Desert Deserts, Rock of Rocks & Other Arabic Tautologies!
Fact: Sahara is an Arabic word that literally means "desert"
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Sahara, in fact, does mean “desert” in Arabic. Thus, one might say that Sahara Desert actually translates to “Desert Desert.” Oh, the foolish people who named this one, right? Wrong. If that were the case, then Mississippi River, or “Big River River,” the Connecticut River, or “Long Tidal River River,” and countless other geographical features and place names in countries all over the world would all appear to point to some universal human tendency for unnecessary repetitiveness. This is not actually the case.
Sahara Desert is what is called a tautology - a phrase or expression in which the same thing is said twice in different words. Another very famous tautology of Arabic origin is the Rock of Gibraltar. Gibraltar was taken from the original Arabic Jebel-Al-Tariq, or “Rock of Tariq.” Thus, Rock of Gibraltar actually translates to “Rock of Rock of Tariq.”
Rather than being one single language, Arabic might more accurately be described instead as a family of related spoken languages all sharing the same alphabet, or script -- today known as Literary, or Modern Standard Arabic. Similar in principle to the concept of separate Chinese languages or dialects sharing written expression via common Chinese characters, so too do the various Arabic dialects share the capacity to be written using the Modern Standard format – but then pronounced quite differently according to each dialect.
Varieties of Arabic include Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Gulf, and North African. Also referred to as Maghrebi, North African Arabic includes the spoken languages of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. Known by its speakers as Derija or Darija, North African Arabic is primarily a collection of related spoken dialects, with written and media communications in Modern Standard, and including many French language influences from the wake of years of colonization. It is said that Libyan is the easiest North African dialect to learn and Moroccan is the most difficult.
Arabic is indeed exciting and has many facets. Why not explore these and challenge yourself with our amazing North African Arabic Facts game?