An Arabic Pregnancy

Being pregnant in an Arabic-speaking country has allowed me to learn a whole set of vocabulary related to pregnancy and child-bearing.  We probably learned the words for “pregnant” and “to give birth” while in language school, but it wasn’t until I was pregnant that the words really started to sink in and stay with me.  Being pregnant in three different Arabic-speaking countries has also allowed me to learn many different words surrounding pregnancy, and giving birth in two of those countries has and will teach me even more vocabulary.

The word for “pregnant” in Tunisia is different than in Jordan and Egypt.  I’m not sure of its origin or root meaning, but the word is “hibla.”  Now, that word, for whatever reason, also means “fool.”  I never asked a lot about it, and it may not be the exact same word, but to my ears, it sounds the same, and from the tongue of a non-native speaker, it sure can sound the same.  You see, in Arabic, they have two different “h” sounds; one is a heavier sound and the other is more like our English “h.”  I still cannot differentiate the two when I hear them from a native speaker, and I know I don’t do a good job of speaking them differently, so, it is possible that this word, “hibla” is slightly different in pronunciation so that “I’m pregnant” sounds different than “I’m a fool.”  However, I am sure I say the two words exactly alike.  Thankfully, my friends could tell the difference according to context!

In Jordan and Egypt, they use the word “haamil.”  Now, this word makes sense on one hand because it is from the verb, “to carry.”  It literally means one who carries.  Makes sense, right?  The only thing I can’t understand is that it is in the masculine form.  You see, most feminine words in Arabic end with an “a” sound, so that a man who carries something is “haamil” and a woman is “haamla.”  However, the word for a pregnant one is “haamil.”  I did ask about this somewhat in Jordan, I’ll have to do the same here in Egypt and see what explanation I get.

Another interesting word I found in Jordan was the way they would talk about giving birth.  When you asked someone when they were due, you would ask, “When are you going to BRING the baby?”  I always thought that was such an interesting word choice–to bring the baby.  I kind of chuckled every time I would say, “By God’s will, I will BRING the baby in September.”  It’s kind of like, bring it where?  However, when I think about it in English, we usually say we are going to HAVE a baby.  What does that mean exactly?  Sure, after I give birth, I will definitely HAVE a baby, but we usually refer to HAVING a baby as the act of childbirth.  Probably not the most logical word choice either.  I believe that in Egypt they use the more encompassing word of “to give birth.”  This makes sense.  “By God’s will, I will give birth to this baby the end of May.”

This brings up one more confusing point for me.  When I have been telling people I’m pregnant here in Egypt, they usually ask what month I am IN.  I think it is more common in the US to ask what month you are DUE.  So, even after I say which month I am in, I am kind of inclined to include which month I am also due.  However, this has been kind of odd for me, especially this month.  You see, in Egypt, they have two different ways to say what month it is.  They have names for the months, but since they have been different in all three countries, I haven’t quite learned them all yet.  I am kind of learning the names as we go.  It’s easy to remember what “August” is, because that is the month we arrived, and people are always asking us when we arrived.  It’s easy for me to remember “January” because that was the month of Coptic Christmas and I heard people say the date, “January 7th” a lot.  I have not yet learned the word for “May” although I think it resembles our English word a bit, just not exactly sure of its pronunciation.  So, the other way they say the months is by the number of the month.  So, January is “month one,” February is “month two,” and so on.  This means, that right now, I am in my “fifth month” of pregnancy and also due to deliver in “month five.”  In some ways it should be easy to say that, as it’s almost the same thing, but sometimes I think people think I am confused.  Oh well, I am almost to my sixth month, and then it may be easier!

I look forward to the words I will continue to learn here surrounding this happy event and I’m pretty sure I will be writing more about the whole experience of having a baby in Egypt along with all that follows.

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One thought on “An Arabic Pregnancy

  1. Hi,

    Actually, the word for fool (feminine form) is Habla not Hibla nor Hubla (Hubla is the most correct word for pregnant in the original classic Arabic). And you are right it is not H, it is more deep and strong H.
    Hubla and Hamil are both Arabic and they are used interchangeably all around Arab countries including Tunisia and Egypt. Hamil means is derived from the verb to carry.

    Bring is the transliteration for the arabic “giving-birth” verb. Yes it is very common to ask “What month are you in”.

    For months it is easy to remember them in Egypt because in the common dialect months names are very similar to their Latin names. Yenayer – Febrayer – Mares, Apreel, Mayo, Yunio, Yulio, Augustus, September, October, November, December. See how easy.

    I hope you find this useful.

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