What is a root?

If you speak a European language, the root system of Arabic may be an unfamiliar concept. Arabic words are made from a few component letters, commonly called a "root". A root usually consists of three letters (sometimes 2 or 4), which convey a basic idea. By adding various vowels (i.e. changing pronunciation) as affixes*, associated meanings can be derived. For example, the Arabic letters: SiinLamMiim (see above: س ل م and remember Arabic words go from right to left, unlike English) are the root for the following words: salaam (peace), islam (submission/compliance/conformance/surrender), muslim (one who submits/complies/conforms/surrenders). In all these words, you will see the root (component letters) are the same, and in the same order, i.e. Siin-Lam-Miim.

*A word element, such as a prefix (insertion before the word), infix (insertion within the word) or suffix (insertion after the word), that is attached to a base, stem, or root.

In a root language, words mean what they mean because they are built from other words; these base words are called roots. Now, while most languages are concept languages, there are some words that can be likened to the root system, e.g: if you learn what the word "act" means, you should have no problem when you hear the word "actor" or "action" - you use the root to understand the word built from the root.

Classical Arabic as one of the most primitive Semitic languages is primarily a root language. Almost every word gets its meaning from the roots it is built from rather than by associating a concept with the word. This gives Arabic an almost crystal clear aspect to it; there is little ambiguity or confusion in a classical Arabic sentence. The language is one of clarity, directness, and certainty - qualities that are hard to achieve in other languages.