Arabic

  Daniel Sokol,  St Edmund Hall, Oxford University, United Kingdom
 have, in this last year, scribbled down rough notes
on various aspects of the world's languages which I deemed unusual or 
simply fascinating. For the first few months of this column, I shall 
thus delve into my bag of linguistic oddities and explore languages 
which, for the majority of us, are totally unfamiliar.

Arabic has only three vowels and, to make matters worse for the
learner, they are often barely pronounced.  It should nevertheless be 
known that the three vowels can be either long or short, or, to put it 
more formally, they have distinctive vowel length.

On the other hand, the Arabic consonantal system is, as anyone who has
heard it will know, incredibly rich.  The Arabic speaker makes full use 
of the supraglottal vocal tract  (tract above the glottis).  He uses, 
for example, two kinds of  /k/, one being more emphatic and pronounced 
further back in  the mouth than the other.  To all of you out there 
wishing to learn Arabic, be warned!

A final fact: Arabic is in 8th position in the 'Languages with Most 
Speakers' table (170 million speakers), ahead of French, Japanese and 
German.

Until next time, ila liqa (goodbye).

p.s - liqa is pronounced with the emphatic /k/!