This is now making the rounds, courtesy of a TEDX talk by Radius Foundation director and Arabic student Terry Moore. The lead quote is: “To write a word or a phrase or a sentence in Arabic is like crafting an equation, because every part is extremely precise and carries a lot of information.”
There’s also a good yuk-yuk about how hard it is (for those who speak European languages) to pronounce certain Arabic letters.*
Whether the mathematical X comes from a Spaniard’s mispronunciation of ش, well, I don’t know. But this boiling-down of Arabic (which Arabic? from when?) to its essential “mathematical” nature seems a bit odd. Wouldn’t it be great if words and sentences in Arabic were so “precise” that no poetic ambiguities were possible? Oh, well, maybe not.
NOTE: I have received a number of criticisms that insist that Arabic is/was a precise (or logical) language. I think that while a language could be more or less logically structured, I must disagree with the idea that precision is possible, particularly if we agree that a (word) symbol maps to other symbols, not directly to the world. So I’m not really sure what “precision” would even mean here. Fewer words? Fewer synonyms?
I’m sure this fellow is a nice guy: He’s learned the language, he is equating Arab-ness with mathematical logic. But I still don’t agree with his summary statement about a language, whether the (10th century) or now.
Thanks to Margaret Litvin for passing it on.
*My laptop speakers still aren’t working, but the TED site offers a transcript. I assume it’s accurate-ish.