An open letter to the word ya3ni and its likeability
first of all, let me apologise to you for not using the spelling yaʿni, as I’ve been taught at university is the proper academic way to transliterate it. The reason for this is that I felt that this spelling approaches the spirit of the point I want to make in this letter to you more closely, so I hope you can forgive me or rather that you won’t feel the need to have to find it within you to make that effort. Allow me to explain.
I like you, ya3ni. I like you a lot. I hesitate to use the word ‘awesome’ because you don’t quite inspire me to have a mixture of fear and amazement and using the word ‘awesome’ in its contemporary diluted meaning kind of feels wrong in a letter written from a linguistic point of view, but I hope the very fact that this hesitation arises gives you an idea of how much I like you. To give you another example, I like you so much that I throw you into conversations which - for the most part, anyway - don’t tend to be in Arabic. Sometimes I even use you in conversations with people who don’t know a single word in Arabic which is usually followed up by a five minute explanation of why I put together a seemingly random assembly of letters and a number, or why I just sounded like I swallowed a bug. And I don’t really mind that - in fact I think it’s for a noble purpose. More on that later.
It’s just that you’re so useful, ya3ni I can just throw you in this very sentence and it doesn’t feel weird. I’ve reblogged a most hilarious explanation of what you mean in English but it doesn’t fully cover it. It can mean ‘it means’, it can mean ‘so it means’, ‘like’, ‘pretty much like’, ‘do you mean’, ‘that is to say’ and really, if I go over all the potential meanings I’ll be forced to add a tl;dr tag which I am ever loathe to do. Honestly, I’m not sure if one can grasp the very essence of this word without having been in a couple of conversations with native speakers and how tempting it is to play a game of using the word everywhere you can until it becomes simply unreasonable.
So here’s what I really want to know: I get that you’re a bit old, ya3ni. You’ve been around for, what, several thousands of years? A decent number of hundreds at least. So I can completely understand if your first instinct is to hold back on this, but have you ever considered adoption? In a language such as English? I don’t think this is such a weird question; plenty of Arabic words have made cameo appearances in English, and other languages as well. During my first year of Arabic, I remember how a teacher at my university gave an overview of how certain words have traveled across different cultures, and thus languages, and I’m just saying that maybe it’s time to cross the Atlantic or Pacific without getting customs officers all worked up.
Now I know what you’re thinking. What about the purity of the English language? Hah, that’s just a little linguist humour for you. No, the real question on your mind must be whether you’d be fulfilling a purpose, and whether people will accept you the way you are. The answers are respectively ‘yes’ and ‘probably not but’. For the former I kindly remind you of how suitable you are for human conversational intercourse and I also caution you a little less kindly to pay attention next time to what I’m saying. For the latter, well… the problem is evidently the 3ayn, which again I’m not spelling academically correct because this is not about academically correct, it is about convenience. Speaking of convenience, India. You see, the Indians of a long time ago liked you too. What they didn’t seem to like though was the 3ayn. So they dropped it and now they like and use you too. Small side note: I’m usually not in favour of equating liking with using. But in this context, ya3ni it just feels right.
So that’s why I feel okay about explaining to non-Arab (or non-Hindi speakers for that matter) what you’re all about, ya3ni. You’re about making things simpler and clarification. And by going through a bit of effort, I’m opening people up to the possibility, however remote, that maybe someday we’ll live in a world where you can be anywhere, anytime. And when I think about it, that seems like a world that’s… shoot, I’ll say it, a little more awesome than it is now.