Europe speaks Arabic
A book under this title by Dr. V. Abdur Rahim deserves wider circulation as a potential bridge-builder. The book's key achievement is to popularise the subject of the influence of the Arabic language in those of Europe for lay readers. It is in no way as detailed and comprehensive as the most thorough work on the subject so far, the doctoral thesis by T.A Ismail entitled "Classic Arabic as the Ancestor of Indo-European Languages and Origin of Speech" which, sadly, will be hard to find even in the best stocked library. In that book, Ismail compares Classical Arabic with Latin and Old English and tries to establish a sequential relationship. Rahim makes no such claim. He is content with showing that Arabic, due to the great influence of Islam throughout European history, left its indelible mark. The book, published by Goodword (ISBN 978-81-7898-639-5) does not attempt to ascribe any kind of superiority to Arabic. And whilst well researched, it is not aimed at the linguist. Its stated intention is and understanding of "our common cultural heritage". In his preface the author gives ample credit to European achievements by saying that "in many cases Arabic provided the name and the raw material, and Europe developed it into a highly sophisticated finished product". He also cites numerous examples where European words of Arabic origin re-entered the Arabic language with a new meaning, for example the French "bougie d'allumage" or spark plug, which traces its history to the city of Bijayah in Algeria, famous for the candle-wax it exported.
Europe speaks Arabic makes reference to English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian as well as German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish, plus Russian, Macedonian and Serbo-Croatian and Greek and Albanian. Of course, many English readers are aware that Arabic has given them words for stars, mathematics, exotic foodstuffs, such as coffee, and seafaring, such as admiral, but they would be well surprised in learning that that most English location of Trafalgar Square takes its name from the Arabic al-taraf al-agharr, or that the exchequer takes his name from the chequered cloth covering the table on which the accounts were reckoned, and that in turn via Arabic from the Persian Shah, the title of the king in chess. The word subsequently denoted a monetary instrument (check/cheque) and was re-imported with this meaning into the Arabic language.
Some of the book's quotes of Shakespearean and other old English writings in support of the lineage of a word are an absolute delight. My only criticism is the way the author chose to present his subject. The artificially contrived dialogue between Ahmad and Eric, the former teaching the latter about the Arabic origins of English terms, a form very popular in Arabic language school books, strikes me as most unsuitable for a European audience. A straight-forward running narrative would have served the purpose better.