'Qalb': the Arabic word for heart has poetic roots

Our Arabic word of the week has been the inspiration for many classic and contemporary songs

This week's Arabic world of the week is qalb, a word for heart with poetic roots.
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Whether pronounced qalb, alib or galib, the heart has a sacred place in Arabic literature and music ― and within the lexicon.

Similar to other languages and cultures, the word heart references more than an organ that pumps blood to the rest of the body. It’s the symbolic epicentre of emotion that swells or breaks, helming decisions and driving impassioned actions.

The Arabic word for heart takes this metaphor to a deeper level through the root of the word qalb.

The original meaning is associated with the idea of turning or flipping over. This meaning is derived from the physical beat of the heart, that could be perceived as something turning. It also references the constant swaying of our emotions and decisions.

The poetic and emotional qualities associated with the heart are imbued in the very root meaning of the word qalb.

The word has had a profound effect on many forms of literary and musical expression.

Qalb as a term of endearment comes in many forms across regional Arabic dialects. Habib qalbi, (love of my heart), eyoon qalbi, (eyes of my heart), qalb mamma (your mother’s heart) are some examples.

Sometimes qalb is used to express a variety of emotional states. Qalb khalsan (my heart is done) or qalbi tabaan (my heart is tired) are used to describe someone who has given up on something or someone. Meanwhile qalbi tayir min al farah (my heart is flying with happiness) is used when expressing extreme joy.

Abdel Halim Hafiz’s classic song Lasta Qalbi, (You’re Not My Heart) from the film Mabodet el Gamahir (The Audience’s Goddess) uses a common device in Arabic, where the heart is a separate entity from one’s own body, able to grieve, flirt, fall in love and even be at odds with itself.

In Hafiz’s song, he engages in a conversation with his heart, lamenting and berating it for falling in love with a woman who betrays them both.

Another powerful illustration of this is Umm Kalthoum’s ballad Saalou Albi (They Asked my Heart), where she sings, “the day I wanted to ask my heart a question, it replied to me with only tears.”

Many contemporary Arabic pop songs are dedicated solely to conversations with the heart, or frame relationships as they pertain to the heart.

Popular examples include pop music queen Nancy Ajram’s romantic ballad, Albi ya Albi (My Heart, oh My Heart), Lebanese singer Bashar Al Jawad’s viral hit Bil Alb (In the Heart) and Iraqi singer Mohamed Al Salem’s contemporary pop song Galib, Galib, Wain Wain (Heart, Heart, Where, Where).

Updated: August 19, 2022, 9:39 AM