one of my very first blog posts):

ـ 20 كانون الأول / ديسمبر 2022

الدفاع عن المدافعين عن التنوع البيئي من السكان الأصليين

So let’s begin by going word-by-word through the headline, before we look at a possible translation:


components: الـ + دِفاع

root: د-ف-ع

form III verbal noun

دِفاع = “to defend” or “defending”

الـ = the definite prefix

دفاع is one of the verbal nouns for the form III verb دافَعَ / يُدافِعُ (“to defend”), with the other verbal noun being مُدافَعة

both دفاع and مدافعة follow regular form III verbal noun patterns, فِعال and مُفاعَلة respectively, although the latter pattern is more common

anyway, verbal nouns (مصادر) are often translated using the infinitive form (to…) or gerundial form (-ing)—seeing as this is a headline, the gerund works better: “defending”

الدفاع is the subject here, so it is مرفوع

and seeing as it’s definite, it takes a damma: الدفاعُ



this preposition follows the form III verb دافع / يدافع and its verbal nouns and introduces what is being defended

so الدفاع عن = “defending (something)”


components: الـ + مُدافِعينَ

root: د-ف-ع

form III active participle, sound masculine plural noun

مُدافِع = “defender”

this active participle (اسم فاعل) comes from the form III verb mentioned above

the اسم فاعل indicates the “doer” of the verb, i.e. the one defending is a defender

when plural, this word takes the sound masculine plural ending: ـونَ when مرفوع, and ـينَ when منصوب or مجرور

here (مدافعين) we have the latter ending, as this word is مجرور seeing as it directly follows a preposition (حرف جرّ)


again, the preposition عن follows the verb دافع / يدافع and its derivatives to introduce what is being defended

in English, we’d have to translate this as “of” in this context, as that’s the word we use to introduce the object of the noun “defenders”

so far, we have الدفاع عن المدافعين عن, “defending the defenders of”


components: الـ + تَنَوُّع

root: ن-و-ع

form V verbal noun

تَنَوُّع = “diversity”

this is the verbal noun (مصدر) of the form V verb تَنَوَّعَ / يَتَنَوَّعُ, meaning “to be diverse, varied”

note that this comes from same root as the word نَوع (“type”)

الـ = the definite prefix

here, التنوّع is مجرور due to the preposition preceding it, so it ends with a kasra: التنوّعِ


components: الـ + بيئي

root: ب-و-ء

nisba adjective

بيئة = “environment”, so its nisba (i.e. attributive) adjective, بيئيّ = “environmental”

الـ = the definite prefix

the adjective بيئي is describing the noun التنوّع in a noun-adjective phrase and therefore has to agree with it in four ways: number, case, gender, and definiteness

so the adjective here must be singular, مجرور, masculine, and definite: البيئيِّ

in English, for التنوّع البيئي, we’d translate it not as “environmental diversity” but as “biodiversity”



مِن = “from”, “from among”, or “of”, depending on the context

the phrase that this preposition is introducing is actually referring back to the noun المدافعين (“the defenders”) to give more information about it

thus, من is best translated here as “from among”


components: الـ + سُكّان

root: س-ك-ن

plural noun

ساكِن = “resident” or “inhabitant”, and it’s the active participle derived from the form I verb سَكَنَ / يَسكُنُ (“to live, reside”)

سُكّان = its plural, “residents” or “inhabitants”

الـ = the definite prefix

السكّان is مجرور seeing as it directly follows a preposition, so we have: السكّانِ


components: الـ + أَصْليّينَ

root: ء-ص-ل

sound masculine plural nisba adjective

أَصل = “origin”

its nisba adjective, أَصليّ = “original” or “native”

and أَصليّينَ is the sound masculine plural of this word, and is acting as an adjective in this context, describing the noun السكّان

أَصليين has the ـين ending because it’s مجرور, matching the noun’s case

because of its agreement with the noun, it’s also plural, masculine, and definite

السكان الأصليين, literally means “native inhabitants”

So here’s the literal translation of the headline that we’ve arrived at:

الدفاع عن المدافعين عن التنوع البيئي من السكان الأصليين

Defending the Defenders of Biodiversity from among Native Inhabitants

Doesn’t sound too headline-y at the moment, does it?

Seeing as this article was originally written in English, let’s see the original title:

Defending the Indigenous Defenders of Biodiversity

Much more snappy!

Notice how the Arabic translation uses the phrase “المدافعين… من السكان الأصليين” to express the meaning of “Indigenous Defenders”.

If you had to translate the original English title into Arabic, how would you do so? Let us know!

!إلى اللقاء

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