beginning, intermediate

“Seven Brothers” song: Learn ordinal numbers and professions

In this post we will look at a children’s song خالي عنده سبع أولاد (pronounced khaalii ʕind-uh sabʕ ’awlaad in Standard Arabic) ‘My Uncle Has Seven Sons’, sung to the tune of ‘Skip To My Lou’. This song will help you learn the first seven ordinal numbers (i.e., ‘first’, ‘second’, … ‘seventh’), as well as some professions (tailor, baker, driver, etc.). Want to give it a listen?

The song is sung in Levantine (specifically Jordanian) dialect, but don’t let that scare you off. You only need to learn a couple words that are completely different in Standard Arabic, and the pronunciation of some of the other words is just slightly different.

The song has seven verses: one verse for each son. All verses follow the same pattern, and differ only in two words (which son and what profession). So, let’s start off by looking a one complete verse. The pronunciation is given approximately how it is sung rather than in Standard Arabic:

خالي عنده سبع أولاد.
khaali ʕand-uh sabʕ awlaad.
‘My uncle has seven sons.’
بتعرفوا شو بيشتغلوا؟
bi-tiʕrafu shu bishtighilu?
‘Do you (pl.) know what they do?’
الأول منهم كان نجار.
’il-’awwal min-hum kaan najjaar.
‘The first one (lit. the first of them) was a carpenter.’
يقدر يعمل دايمًا…
yi’dar yiʕmil dayman…
‘He can always do… (followed by the sound he makes while working)’

After this first verse, we learn that the second son is a blacksmith, that the third son is a tailor, and so forth.

Here are some points about vocabulary and grammar in this verse:

  • The word خال khaal means ‘maternal uncle’ (your mother’s brother). ‘Paternal uncle’ would be عمّ ʕamm.
  • أولاد ’awlaad literally means ‘boys’ (plural of ولد walad ‘boy’), but in colloquial Arabic it is often used to simply mean ‘children’. Here it means ‘sons’.
  • The modern dialects don’t make gender distinctions for the numbers 1 through 10 in the way Standard Arabic does. In correct Standard Arabic you’d need to use a different form of the number here: سبعة أولاد sabʕat ’awlaad ‘seven boys’.
  • The bi that appears on both verbs is a present tense marker. It has no equivalent in Standard Arabic.
  • shu is the Levantine word for ‘what’. In Standard Arabic, the most usual word for ‘to work’ is يعمل yaʕmal, but some dialects that word just means ‘to do’ or ‘to make’, so for ‘to work’ they use a form of another word meaning ‘to work’, which in Standard Arabic is يشتغل yashtaghil.
  • In Standard Arabic you’d need to put the complement of كان kaan(a) ‘was’ in the accusative (نجّارًا najjaaran), but none of the modern dialects have any case distinctions.
  • The word يقدر yi’dar ‘to be able’ isn’t actually what I hear here, but this is what I can find when I search for the lyrics. What I hear is something like hi kaan, which doesn’t make sense to me. (Note that Levantine is not my own dialect.) If you can ask a Levantine-speaker about this, put it in a comment and I’ll update this article (and be eternally grateful to you).
  • دايمًا dayman is the colloquial pronunciation of يائمًا daa’iman ‘always’.

To follow the rest of the song, you will need to know the first seven ordinal numbers. These are essentially the same in Standard Arabic and Levantine, so I will just list them in the Standard Arabic:

سابع سادس خامس رابع ثالث ثاني أوّل
saabiʕ saadis khaamis raabiʕ thaalith thaanii ’awwal
‘seventh’ ‘sixth’ ‘fifth’ ‘fourth’ ‘third’ ‘second’ ‘first’

The only difference that needs to be mentioned here is that in Levantine (as in most modern dialects), the letter ث is pronounced like a ت, so the words for ‘second’ and ‘third’ are pronounced taani and taalit.

Now we just need to know the seven professions (although you might not agree that the seventh one really counts as a profession), again as pronounced in Standard Arabic:

كسلان بنّاء خبّاز سوّاق خيّاط حدّاد نجّاد
kaslaan bannaa’ khabbaaz sawwaaq khayyaaṭ ḥaddaad najjaar
‘lazy’ ‘builder’ ‘baker’ ‘driver’ ‘tailor’ ‘blacksmith’ ‘carpenter’

A few comments are in order:

  • In Levantine and some other dialects, the letter ق is pronounced as a glottal stop (that is, the same as a ء hamza). So, سوْاق ‘driver’ is pronounced sawwaa‘.
  • In dialect, the word بنّاء ‘driver’ is pronounced without the final hamza: banna.
  • Two of these professions are related to nouns you may know. خبّاز khabbaaz ‘baker’ is related to خبز khubz ‘bread’. حدّاد ḥaddaad ‘blacksmith’ is related to حديد ḥadiid ‘steel’.

Can you follow the whole song now? To make it easier, here is the whole text, minus the repetitions:

khaali ʕand-uh sabʕ awlaad. خالي عنده سبع أولاد.
bi-tiʕrafu shu bishtighilu? بتعرفوا شو بيشتغلوا؟
’il-’awwal min-hum kaan najjaar. الأول منهم كان نجار.
yi’dar yiʕmil dayman… يقدر يعمل دايمًا…
’it-taani min-hum kaan ḥaddaad. الثاني منهم كان حدّاد.
’it-taalit min-hum kaan khayyaaṭ. الثالث منهم كان خيّاط.
’ir-raabiʕ min-hum kaan khabbaaz. الرابع منهم كان خبّاز.
’il-khaamis min-hum kaan sawwaa’. الخامس منهم كان سوّاق.
’is-saadis min-hum kaan banna. السادس منهم كان بنّاء.
’is-saabiʕ min-hum kaan kaslaan. السابع منهم كان كسلان.

I hope you found this fun and useful. If you’d like to learn some more words for professions, check out Learn 10 professions with a Zakaria children’s video.



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