LINGUISTIC PURISM STRIKES AGAIN.

This time in Syria, according to a story in The Economist:

In the past few months, across the country, owners have been told to Arabise the names of their shops and cafés and advertisers have been urged to use classical Arabic rather than the local Syrian dialect. “La Noisette restaurant is now called al-Bunduqa,” Arabic for hazelnut, says Ibrahim Hamidi, who has written on the subject for al-Hayat, an Arabic-language newspaper published in London. “It sounds funny to us.”
A law from the 1950s was revived by decree a year ago with the formation of a Committee for Improving the Arabic Language. It may mark a new effort to polish Syria’s Arab credentials and end the country’s isolation of recent years.

And some people think English is in need of such a Committee! (Thanks for the link, Kobi.)

Comments

  1. ProComBoDia` says:

    Nothing related to the post. I think you’ll like this game.
    Grammar Nazi – http://www.kloonigames.com/blog/games/grammar

  2. Sounds familiar, says the recent transplant to Quebec. (I’ll have to copy this story for you-know-who.)

  3. I dunna tink this gunna work.

  4. I think they already have some sort of committee like that in parts of New England. At least, I can’t think of any other explanation for Ye Olde Tavern Restaurant and the like.

  5. @ “At least, I can’t think of any other explanation for Ye Olde Tavern Restaurant and the like.”
    New England’s affectation of faux Old English is a thorn in your side?

  6. It is unfortunate and that Damascus doesn’t see past Islamic times in forming it’s identity, and ironic given that even the name of the city is not Arabic. Dimashq (as it would be pronounced in Arabic) is of uncertain proto-Semitic origins, as discussed in the review of “Ancient Damascus” by Wayne Pittard here:
    All the etymologies proposed for “Damascus” are correctly rejected. Qumranian evidence should be added to the Chronicler’s spelling drmSq discussed by Pitard, and the late Aramaic-Syriac connection to this spelling pointed out. The name of the land of ‘Apu, which surrounded Damascus, is documented since the Saqqarah Execration Texts; Pitard explains by the Canaanite shift d > d the variant vocalization *’opu found in later Egyptian texts. He doubts all the etymologies that have been submitted for this word and for “Aram.” The Neo-Assyrian name for the state (not the city), sha imerishu, is plausibly analyzed as referring to donkeys. Finally, Pitard turns to the archaeological data from the earliest period (pp. 17-25), noting that the region of Damascus has yielded evidence of the Palaeolithic (Middle Acheulean and later) and Neolithic (Pre-Pottery and later), as well as scanty remains of the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Ages.
    (thanks to JSTOR : http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-097X%28198805%290%3A270%3C97%3AADAHSO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S

  7. If America had to ‘correct’ its restaurant fancy names, there might be some trouble:
    La Grenouille ($45pf. lunch, $80pf. dinner)
    - The Frog?
    Hard Rock Cafe International ($20 and under)
    - change r to c and you get the message.
    Lutece ($38pf. lunch, $65pf. dinner)
    - a Franco-Latin fancy name for Paris.
    Tavern on the Green ($21-$32)
    - Oirrish ? bet you can’t find a decent pint of beer or a wench there.
    So let’s not make fun of others who are trying to do the same thing.
    regards
    Richard

  8. [I was trying to delete a duplicate comment and accidentally deleted the wrong one, so here it is -- I shouldn't try to do blog cleanup before my morning coffee -- LH]
    So what’s wrong with Syrians keeping their language ‘pure’?
    The Frogs have been trying to do it for centuries, with no luck at all.
    There’s a nice story about Jean Cocteau (?) when all the the other Academie members had fallen asleep when they’d only got to AN (anneau = ring)
    He introduced Hans Carvel’s Ring.
    The poor old man married a young girl, and was worried about her fidelity. He was told, in a dream, to keep her ring on his finger, and woke up in the morning with his finger up her c**t.
    Now why is c**t worse than f**k? There’s a whole PhD thesis waiting there.
    regards
    Richard
    Posted by: Richard Parker at March 1, 2008 04:09 AM

  9. parvomagnus says:

    Hacd Rock?
    The problem is not that the Syrian people decided they really like Arabic, and prefer it to French. If that were the case, hey, more power’d be to ‘em, and the same, I suppose, if they decided their own language was no good and decided to classisize. The problem to me is that the Syrian *government* is forcing its ideology of purity, which disparages both cosmopolitanism and ordinary people’s language, on the Syrian *people* who, from the story, don’t seem too enthusiastic. It’s mandatory limitation.

  10. Exactly.

  11. Samuel Jankis says:

    stuart, I liked it. Two points for you.
    khawaji, surely you mean Arab and not Islamic.
    I attended a conference in Damascus a few years ago. I was impressed by how (relatively) clean the city was. Also there wasn’t a single McDonald’s or Starbucks anywhere, which was a welcome change of pace.
    Now if only our government would wake up and ban “thru” and “tonite”.

  12. khawaji, surely you mean Arab and not Islamic.
    Why?
    Also there wasn’t a single McDonald’s or Starbucks anywhere, which was a welcome change of pace.
    A welcome change of pace for you, a sign of a stifled and isolated economy for the locals. Quaintness is always more appreciated by visitors, who get to go home and enjoy their modern lives.

  13. The problem is not that the Syrian people decided they really like Arabic, and prefer it to French.
    Well, I’d say that most Syrian people decided that long ago, seeing as they actually speak Arabic.
    There are actually two things going on here: first, your classical government-sponsored linguistic purism (an attempt to remove all foreign influence) which is totally toothless when it comes to people, so it targets businesses. Although the article doesn’t explain what “urged” means, I imagine hefty fines are involved.
    Secondly, there’s the apparent attempt at reconnecting with the Classical / Common Arabic heritage. Obviously someone believes that present-day Syria is too cosmopolitan and too, well, Syrian.
    I was impressed by how (relatively) clean the city was.
    Ain’t that a kick in the head, these sandn****rs actually know how to use a mop!

  14. @ “Also there wasn’t a single McDonald’s or Starbucks anywhere, which was a welcome change of pace.
    A welcome change of pace for you, a sign of a stifled and isolated economy for the locals.”
    Not necessarily. When I was in the Republic of San Marino (in the tourist off-season) I was struck by the fact that the McDonald’s there was always empty, and was told my local hosts that it only stayed open for tourists. I’ve since heard of other places in Italy where McDonald’s restaurants have closed due to lack of custom. Here in Zild, the city with the strongest coffee culture has a disproportionately low number of Starbucks. So the absence of multinational food chains MAY represent a stifled and isolated economy, but it can also be due to the locals voting with their wallets and/or ballots.

  15. parvomagnus says:

    [i]Well, I’d say that most Syrian people decided that long ago, seeing as they actually speak Arabic.[/i]
    Yeah, I meant the signage, not the spoken language, but otherwise, yeah.

  16. parvomagnus says:

    Egads, I meant >’s, of course…

  17. @Stuart: Nah, I’m a Midwesterner, so it doesn’t affect me; I just find it silly. (Well, and maybe a bit off-putting when people put the stress on the “Ye.” I can understand the spelling-pronunciation use of /j/ instead of /ð/, but why the stress?)

  18. @ Ran:
    “I can understand the spelling-pronunciation use of /j/ instead of /ð/, but why the stress?)”
    I am not a linguist, merely a pieriansippist, so I’m not able to give technical reasons, but since the most common use of “Ye” seems to be in conjunction with “Old(e)”, maybe the stress comes from that leading vowel in the next word. Just as I normally say and hear ðə before “shop”, so I normally say and hear ði or ðiː before “old”

  19. Samuel Jankis says:

    khawaji, surely you mean Arab and not Islamic.
    Why?
    Because non-Muslims speak Arabic? Because the vast majority of Muslims don’t speak Arabic?
    Syria has a long and rich Christian history. A tenth of the population is Christian and they’re just as proud of their Arab history and language.
    A welcome change of pace for you, a sign of a stifled and isolated economy for the locals.
    Hardly. The economy appears to be doing just fine without them.
    Quaintness is always more appreciated by visitors, who get to go home and enjoy their modern lives.
    You’re right, there’s no such thing as modern life without McDonald’s or Starbucks. Give me a break. No one’s going to confuse it for Tokyo, but the city is plenty modern.

  20. Is ‘ye’ a spelling pronunciation? Or rather a miswriting of the original letter (thorn)?

  21. Because non-Muslims speak Arabic? Because the vast majority of Muslims don’t speak Arabic?
    Syria has a long and rich Christian history. A tenth of the population is Christian and they’re just as proud of their Arab history and language.
    I’m fully aware of that, and I’m sure khawaji is too. The statement was that Damascus “doesn’t see past Islamic times in forming its identity,” and that statement basically holds for the entire Arab Middle East—only to the north, in Turkey, and to the east, in Iran, does it lose its force. (And “the vast majority of Muslims” don’t live in the Middle East and are irrelevant to this discussion; that’s a pretty disingenuous bit of rhetoric.) Whatever the local Christian minority might prefer, the general culture is focused on Islamic history and not really very interested in what came before except as tourist attractions.
    The economy appears to be doing just fine without them.
    I’ve been in Syria. You’re welcome to your opinion, but I don’t share it, and I suspect most Syrians don’t either.
    there’s no such thing as modern life without McDonald’s or Starbucks
    You jest, but in the sense of “modern life” relevant to the vast majority of those around the globe who desperately want it, that’s absolutely true: not that they crave those particular brands, but that “modern life” in the desired sense inevitably brings them in its wake. And what exactly is so terrible about McDonald’s and Starbucks? The one provides a reliable, if unexciting meal at a low price (I generally don’t eat there voluntarily, but I was very grateful to find one in Albany at a time when everything else was closed and I was starving), and the latter makes damn good coffee.

  22. jamessal says:

    And what exactly is so terrible about McDonald’s and Starbucks?
    Nothing wrong with Starbucks, but McDonald’s food is *terrible* for you, and is marketed specifically at children. The company is also largely responsible for factory farming in this country, and the terrible Farm Bill, which subsidizes far more corn production than is healthy or sustainable.
    Steve, you know I’m no vegetarian, but I’m not really cool with torturing millions of animals, or polluting the planet more than necessary, just because people want cheap meat, which is bad for them anyway.

  23. jamessal says:

    I guess we’re officially off-topic, so… did you see Nicholson Baker’s piece on Wikipedia on the current NY Review? It’s really fun, and not at all haughty like that Sarah Kerr piece.
    (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21131)

  24. Yes, I enjoyed it a lot. And of course you’re right about the destructive effects of McDonald’s; I wasn’t claiming it was a wonderful corporation, just bristling at the knee-jerk attitude that people in less developed countries don’t or shouldn’t want the conveniences we take for granted.

  25. @bathrobe: It evolved from thorn, but I don’t think it was a “miswriting” so much as a typographical convention, and I believe the ‘e’ was often written as a superscript. It definitely wasn’t a pronunciation spelling; rather, /ji/ is a spelling pronunciation.

  26. jamessal says:

    Quaintness is always more appreciated by visitors, who get to go home and enjoy their modern lives.
    I’m totally with you about that; I just knew that if Robin ever found out that I let the question “What’s wrong with McDonald’s?” go unanswered in any venue whatsoever, I’d be in trouble.

  27. I found that article on Wikipedia excessively flattering. I prefer reading The Register’s ongoing jihad against Wales and his team. Some of their pieces could be good subject matter for language-related posts, too. For any wikiphobes, here’s the latest instalment:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/03/jimbo_wales_rachel_marsden/

  28. Are insulting names in vogue in this blog? Why call the French “frogs” as if it were perfectly acceptable to do (no one has objected thus far in this thread)? Can we do the same with other groups (wops for Italians, chinks for Chinese, beaners for Mexicans, kikes for Jews, niggers for American blacks, etc.)?

  29. Well, I for one was confused about the Arab vs. Islamic distinction because I couldn’t parse this sentence: It is unfortunate and that Damascus doesn’t see past Islamic times in forming its identity. I gather LH interprets this, I think correctly, as “Damascus ignores its pre-Islamic past”, perhaps Mr. Jankis found some other interpretation.
    Frogs is considered OK in the US because French people have never been subject to systematic prejudice in the US, and it is usually meant in a spirit of teasing, not malice. French Canadians have been subject to systematic prejudice, but we don’t call them “frogs.” That word is “Canuck,” which at least in New Hampshire can still be considered offensive by some people. Calling Brits “bloody POMS”, calling people from Wisconsin “Cheeseheads”, and calling people from Massachusetts “Flatlanders” are also OK. Calling people from Massachusetts “Massholes” is acceptable in New Hampshire, but probably not on this blog.

  30. Yeah, what vanya said, except that I have no problem with “Massholes.” Not all insults are created equal.

  31. michael farris says:

    Calling Brits “bloody POMS” …
    Does anyone who’s not from Australia actually do this?
    I agree that frog (applied ony to those from the metropole) is not really bad. It’s not the nicest term going, but there’s a tinge of affection missing form the other words mentioned by Mamey (wop is close, but just more negative enough to not be fit for polite company).
    As for US names, in most of the US South ‘cracker’ is offensive to white people (far more so than other negative terms like honkey or ofay). But in rural Florida, it’s a sign of native-born pride. (I’ve always self-labelled as a cracker though I no longer live there).
    Also, while I’m here. ASL has some joking negative state signs that are fingerspelled. Details are fading from my memory, but I remember learning some (very funny) rude signs for Georgia, Alabama and Florida that involved using the fingerspelling handshapes G-A, A-L-A and F-L-A in ways that made rude signs.
    G-A used the G handshape to hold the nose (SMELL-BAD) and the A handshape on the forehead (STUPID) F-L-A involved (SMOKE-DOPE) but I forget the rest and A-L-A _may_ have been STUPID-LAZY-STUPID but that’s a guess at this stage.
    And the Y handshape used in New York (usually moving back and forth against an upright palm) could be applied to …. other parts of the body to indicate how much the signer H8-ed NY.

  32. See, I love that stuff. Human ingenuity in the service of even the less admirable human emotions is a beautiful thing.

  33. @ “Calling Brits “bloody POMS” …
    Does anyone who’s not from Australia actually do this?”
    Yes. It’s in everyday use here on the non-penal, officially tri-lingual, side of the Tasman, too.

  34. michael farris says:

    trilingual?
    What I mean (as opposed to what I wrote) was that as far as I know/knew ‘bloody’ isn’t a word that most USans would every actually seriously use (except in the literal sense). Also, the last I knew Poms was not a word most in the Americas would even understand. I only learned the word from an Australian friend some years ago (who’d lived in the UK about 10 years and _never_ tired of complaining about every aspect of British existence).

  35. No, “bloody Poms” or just “Poms” is not in common usage in the US, I just threw it in there to make a longer list. “Lobsterback” is certainly completely archaic. I’m surprised that in Boston, given the revolutionary history and the Irish influence, that there aren’t more words available for insulting the English, but I can’t think of any.
    Back to you Michael – in what parts of the country is “ofay” current? My guess would be that most white people in the North probably have no idea what that word means. I’ve only heard it used in movies. When I was growing up in DC “honkey” and “whitey” were the slurs of choice.

  36. I too am only aware of “ofay” from literature and movies.

  37. michael farris says:

    Yeah, me too. But I always liked the sound of it. Maybe it could be revived? (strange thing to say but …)
    For insulting the Brits, Limey?

  38. @ “trilingual?”
    By statute, Aotearoa/New Zealand’s three official languages are English, Maaori, and NZ Sign Language. Although official documents such as passports are only produced in the first two of those languages so far.

  39. re. the French being called frogs… teasing not malice? Perhaps for those who view it that way it is harmless, or at least less vicious than the other examples…But would anyone here like to have his/her child burst in tears because said child could not make the distinction between one and the other? Or have their teenager humiliated at school by being singled out as an amphibian. The teasing can get to a point where a lot of damage is done to the innocent individual even when the term appears innocuous to those who are not on the receiving end.

  40. michael farris says:

    Is there any evidence that ‘frog’ is being used by children? Or that children from France would find it hurtful?
    I’ve never heard anyone but adults use the word and IME those who do use it are at least as likely to be francophiles (like languagehat I assume) as francophobes.

  41. Or have their teenager humiliated at school by being singled out as an amphibian
    Mamey, I can’t tell if you’re serious or not, but we all have to make our own judgments as to how far to go to spare children and teenagers any possible embarrassment, and I prefer to err on the side of free speech and lively expression. Obviously if I were speaking to a person who I had reason to believe would be upset by a particular word, I wouldn’t use it, but I’m not going to censor myself because someone somewhere might possibly take offense.

  42. Jacques Guy, an excellent French field linguist living in Australia, used to go by the nick Frogguy in sci.lang, which I always found a nice pun.

  43. While I’m all for ‘free speech and lively expression’ we shouldn’t forget that there are those who are easily swayed towards hate by the use of what at first appear to be harmless words. Think of the idiotic congressmen who moved to denigrate all things French (even the ridiculous substitution of ‘freedom fries’ for ‘French fries’) just because France would not go along with Bush’s war on Iraq. How much worse are the kind of connections the ignorant and bigoted make between ‘words’ and hateful actions? Do these yahoos not influence their own children? BTW, during those hilarious days of ‘freedom fries’ my little daughter was bullied in school because she had mentioned her French ancestry. Frogguy can have a jolly ole time with his nickname, but children are not always equipped for nice puns. So go ahead, don’t censor yourself, just don’t play the Pontius Pilate.

  44. @ “IME those who do use it are at least as likely to be francophiles (like languagehat I assume) as francophobes.”
    This has been my experience too. In the meantime, I’m starting a campaign to replace “frogs” for a (quasi-)affectionate disparaging term for the French with “les cesmes” (acronym, source groundskeeper Willy).

  45. jamessal says:

    I’ve never encountered a yahoo at Languagehat. A few prescriptivists, but they’re generally kind to children.

Speak Your Mind

*