Word-lover interview: Yousuf AlBader

Word-lovers abound in the Collins Dictionary community, and so we’re running an interview series with some of the ones we’re lucky enough to count as friends of the blog.

Following our interviews with Lynne Murphy of Separated By A Common Language, Tim Gorichanaz from ScratchTap and author and scholar Bruce Holsinger, we’re delighted to speak to Yousuf AlBader, an academic at the University of Sheffield who is primarily interested in Gulf Arabic dialectology, semantic variation and change in Kuwaiti Arabic, modern lexicography, and etymology.

What do you wish for other people to experience, enjoy or get out of words?
Being a wordsmith is more than fun, lexicography-wise. The meanings of such words are constantly changing due to socio-cultural and technical change. So it is really interesting to trace the pathway of change as we speak because we are witnessing a language evolution simply because of the Internet!

What is your favourite language?
It would be Arabic, though my mother tongue is Kuwaiti Arabic – a dialect spoken in Kuwait – which is genetically descended from Arabic. Broadly speaking, this variety of Arabic is an offshoot of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages. The dialect is also a variety that bases considerable similarities with other Arabian Gulf dialects. Also, English is my second language. In fact, English is the second official language of Kuwait! Nowadays, I am trying to have my hands full with German.

What is your favourite word?
I am fond of English words of Arabic origin, particularly those related to meteorology including ‘haboob’, ‘khamsin’, and ‘sirocco’. I have many favourite words in English. These include: ambience, patois, and Samaritan. Recently, I am liking the word: scaffolding!

What is your favourite non-mother tongue word?
Hmm. Persian khōsh ‘nice, good’, for it is one of the few adjectives that could come before and after the noun in Kuwaiti Arabic.

What is your favourite book?
The dictionary!

Who is your favourite author?
Clive Holes and David Crystal

What is your favourite line from a poem, quote, lyric or motto?
“You shall know a word by the company it keeps” – John Rupert Firth (1890-1960)

If you were stranded on a desert island with three books, what would they be?
Any three books by the late Ayyoub Ḥusain al-Ayyoub

When do you remember realising you loved words? Any early wordy memories?
I started learning English words and phrases related to the sphere of video gaming from as early as 1996. An early word would be ‘Sub-Zero’, a video game character from Mortal Kombat.

What is your most hated word or grammar mistake?
When I type ‘charachteristics’ instead of ‘characteristics’.

Which other wordy bloggers / twitter users you love?
There are many, so I will pick out my current favourite tweeters: @wordnik, @aboutworldlangs, @hyperlingo, @linguistlist, @babla, @VisualThesaurus, @lynneguist, and @DrrAlarab.

Tell us a language joke
Photographers are violent people. First, they frame you, then they shoot you, then they hang you on the wall. (A case of polysemy/homonymy)

What is your favourite obscure word?
One I have had to read about it a lot lately is ‘contronyms’, single words that have two contradictory meanings.

Thanks to Yousuf for answering our questions! We’d love to hear your thoughts on Yousuf’s answers – any ‘charachteristics’ you recognise in your own love of words? Who else would you like to see us interview?

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