Mbarkho.

LH commenter Jongseong has made a post that is right up my alley, so I’m sharing it:

Ricardo Mbarkho, born in Beirut in 1974, is a Lebanese visual artist working in digital images and video whose unusual name immediately leapt to the eye. […] [The surname Mbarkho] doesn’t look like an Arabic name, even considering the fact that unlike Modern Standard Arabic, Levantine Arabic (the most common everyday language in Lebanon) allows initial consonant clusters.

I guessed that Mbarkho might be Aramaic in origin, like that of many place names in the Levant, and specifically its classical form Syriac. […] Mbarkho seems to come from ܡܒ݂ܰܪܟ݂ܳܐ mḇarḵā, which means “blessed” in Syriac (see this entry). You can find instances of this word being written “mbarkho” in ad hoc romanizations of Syriac prayers. Originally, this would have simply been written ܡܒܪܟܐ mbrkʾ, as a string of the letters mīm ܡ, bēṯ ܒ, rēš ܪ, kāp̄ ܟ, and ʾālap̄ ܐ written from right to left (the isolated forms of the letters can look different from the connecting forms). This would be written 𐡌𐡁𐡓𐡊𐡀 in the older Imperial Aramaic alphabet and מברכא in the Hebrew alphabet, which was used to write the Aramaic portions of the Hebrew Bible. The letter ʾālap̄ originally represented the glottal stop ʾ /ʔ/, but also came to represent the vowel ā in a practice called mater lectionis (from Latin “mother of reading”) just as in the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets. […]

Based on the available descriptions of Western Syriac, mḇarḵā would be pronounced something like [mvarxo]. One may therefore expect a romanization like “mvarkho”. Then why do we see “mbarkho”? It may be due to a pronunciation influenced by the vernacular, be it Neo-Aramaic or Arabic. Not all the Syriac lenitions are maintained or reproduced in the different languages and dialects of Neo-Aramaic, and Syriac actually merges with w as [ɥ~w~ʋ] in many varieties rather than being pronounced [v]. And even those varieties that split the original b might not have the soft version everywhere that Syriac has it, maintaining a hard b after m in words similar to the Syriac mḇarḵā.

However, the simplest explanation here may be that Arabic, the predominant vernacular language in Lebanon, does not have [v] as part of its sound inventory except as a marginal phoneme in recent loanwords. […] In articles in Arabic where he is mentioned, one can even see Mbarkho written as مبارك Mubārak, identical to the cognate Arabic name, perhaps in recognition that it is equivalent to the Syriac Mḇarḵā.

More details (and a video) at the link; I love this sort of thing!

Comments

  1. Oh, that’s surprisingly helpful. I’m slowly picking an ability to read Hebrew names from gravestones and vital records, and the spelling quirks often surprise me. You know how it happens when you have no background in a language yet refuse to accept that the words are spelled the way they are because “it’s an exception” just to be memorized. So just a few days back i was incredulous, like why Leyb is spelled with double yod, while Ze’ev with an aleph. Bingo, it out to be a glottal stop!

    The interesting variation on the Barak/Boruch/Mubarak theme is a modern Israeli hereditary cancer charity, Bracha, which doubles as a pun on the genes’ names BRCA1, BRCA2 , standing originally for breast cancer but now, for blessing

  2. Clever!

  3. AJP Crown says:

    Thanks partly to my rhotic disability I was thinking that mḇarḵā, which means “blessed” in Syriac, was the title of the late King Freddie, poisoned in exile in Rotherhithe in the 1960s, but he was in fact the Kabaka of Buganda.

  4. So he’s related to Barack Obama!

    At least, etymologically.

  5. >The letter ʾālap̄ originally represented the glottal stop ʾ /ʔ/, but also came to represent the vowel ā in a practice called mater lectionis (from Latin “mother of reading”) just as in the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets. […]

    Is that “just as in” accurate? Or had ‘alap already ceased to represent a glottal stop before these scripts diverged?

  6. January First-of-May says:

    You know how it happens when you have no background in a language yet refuse to accept that the words are spelled the way they are because “it’s an exception” just to be memorized.

    I’m starting to learn Hebrew and I’m also bothered by all the alephs, ayins, and hes. (Um, heys? Not sure how to say that.)
    Though I think I’ve memorized that the he/hey/whatever does (typically) disappear in verb forms, while the aleph and ayin don’t.

    But even then things can get weird. I’ve tried to read a drawn map (from a textbook) recently that seemed to say עדה where I expected “Gaza”; I eventually figured out that it was ‏עזה‏‎ (the zayin looked a lot like a dalet), but I was still surprised by the ayin apparently standing for /g/.

  7. As Paul Ogden said here:

    The letter ע ayin, though a voiced pharyngeal fricative, is sometimes for historical reasons rendered as G: Hebrew עזה ‘Aza is English Gaza.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    The historical reason is a merger of */ʁ/ into /ʕ/ at some early date, but after the Greeks first heard of */ʁaza/ and rendered it with a Γ.

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    There was a parallel merger of the corresponding voiceless sounds. I don’t think it was actually particularly early; as DM says, it still hadn’t happened at the comparatively late stage when the Greeks first started transliterating Hebrew. It’s a matter of a defective orthography prior to that, rather than an already-existing merger.

    I wonder if the merger is actually due to Aramaic influence. I’ve long suspected that the bgadkpat phenomenon is; there’s absolutely no evidence for it even in the LXX transcriptions of Hebrew words (statements to the contrary are based on remarkably widespread misunderstandings of what the Greek symbols then represented.)

    It’s not represented at all even in Origen’s Hexapla, which is actually rather odd; Origen was perhaps relying on an old transcription convention. There’s a similar difficulty with Coptic, which uses the Greek ph th kh for stop + /h/ clusters or aspirates (depending on dialect), not fricatives, at a time when contemporary Greek had already shifted them; presumably it was an orthographic carry-over from Old Coptic.

  10. Ryan: Is that “just as in” accurate? Or had ‘alap already ceased to represent a glottal stop before these scripts diverged?

    I didn’t mean to suggest anything either way on whether the practice of using the aleph equivalents in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic to represent ā had a common origin or not. But in Arabic at least, the ʾalif continues to represent both a glottal stop and a long vowel, and I’m sure it was a similar story for Aramaic and Hebrew at least in the earlier stages of the language.

    On the other hand, the practice of representing ā with aleph seems to have occurred early on in Aramaic and Hebrew, and the Hebrew alphabet (not the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet) was an adaptation of the Aramaic one, so maybe it was a carry-over. The Arabic alphabet came in much later into the picture, as an adaptation of the Aramaic-descended Nabataean alphabet, which already used the aleph-equivalent to represent ā. So it sounds plausible to me that the practice has common origins in the three languages, though I don’t know nearly enough about the earliest stages for Aramaic and Hebrew to say for sure.

    Re: Gaza, don’t forget that it is still called غزة‎ Ghazzah in Arabic with the ghayn representing [ɣ~ʁ]. Arabic is one of the few Semitic languages to preserve the Proto-Semitic *ġ whereas it merged with the ʿayin early on in Hebrew.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    Actually Hebrew, unlike Aramaic, didn’t use aleph as a mater lectionis for long /a:/; where aleph appears in the orthography it always represents an original consonant (albeit one frequently later lost.) Word-final long /a:/ was marked with he, but apart from that it wasn’t written.

    I imagine this had to do with the fact that the original Semitic /a:/ had become /o:/ in Canaanite, so there wasn’t a particular need for a symbol for /a:/. Biblical Hebrew /a:/ is either the result of a comparatively late monophthongisation, or due to that weird lengthening of vowels in stressed syllables and syllables preceding the stress (which may also be something to do with Aramaic influence. Much ink has been spilt on these issues.)

  12. Thanks for the correction, David Eddyshaw. I didn’t stop to check about Hebrew, only recalling the practice in Modern Israeli Hebrew where aleph can represent /a/. But I really should have remembered how recent the modern spelling practices developed and how complicated the history of Hebrew vowels are in general.

    I could have caught the error if I had simply looked at the Wikipedia article on mater lectionis more closely:

    Aleph א was not systematically developed as a mater lectionis in Hebrew (unlike in Aramaic and Arabic), but it is occasionally used to indicate an a vowel.

    I have edited the blog post to remove the Hebrew alphabet as an example where the letter originally representing a glottal stop also represents ā.

  13. “like why Leyb is spelled with double yod”

    because Leyb follows the rules of Yiddish orthography

  14. Leyb is spelled with a double yod because in unpointed spelling a single yod could be interpreted as the vowel /i/. In other words, ליב might be read as *lib.

  15. To clarify, the sequence ey /ej/ is spelled as יי in both Yiddish spelling and in the ktiv male unpointed spelling commonly used for Hebrew today. The sequence ay /aj/ is also spelled the same in the latter, while Yiddish uses ײַ (with a patach) in the standardized orthography.

  16. to clarify, pasekh as one speaks about yiddish and not patakh.. [ey] = tsvey yudn ײ / [ay] = pasekh tsvey yudn ײַ / [oy] vov hud וי

  17. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder if the merger is actually due to Aramaic influence. I’ve long suspected that the bgadkpat phenomenon is; there’s absolutely no evidence for it even in the LXX transcriptions of Hebrew words (statements to the contrary are based on remarkably widespread misunderstandings of what the Greek symbols then represented.)

    How could there be evidence, then? Greek had no way to distinguish plosives from fricatives until much later: the change of [pʰ] to [f] dates between the PILIPPHVS in Pompeii and the first FILIPPVS who shows up in the following century, IIRC.

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    You might at least have expected the odd sigma for “th”; however, you’re basically right that it’s an absence of evidence rather than evidence of absence. I was rather reacting against accounts I’ve seen which blithely assume that the Greek aspirates were intended to represent fricatives, topped up with ingenious yet pointless “explanations” of why they appear word-initially.

    Even in the Tiberian system, though, the bgadkpat phenomenon is only marginally contrastive (and probably only by mistake even there.) It’s hard to believe that it could have been emic when Hebrew was still spoken as a mother tongue.

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