Traces of a bilingual upbringing

The errors and idiosyncrasies of an Arab-American tongue

Farid Alsabeh
7 min readNov 6, 2022
Going to summer school in Syria apparently wasn’t enough to protect my two native languages from various errors, spillages, and cross-contaminations

Conversations with my parents are strange lingual chimeras. Take, for example, the following exchange with my mom, reproduced here almost verbatim:

—Hi mama, keefek al-yawm?
—Hi habibi, alhamdulillah, I feel great. Al-yawm ‘amilt nus sa’a ‘al treadmill.
—Ya salam! Proud of you, ana wallah lazimli rouha ‘al gym, bes al motivation sar da’eef.

Although this conversational hybridization can only be fully appreciated by the bilingual reader, English-speakers will still notice the strange mixture of intelligible phrases interspersed in the Arabic, a combination which has once been called ‘Arablish’.

But this kind of code-switching isn’t the only sign of my bilingual background: evidence can also be found on the level of single words and phrases. These are like traces or fault-lines: marks of my bicultural upbringing, which are inscribed in my use of both languages.

In this article, I’ll list some ‘linguistic specimens’ which testify to my bilingual background, showing how deeply the bicultural experience intersects with the use of language.

False equivalences (English)