advanced, beginning, intermediate

“Egypt is my mother” song (مصر هي أمّي)

In this post, I’m going to walk you through the refrain of a famous song by Afaf Radi (عفاف راضي ʕafaaf raaḍii). It’s a nationalistic song, and sung in Egptian Arabic rather than Standard Arabic, but it’s a well-known, singable song with some phrases in it that are easy for the beginning learner of Arabic.

The song is called مصر هي أمّي maṣr hiyya ’umm-i (Egyptian dialect pronunciation), meaning ‘Egypt is my mother’ and it was recorded in 1980 (according to the one source I could find).

Here is a recording of Afaf Radi singing the song. As is the case with many Arabic songs, there is a long instrumental introduction. The actual singing starts at about 0:31. It is the first few lines of this song that I am going to talk about.

If you prefer to learn your Arabic songs in the comfort of a saloon in the Wild West, then I’ve got a treat for you! Here’s a version from a film, I think with the famed comedic actor Adel Imam (عادل إمام ʕaadil ’imaam). The pace in this version is much slower. One of the last lines of the refrain is different from Afaf Radi’s version.

Here are the lyrics to the refrain all together. Note that the transcription represents how the words are actually pronounced in Egyptian Arabic. So, for example, the Standard Arabic word هي hiya is pronounced here as hiyya (with a double yy) and all the vowels on the ends of words are short, at variance with the spelling in Arabic script:

Translation Transcription Arabic
Egypt is my mother. maṣr hiyya ’umm-i مصر هي أمي
Her Nile is my blood. nil-ha huwwa damm-i نيلها هو دمي
Her sun is in my olive complexion. shams-aha f samaar-i شمسها في سماري
Her shape is in my facial features. shakl-aha f malamḥ-i شكلها في ملامحي
Even my color is wheat-colored,
the color of your blessings, Egypt.
ḥatta loon-i ’amḥi,
loon kheer-ik, ya maṣr
حتى لوني قمحي،
لون خيرك يا مصر
Egypt, Egypt, Egypt maṣr, maṣr, maṣr مصر، مصر، مصر

Egyptian Arabic has a vowel system different from that of Standard Arabic. In the transcription here, oo represents a long ‘oh’ vowel (IPA: /oː/) and ee is a long ‘ay’ sound (IPA: /eː/).

Line-by-line commentary

Let’s now go through this refrain line by line, so that I can point out a few things.

Line 1

Egypt is my mother. maṣr hiyya ’umm-i مصر هي أمي

Here I’ll just point out that the Standard Arabic pronunciation of مصر is miṣr, whereas in Egyptian Arabic it is maṣr.

Line 2

Her Nile is my blood. nil-ha huwwa damm-i نيلها هو دمي

The usual Standard Arabic form you will see to refer to the river Nile is this one:

الْنِّيل
’al-niil
‘the Nile’

In Standard Arabic, دمي ‘my blood’ would be with a be with a single m, not doubled: dam-ii.

Line 3

Her sun is in my olive complexion. shams-aha f samaar-i شمسها في سماري

Many Egyptians would describe the color of their skin with this word (in Standard Arabic):

ْأَسْمَر، سَمْراء
’asmar, samraa’
‘brown; olive (complexion)’ (masc./fem.)

The word سَمار samaar here is the noun referring to that color.

Lots of vowels either drop or get shortened in Egyptian Arabic. Did you see how the word في ‘in’ (Standard Arabic fii) gets shortened to simply f when it is sandwiched in between a vowel before it and a single consonant after it?!

Line 4

Her shape is in my facial features. shakl-aha f malamḥ-i شكلها في ملامحي

The word شَكْل is shakl usually means ‘shape, form’ in Standard Arabic. In Egyptian Arabic it is additionally used in expressions that would translate into English with ‘to look (like)’. In this example, note that the adjective agrees with the masculine noun شَكْل shakl, rather than with البنت ’il-bint ‘the girl’.

ْالبِنت دي شَكْلَها تَعبان.
Egyptian Arabic: ’il-bint di shakl-aha taʕbaan.
‘That girl looks tired.’

Line 5

Even my color is wheat-colored,
the color of your blessings, Egypt.
ḥatta loon-i ’amḥi,
loon kheer-ik, ya maṣr
حتى لوني قمحي،
لون خيرك يا مصر

Here I’ll just point out how some of these words are pronounced in Standard Arabic. First, the Standard pronunciation of the word for ‘color’ is لَوْن lawn.

The word خير (Egyptian Arabic kheer), translated here as ‘blessings’, is, of course khayr in Standard Arabic. You will probably recognize this word from the expressions صَباح الْخَيْر ṣabaaḥ il-khayr ‘good morning’ and مَساء الْخَيْر masaa’ il-khayr ‘good evening’.

The word قمحي, pronounced here as ’amḥi, would be pronounced qamḥiyy in Standard Arabic (or less formally as qamḥii). This adjective meaning ‘wheat-colored’ is formed from the noun قمح qamḥ ‘wheat’. In Egyptian Arabic, the letter ق qaaf is generally pronounced as a glottal stop (hamza). It is only in words borrowed or reborrowed from Classical Arabic that are pronounced with the Classical Arabic q sound.

The rest of the song

If you can read a bit of Arabic and would like to learn the rest of the song, or if you would just like to know what the rest of the song is saying, here is a page with the lyrics in Arabic and an English translation.

I hoped you enjoyed this song. If you bump into me sometime, sing me a couple of lines!

Is there a particular Arabic song that you would like me to discuss and that you think others would also enjoy? Put it in a comment below. For me to be able to comment on it, it needs to be in a variety of Arabic that I speak: Egyptian or Standard (and, sadly, there are very few songs in Standard Arabic).



Stats2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *