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  1. #1

    ARABIC Culture/Language Help

    Well, I'm writing a story that takes place in a culture that is a near exact replica of 1400's Damascus. This is a problem, as I neither live in the 1400's or live in Arabia, so I am loaded with questions. I've seen a few people say that they speak Arabic, which is helpful.

    *How would two Arabic people greet each other? (Casual and Formal, both from Teacher-Student and Student-Teacher)
    *What are some basic foods they would eat?
    *What are some basic drinks they would drink?
    *By large were most families Patriarchal or Matriarchal?
    *How was the family composed? (Today, the "idea" model is 2 parents and 2.3 children - what was the Arabian model?)
    *Were large families encouraged?
    *What was Arabia's relationship with other countries?
    *Was it a superpower or non-power?
    *Were there any common name trends?



  2. #2
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    Well, I don't know much about Syria (even though my father's family originally came from there), since my family has lived in Egypt all their lives, but I will try to answer some of your questions as best as I can.

    How would two Arabic people greet each other? (Casual and Formal, both from Teacher-Student and Student-Teacher)

    I'm not exactly sure just how much Arabic has changed since back then, but now it is the standard Salamu A'alaikum and the answer would be Wa A'alaikum Al Salam [wa rahmat Allah wa barakatu] (the part in brackets is optional). To the best of my knowledge, back then there was no slang back then, and the colloquial Arabic that is so different from classic Arabic is only spoken these days. Anyway, I'd also like to say that whether or not your characters are Muslim will affect their greetings. For example, most Christians I know here in Egypt refrain from saying Salamu A'alaikum. The Syrian dialect of Arabic is however very different to the Egyptian dialect - such as the Lebanese, Saudi Arabian, Tunisian, and Iraqi Arabic are all different from one another - so I can't help you in terms of Syrian Arabic. They might even say Salamu A'alaikum in a different way.

    What are some basic foods they would eat?
    What are some basic drinks they would drink?

    Well, if your character is Muslim, remember that he/she would refrain from pork or alcohol (if they're devoted to their religion, that is. these days I know Muslims who drink and do whatever they feel like)

    Were there any common name trends?

    I'm not so sure, but I think Islamic names were popular. A'isha, Khadiga, Ibrahim...but I'm not particularly sure.

    Honestly, I fail.

    I just asked my mom and she knows nothing either. -___________- I'll try to ask some of my more knowledgeable family members - such as my grandfather and my aunt's husband - and maybe get back to you with a PM.

    Sorry for not having helped much at all.


  3. #3
    One thing I can tell you is that in the beginning of names it was quite popular to have Ibn-*rest of name*

  4. #4
    *waves* Okay, this probably won't help at all, but I might as well try, right?
    *How would two Arabic people greet each other? (Casual and Formal, both from Teacher-Student and Student-Teacher)
    If they're Muslim, the first would say 'Assalamu Alaykum' , and the reply to that would be 'Walaykum assalum', which is what Hadeer said. I'm pretty sure almost everyone around then in that area were Muslim, but I'm not positive. This was definitely after Muhammed came and spread the message of Islam, if you're wondering.
    *What are some basic foods they would eat?
    Nothing with pork, probably mostly other meats. *shrugs*
    *What are some basic drinks they would drink?
    Anything but alcohol.
    *By large were most families Patriarchal or Matriarchal?
    I'm guessing Patriarchal, because that was how most families were based in that time.
    *Were there any common name trends?
    Like Hadeer said, Islamic names most liekly. I could give you a list of some names if you want.

    I'll edit in any more information if I find something out.


  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Pafoo
    [font=optima]Well, I'm writing a story that takes place in a culture that is a near exact replica of 1400's Damascus. This is a problem, as I neither live in the 1400's or live in Arabia, so I am loaded with questions. I've seen a few people say that they speak Arabic, which is helpful.

    Oooh, you've chosen a really interesting time-period, I hope I can be of some help. Please bear in mind though, that I'm not a historian, but I'm somewhat familiar with the history and I really like watching Syrian historical tv shows (Syrians have the most awesome tv shows...)

    First of all, at that time there was a Mongol invasion into that area and in 1400 Damascus was under siege. The Mongols basically laid the city to ruin, burning mosques, destroying libraries etc. Interestingly enough they eventually converted to Islam and a sense of stability was found for at least a while.

    Oh, and about the libraries, at that time, due to the importance of learning in Islam you would have seen a huge stress on basic learning of reading and writing for everyone so that they could be able to read and understand the Quran. They also had libraries and as well as religious and linguistic education they would have been interested in scientific knowledge as well to some extent.

    /large scale historical context

    *How would two Arabic people greet each other? (Casual and Formal, both from Teacher-Student and Student-Teacher)

    As everyone's mentioned the most common greeting would have been Asssalmu Alaikum. (and as you can see everyone spells it a bit differently in English, so just pick the spelling that's easiest for you, lol). Nowadays you'd just say "Salam", but at the time people spoke alot more formally so I wouldn't think they'd use that short form unless they were very close friends or something and young maybe.

    Also, someone mentioned other religions. There's historically been an important Christian minority in all of Bilad al Sham. (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine), so I'm not 100 percent sure about that time period, but you're safe assuming there would have been some Christians. Today a Christian Arab(and even Muslim) would say something like "Marhaba" or "Ahlan", I'm not sure about back then. In terms of goodbye I can see both Muslims and Christians saying something like "Allah Ma'ak" - May God be with you. (and yes, Arabic Christians also say Allah - it literally means God in Arabic)

    *What are some basic foods they would eat?
    *sighs and begins to dream about tasteful fresh bread* Bread's important, especially at breakfast, rice as well for lunch, even today people almost always have something for lunch that somehow involves rice. Do you want names of dishes? I can talk about today, but not about the 1400's with too much confidence, though I don't think the traditional dishes would have changed too much...

    *What are some basic drinks they would drink?
    As the others before me already mentioned you want to stay away from Alcohol, but other than that I can't think of anything specific.

    *By large were most families Patriarchal or Matriarchal?

    Patriarchal, but be careful associating this with the sense of the term when we think of Medieval Europe for example. I dunno if it's just me, but when I think Particarchal society I think that women aren't allowed to get an education and there were arranged marriages etc. This wouldn't really be the case, especially since Religion was still very important at the time, because in Islam every single Muslim has to have an education, it's considered a religious duty to at least have a basic literacy and you would have had female scribes and such. The levels of literacy etc would depend on economic status, obviously, but a basic literacy would be important to all and they could usually get that for free at the Mosques.

    Also, in terms of arranged marriages, religiously parents wouldn't have been allowed to force their kids, male or female to marry someone against their will - they just make "suggestions" and I'd imagine if some controlling father did try it would have been easy to appeal to the local religious scholars and get them to influence the parents.

    *How was the family composed? (Today, the "idea" model is 2 parents and 2.3 children - what was the Arabian model?)

    *giggles* You mean today in the west the "ideal" is "2.3" *tries to imaine one third of a child* Anyways, even today Arabs have alot more kids than people in the west normally do. Four or five would be seen as an average family, I guess. You can go as high as 8 kids and still not be raising any eyebrows even today. That's not to say you wouldn't see families with just one or two, and remember not everyone can have kids, you might have a family where they just weren't lucky and didn't have any kids(and they'd be pretty darn depressed about it, by the way) but it would be more common to have more than two or three kids.

    *Were large families encouraged?
    Yeah. And in general you have more of an extended family system where you're pretty close with your cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents etc.

    *What was Arabia's relationship with other countries?
    Well, at that time, they would have Traveled freely between Damascus and other Muslim countries. You have trade and travel with the far East, north Africa and I'm not sure of the dates off the top of my head but the Islamic parts of Europe as well. *goes to look up dates for Andalusia and Ottoman empire*

    *Was it a superpower or non-power?
    Damascus is sort of at the heart of the Muslim world at that time so it would have been important if only for that geographical reason. In terms of trade it was also really important. Also, at that time you would have people from all over doing pilgrimage to Mecca and also visiting the Mosque in Jerusalem and they might settle and stay in surrounding areas, I'm not sure about settling in Damascus at the time, but there would be some at least and there would definitely be lots of people passing through for trade and travel.

    *Were there any common name trends?

    You're always on the safe side using names like Muhammad, Ahmad, Ali, Usama, Khalid, Omar, Ibrahim, Ismail etc. (ask if you want more suggestions)

    As for female names someone already mentioned Fatima you can also use names like Amina, Aisha etc.

    A note about names. Usually a father would be called Abu ----- (father of [name of first child]) and a mother would be called Umm ---- (mother of [name of first child]). Someoen mentioned Ibn--- That's true and it means literally "son of ---"

    Also there's no concept of Mrs. X. A woman's name doesn't change based on her marital status and that's still true in general today although I hear that in some places there's been some European influence on that front. (not so much in Syria, though, I don't think).

    Houses: Because you're probably more interested in day to day lives and I think this is really cool. On the outskirts of cities and farming villages it would probably have been a normal little house where they spend most of their days in the fields, etc. But in the cities it's an entirely different story and especially in Damascus. Basically, if you go into a city you'd be walking in cobbled (usually very narrow) streets between the high flat walls of houses, but when you get inside the houses (or the public baths etc) you would basically find yourself sudenly outdoors again!

    So the arrangement of the houses would be that they have high walls and when you get in the rooms line the periphery of the space, but in the middle it's open air with plants and usually a fountain in the center and they'd spend most of their day in that garden-like space - unless of course it was cold or rainy, but weather there is mild for the most part.

    /hugely long post, I hope that helped somewhat and didn't come too late in your fic writing

  6. #6
    My boss is Arabic, so I can help a bit.

    *What are some basic foods they would eat?
    Hee hee, I work in a Mediteranian restuarant, so forgive meh if I drone on a bit. Pita Bread is the main bread that they eat. And they eat it with every thing. My boss told me once that his mother used to fry Pita and put butter and sugar on it as a sweet snack. Mohamed, my boss, eats fried vegtables and Pita nearly every night. What our resturant is famous for is the Falafel sandwhich(wrapped in Pita, not white bread)/plate. Falafel is all vegtable, and if you want more information on what it's made of, feel free to ask. Why don't I just make a list?
    Gyro Meat: Mainly made of lamb, though I've heard that other resturaunts use other meats. It's cooked on a rotiscery (though I'm sure that it's baked in Arabic homes) and then fried on the grill before we put it into the wraps.
    Chicken Shawerma: I'm not sure what is different about the chicken, or how it's seasoned, but it's a popular meat for plates.
    White Rice: Boiled on the stove top, and we put half and half milk in the water while it boils. It gives it a creamy taste.
    Kofta Kabob: I'm not too familiar with this, so you could Google it or something. It's some kind of green stuff...
    Chicken/Beef Kabob: The kabobs are like American kabobs, with mushrooms, red onion, green pepper, and tomatos. Cooked on the grill and wrapped in Pita.
    Baklava: Made of honey, though I'm not sure how it's cooked/chilled. It's a sweet snack. Personally, I think it's gross!
    We also have alot of American food on our menu, but I'm sure that it's not eaten much in Egypt. I'll ask my boss though.
    Oh, and Gryro/Cucumber sauce is used in the Gryro wraps. It's made of sour cream/yogurt, cucumbers, and various spices.
    Hommos is a very popular dip. I'm not sure what it's made of, though it's made mainly of some kind of bean.
    And then there's the Baba Ganojus (ha, I have no idea how to spell that) It's eggplant and something. Both dips are eaten with Pita Bread, but the Gryo sauce isn't eaten as a dip.
    Pita chips are also popular. Fried Pita Bread.
    Well, that's the only food that I remember from the menu. I'll grab a menu and PM you if you'd like.

    *What are some basic drinks they would drink?
    Mint Tea and coffe is the only thing I've ever seen Mohamed drink.

    *Were there any common name trends?
    Well, Mohamed, as every one else has said. His first name is Nader though.

    Well, I'll ask meh boss about the other questions and get back to you.

    (Oh, and all sandwhiches are wrapped in the Pita Bread, unless someone requests a hoagie bun/white bread)

  7. #7
    The only thing I can help with is food. I'm Syrian/Lebanonese, so the food is very similiar.

    Lamb is a very popular meat. Almost all of my great-grandfather's recipes mention lamb as the main meat. When we make food at home, we usually substitute ground lamb with beef.

    Some foods are:
    - Kibbeh: Kinds of like a meatloaf. It's traditionally ground lamb(ground beef can be used too) mixed with bulgar wheat.
    - Tabouli Salad: It's bulgar wheat, mixed with lemon juice, oil, and vegetables. Usually my family uses tomatoes, lettuce, and onions, though others can be used. It tastes amazing when it's made with fresh mint.
    - Stuffed Grapeleaves: Grapeleaves stuffed with ground meat(lamb or beef) and rice. Usually, we cook it with lemon.
    - Baklava: thin pastry layered with walnuts and honey. A very popular desert.
    - Hommus: ground chick peas mixed with lemon juice, oil, and tahini(a seasame paste)
    - Baba Ganouj: Kind of like hommus, except with roasted eggplant.

    As for drinks, I've seen some extremely coffee served in certain restaurants. Tea is a safe bet, sometimes with mint or cardamon.

  8. #8
    Okay, thanks! Now, as the hard drive to my old computer died, the story that I needed this for died with it, but I may re-write it sometime in the future.

    And MithrilQuill, I love you. *cough*


  9. #9
    I've lived in Arabia for most of my life, and I am a Muslim, so I think I am eligible to say a teensy bit over here X-)

    How would two Arabic people greet each other?

    [casually] the first speaker would say, "Assalumalaikum, ya <name goes here>"
    Reply: "Wassalaamulaikum ya <name>"
    You would also say, "Ya habibi," which means, "Oh dear one." You would say 'habibi' for male, and 'habibti' for female.
    (Fun fact: Arabic has the most number of words for love)
    Also, Arabs usually shake hands and kiss each other on the cheek and then ask questions about each other's family, etc. Men do it strictly to men, and women strictly to women.

    [formally] the first person would say: "Assalamulalaikum." The reply: "Wa-alaikumussalam."

    Then they laugh and crack jokes Arabs are very fun people, y'know.

    What are some basic foods they would eat?

    They would eat bread, rice, fish, and laham - meat. Dajen means chicken. And saandweesh is sandwich They ate Peta Bread and handmade bread. Before Islam spread, pork was allowed.

    What are some basic drinks they would drink?

    Water, sparkling water (that's mineral water), black tea (ew, I hate that), and they would smoke from this weird long pipe thing. Before Islam spread, wine was allowed.

    By large were most families Patriarchal or Matriarchal? I don't know what the question means here X-O

    How was the family composed?

    Well, if you're talking about before Prophet Mohammed (SAW) came, then it would be mostly composed of boys. Arabs really hated girls in those days, and sometimes used to bury their baby girls alive. After the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) came, and started telling people of Allah's religion, the people who accepted Islam then stopped being biased towards girls. (Fact: Before the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) started telling everyone of Islam [which was revealed to him by Allah], women were actually part of the inheritance. They could not inherit anything if their father, husband, or son died.) However, it usually had three boys.

    Were large families encouraged?

    A lot of boys were encouraged. So yeah, usually, large families were encouraged.

    What was Arabia's relationship with other countries?

    Well, it was just a normal peninsula. But its tribes was very apt to fighting amongst each other for trivial reasons.

    Was it a superpower or non-power?

    After Islam overtook the world, then yes, of course, it was a super-power. A just, wise, and good superpower. Until the Caliphs started straying from the Path and being really weird and drinking wine, etc.

    Were there any common name trends?

    A'isha, Abdullah, Ahmed, Fahad, and Ibrahim are a few. After the Prophet came, the names 'Mohammed' and 'Fatima' were also popular. When talking of full names, it would go like this - "Fatima bint Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn..."

    OR - "Hassan ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib ibn..."

    when talking of a female's full name, she is, of course, the daughter of somebody, and 'daughter' or 'girl' is represented in Arabic as 'bint'. son or boy is represented as 'ibn'. Sometimes, 'bin' is also used.


    Hope I've been of some help!

    </peace out>


  10. #10
    *How would two Arabic people greet each other? (Casual and Formal, both from Teacher-Student and Student-Teacher)
    in any situation they would say Salam wa alaykum and then the other person would reply wa alaykum alsalam. both phrases mean peace be upon you. if it was a casual thing they might say marhaban which means hello. but stick to salam wa alaykum. if you want to say bye, use ma salama.

    *What are some basic foods they would eat?
    *What are some basic drinks they would drink?
    they would most likely be muslim although there is the smallest possibility they were christian. they wouldn't eat pork or dring alcohol. most commonly in all arab countries people eat lamb meat quite frequently with rice. also, they would eat plenty of sauces with breads. drinks would be fruit juices like mango or guava.

    *By large were most families Patriarchal or Matriarchal?
    sorry, not too sure.

    *How was the family composed? (Today, the "idea" model is 2 parents and 2.3 children - what was the Arabian model?)
    *Were large families encouraged?
    most families are quite bigg, but i think 2 children would be kinda believable. families would be familiar with extended family quite well so it wouldn't be uncommon if someone was good friends with their mum's cousins daughter or dad's uncles' son. families would live quite close to each other (in the same town or neighborhood). large famiulies were encouraged becasue it was seen as good to have a big family.

    *What was Arabia's relationship with other countries?
    arabia isn't really a country but just the name given to a general area of arab countries. i'm not an expert in this area but i think that in general countries didn't get along so well. maybe they did so don't take my word on it.

    *Were there any common name trends?
    islamic names are probably the easiest choice. for boys there are the common ones like Mohammed, Ahmed, Abdullah, Ibrahim, AbdulRahim, Khalid, Tariq. for girls, you could do religious ones like Khadijah or Fatimah or Aisha. there are others for girls like Abrar (my name), Leena, Maha, Tasneem, Nada, Dania. i hope these are enough but you could probably find more on an online islamic baby names dictionary.

    i hope this has been of assistance to you, i'm not really an expert on this stuff but just gave you stuff from my own life knowledge. good luck with your story, i'd be interested to read it.

    No longer very relevant, but a good resource.

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