Rebec.

It’s time for another poll on the theme “how do you say this not-often-said word?” (Cf. re and the surprising pace [“Looking over the thread again, I am freshly astonished at how few people (only one or two, apparently) pronounce it the way I do, which I had foolishly thought was common if not universal”].) The rebec, as the Wikipedia article says, is a bowed stringed instrument of the Renaissance era, and the name is pronounced /ˈriːbɛk/ or /ˈrɛbɛk/). Those two pronunciations, REE-bek and REBB-ek, are given in that order in Merriam-Webster; the AHD and Concise Oxford give only the former; and the OED (updated June 2009) divides it geographically: Brit. /ˈriːbɛk/, /ˈrɛbɛk/, U.S. /ˈrɛbək/, /ˈriˌbɛk/. Note that the OED thinks REBB-ek is more common in the U.S., which seems to contradict M-W; I have no idea whose research is better, but what I do know is that I always said REE-bek (usually in my mind, because one doesn’t often have occasion to talk about rebecs), and I was quite taken aback just now to hear someone discussing Renaissance instruments say REBB-ek with an air of authority. So, for those of you who are familiar with the word, how do you say it? I’m particularly interested in people who have contact with the early-music community, since I suspect this is one of those terms for which specialists have their own usage, but I welcome any and all thoughts on the subject.

Comments

  1. I’ve never heard it pronounced, but always thought of it as /rɛˈbɛk/, as in Rebecca. The word looks French, so I’m inclined to pronounce it as French, and the REE- doesn’t work so well for me with its relative, the rebab.

    It makes a wonderfully noxious sound. The bagpipes of stringed instruments.

  2. I’m with Y.

  3. Once again, my readers surprise me — it never would have occurred to me to stress the second syllable.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    Rebbek.

    I have probably never said the word, or heard it spoken, however, so this is rather like the question of the tree falling in the forest when nobody is there to hear it.

    … which, incidentally, I have always thought of as a California Zen pseudo-Koan but which Wikipedia reveals to be more Berkleyan in its inspiration.

    LL linked once to a ZIts cartoon with a teenage character speaking the splendid variant: “If a dude says something and his girlfriend doesn’t hear him, is he still wrong?”

  5. I’ve only heard it said as /ˈrɛbək/, though I don’t have a huge sample size. But at least some of the people at the Madison Early Music Festival say it that way.

  6. But at least some of the people at the Madison Early Music Festival say it that way.

    Thanks, that supports my tentative generalization.

  7. There once was a man who said: “God
    Must think it exceedingly odd
         If he finds that this tree
         Continues to be
    When there’s no one about in the Quad.”

    Dear Sir,
         Your astonishment’s odd;
         I am always about in the Quad;
              And that’s why the tree
              Will continue to be,
         Since observed by
                        Yours faithfully,
                                  God.

    Both limericks are attributed to Ronald Knox.

  8. It occurs to me that I think of rebec as rhyming with another word of vanishingly small spoken occurrence, xebec.

  9. I say REE-bek. Also ZEE-bra, REE-buttal, and PEE-nis (couldn’t help, er, inserting that last one). However, this is all theoretical because I doubt I’ve ever actually said that particular word out loud, and I know almost nothing about early music. I grew up on the US West Coast if that helps.

  10. What I have in my head is REBek, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the word spoken. And, yes, I think of it as rhyming with Xebec (a word that was scarcely in my consciousness at all until I read “Master and Commander”). So, for me, REBek and ZEBek, but this means nothing.

  11. When my eyes fell on the title of the post, I wondered what a REBek might be. Reading the post dredged up long-lost memories that I had once learned about a musical instrument called a REEbek. I am not sure whether the difference can be explained as arising because I once heard the former pronunciation spoken (in an Australian secondary school during the 1990s, if at all), or because my internal default rules for converting spelling to pronunciation have shifted over the past two decades.

  12. Retired West Coast music critic. Ree-beck.

  13. /ˈrɛbək/ here. But I’m just a civilian. Might have heard it on the radio, might have just made it up in my head.

  14. And now you’re telling me xebec isn’t /ˈzɛbək/, either? Sheesh.

  15. Siganus Sutor says:

    We could ask the question to the ghost of Benjamin Constant perhaps?

  16. I think I pronounce it /ribɛk/, with stress, vowel length, and quality roughly as in re-pack — i.e. stress fairly even, slightly favouring the second syllable, first vowel correspondingly just the teensiest bit reduced. But I’ve never used it frequently. (Brit originally, lived in NE NAm for a decade, slight contact with early music cirlces in UK and Canada.)

  17. And now you’re telling me xebec isn’t /ˈzɛbək/, either? Sheesh.

    I fear not; at least, that pronunciation is unknown to dictionaries. (OED has “/ˈziːbɛk/ ; also /zɪˈbɛk/”; others either have those two, stressing different syllables, or only the first, ZEE-bek.)

  18. It’s REE-bec in my head, not sure why, not sure why i even know what it is, and i doubt i’ve actually heard the word spoken before. (chicago, not a musician.)

  19. I always took it for granted that xebec was /ˈʃebɛk/. Ah well.

  20. There is a bit part in Romeo and Juliet: a musician named Hugh Rebec. I have acted in the play and directed it. We always pronounced it reBEK.

  21. The First Folio spells his name “Hugh Rebicke”.

  22. Alon Lischinsky says:

    /rəˈbɛk/ here (but I may be influenced by the fact that it’s oxytone in Spanish; I don’t think I’ve ever had occassion to discuss the instrument in an English-speaking context).

  23. Another West-coaster in favor of /ˈriːbɛk/. But I can’t recall ever hearing the word spoken.

  24. REB-eck. And I know people who play ’em. (In and around the East Coast early music scene.)

  25. Another West-coaster in favor of /ˈriːbɛk/. But I can’t recall ever hearing the word spoken.

    This supports my idea that that is the natural way to pronounce the word if you only know it from the spelling (single -b- means -e- in open syllable, hence /iː/.

    REB-eck. And I know people who play ‘em. (In and around the East Coast early music scene.)

    And this supports my growing conviction that that’s how the pros say it. I’m glad I asked!

  26. I’m going to continue saying /ˈriːbɛk/, because I’m not a pro.

  27. A high school music teacher of my acquaintance reports:

    “I have always said Reebek — when I actually had to use the word which, I must confess, has not been the case since I completed my first year music history course at U of T in ’73.”

  28. I think the default AmE pronunciation would be REbec with the stress on the penultimate syllable. However, one might sense that it is foreign and exoticize it with stress the final syllable last (like French).

  29. REE-bek for me, probably from listening to BBC Radio 3 classical station. Where, incidentally, one presenter currently says ‘opus’ with the o like ‘odd’ rather than ‘oh-pus’, which I find disconcerting.

  30. I made one (a plucked version) several years ago*, which gives me absolute, total, ultimate authority**: /ˈrɛbək/
     
    ______
    * Oh dear!! I just realised, it was decades ago.
    ** at least for that one!

  31. Rodger C says:

    @Paul: That presenter sounds like he’s speaking in a surviving tradition of Anglo-Latin. Or he could just be saying, “Opus. Singular of opera. Q.E.D.”

  32. Ree-beck. I have no idea why, as I cannot recall ever hearing it. My wife (unprompted) said the same. Two Americans.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    The word has been correctly identified above as coming from French but nobody seems to have submitted the French pronunciation, which is r∂bec with schwa as the first vowel (so not a minimal pair with Québec). I don’t know if this detail has a bearing on the English pronunciation(s) suggested.

  34. m.-l., that’s odd! And the TLF also quotes a source by which un rebec is pronounced /œ̃ʀbɛk/, with not even a schwa. Any other words with that shape?

    The etymology of the word is odd. The TLF suggests it’s a portmanteau of Arabic rabāb and French bec ‘beak’, because of its shape. Spanish Wikipedia suggests the Spanish rabel ~ rabil is from rabo < Latin rāpum ‘turnip’. All of these look semi-plausible, but not quite.

  35. …with rabo ‘stem, tail’ originally referring to the bow, not the instrument.

  36. >Y
    According to DRAE (dictionary of Academy) « rabel » came from Hispanic Arabic “rabab”, a word with the same meaning.

  37. Per Hans Wehr “Arabic-English Dictionary”: rabaab: “A stringed instrument of the Arabs resembling the fiddle with one to three strings.”

  38. Just out of curiosity, “rebeca” is the word used in Spanish to name “cardigan”. It’s probably one of most curious neologisms in this language because it came from the name of the homonymous Hitchcock’s film due to the fact that the lead actress wears that piece of clothing.

  39. Per Hans Wehr “Arabic-English Dictionary”: rabaab: “A stringed instrument of the Arabs resembling the fiddle with one to three strings.”

    Which led me to look up the word in Hebrew (רבאב) and thence to an English Wiki entry that says a variant of this instrument “travelled to western Europe in the 11th century, and became the rebec.” There’s a hyperlink at rebec to an entry by that name.

  40. Hah! Lookee this: An apparently Turkish website devoted to the violoncello and rebab.

  41. It’s probably one of most curious neologisms in this language because it came from the name of the homonymous Hitchcock’s film due to the fact that the lead actress wears that piece of clothing.

    An excellent parallel to “fedora” and “trilby.”

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Y: the TLF also quotes a source by which un rebec is pronounced /œ̃ʀbɛk/, with not even a schwa.

    I quoted the pronunciation of the word in isolation. Occurrence in the above phrase places the schwa between two single consonants, following a vowel, a situation where schwa normally drops except in very formal pronunciation, as in for instance un chemin ‘a footpath, country lane, etc’, un cheval ‘a horse’, etc. Because the rule is purely phonological (although influenced by register) it does not depend on the actual word or the preceding morpheme, so for instance à demain ’til tomorrow’, etc. It also occurs within words, as in le lendemain ‘the next day’. This is normal in spoken French. There are other rules of schwa-dropping depending on dialect as well as register, but this one is pretty much universal. An exception is Southern French, which pronounces all the schwas, because until a few generations ago the majority of the population spoke dialects of Occitan and learned French in school from written sources.

    However, in recent trips to France I have noticed that many people (mostly younger than me) do pronounce the schwa, saying for instance A dEmain rather than admain, and I find this new pronunciation pretentious. This might be due to Southern French influence, because many teachers come from the South (a poorer area) and a slight Southern accent is also more acceptable in radio and TV than it was in my youth.

  43. George Gibbard says:

    Relatedly, here is a rabaaba from Jordan:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn0xH48bcfg

    In Sudan, though, “rabaaba” means a lyre. The instrument is shown at the very beginning of this video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaFcXyppcIc

    rabaaba music from eastern Sudan with sword dance:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbsMLB-L5zQ

    the playing technique can be clearly observed in this video (this one is a kithara rather than a bowl lyre, with a wooden box for a body):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmZXm9uvOxk

  44. However, in recent trips to France I have noticed that many people (mostly younger than me) do pronounce the schwa, saying for instance A dEmain rather than admain, and I find this new [??] pronunciation pretentious.

    Hein ? “Pretentious”? Why so?

    As far as I am concerned, I feel it the other way round. It would be “à d’main” that I would found funny and, yes, somehow affected — “Parisian” if you will, even if it is not particularly linked to Paris as such. And I suspect I would be joined in this feeling by most of my countrymen.

    And to some extent the same would apply to “un ch’val” or “un ch’min”, which is completely at odds with our local pronunciation, except that in this case it would rather sound like popular Franco-French. I guess that would be a fairly good shibboleth if we were to separate French from Martians.

  45. m.-l., my surprise was at the cluster /ʀb/ which I didn’t think was possible, though now I see it’s not at the beginning of the phonological word /œ̃ʀbɛk/, is that right?

    The etymologies of rebec are all uncomfortable. If it came from Arabic rabāb, why did the final consonant change to /k/ in French and /l/ in Spanish? If not, the coincidence could be incidental, or the Spanish form could indeed be from another source, but influenced by the similarity to the Arabic word.

    The etymology Spanish rabel < Latin rāpum comes to Wikipedia from Daniel García de la Cuesta, La bandurria y el rabel (2005). I’m tempted to spend the time looking for this book, if only because it is bilingual, in Asturian and Spanish.

  46. >Y
    “If it came from Arabic rabāb, why did the final consonant change to /k/ in French and /l/ in Spanish?” I don’t know but I’ve just looked up some similar words whose origin is Hispanic Arabian: “badal” from “bád’a”, “gandul” from “gandúr“, marjal” from “márga”, “quintal” from “qintár” and “rabal” from “rabad”. Others have one “l” in both languages.
    I had also read the Wiki article.where García de la Cuesta related that word with “rabo”. There is another “rabel” from “rabo” according to our Academy, a witty word that means “buttocks” because, I think, there could be the tail.
    Here you can read something more about the etymology of “rabel”: http://dehesa.unex.es:8080/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10662/1483/0210-8178_20_103.pdf?sequence=1

  47. Thanks, Jesús! Glancing at the linked article by Fasla, she argues that the early form rabé gave rabelero ~ rabilero, one who plays the instrument, and hence rabel by back-formation. That makes sense, and rabé and rabé morisco indeed appear early. As to why rabab lost its final b, she offers an ad-hoc phonetic explanation, which I am not convinced by.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Y: my surprise was at the cluster /ʀb/ which I didn’t think was possible, though now I see it’s not at the beginning of the phonological word /œ̃ʀbɛk/, is that right?

    Yes. Similarly with the plural des rebecs /derbɛk/.

    But you would be d the number of supposedly impossible clusters that can occur initially in informal conversation as a result of the rule, when a potential initial syllable has been omitted. For instance Regarde! ‘look!” which can be /r∂gard/ or more colloquially /rgard/.

    Final consonant: it appears that several consonants have been used instead of the original Arabic one, and French c /k/ has been mentioned but without explanationn. Is there one?

  49. marie-lucie says:

    oops! correction:

    But you would be surprised at the number …

  50. Like I said above, the TLF proposes that it’s from bec. The instrument actually does look like a giant bird’s head, from the right angle. It’s still an iffy explanation to me.

  51. >Y
    I’m going tomorrow to Asturias and I’ll try to know more about the book of musician García de la Cuesta although it seems it’s written in Asturian (Bable better, according to my wife).
    >Languagehat
    Thank you very much!

  52. >Y
    “The instrument actually does look like a giant bird’s head, from the right angle. It’s still an iffy explanation to me. “
    The use of horsehair in the bow can also be consider an iffy explanation to name “rabel” that instrument as a word derived from tail.

  53. Jesús, that would be great! The book (here is actually bilingual, in both Asturian and Spanish.

  54. >Y
    Finally I got the book. I’ve deduced you master Spanish so I’ve copied some interesting parts of it. Because the text is bigger than an usual comment I’ll cut it as César said about Galias.
    “Rabab y rabel”
    “Seguidamente paso a comentar las diferencias entre estos dos instrumentos que, generalmente, se daban como que eran el mismo, o el rabel una variante del rabab, lo que no es así.
    Dalila Fesla comenta en un trabajo sobre la etimología de rebeb que los vocablos denominan dos instrumentos musicales diferentes, aunque similares, y que de ninguna manera pueden usarse como sinónimos.
    Pienso lo mismo sobre estos vocablos y sobre los instrumentos que denominan y en este trabajo ofrezco más documentación que afirma este testimonio. […]
    Un dato importantísimo nos lo proporciona Al Saqundi, en el siglo 13 (sic), que cita el rabab entre los muchos instrumentos musicales que hay, sobre todo en Sevilla, aunque también existían en otras ciudades de Al Ándalus, y dice en cambio que no hay ninguno de ellos en la Berbería, aparte de los que se llevaron desde Al Ándalus. La Berbería eran los territorios del norte de África donde vivían los bereberes.
    Con lo que, según estos datos, el instrumento no vino del norte de África, sino que se asentó allí después de pasar por la Península, seguramente procedente de Persia, donde sí se conocía. […]
    D. Fesla entreve que en el plano instrumental el rabab árabe y lo que conocemos en la península como rabel se entremezclara y esto conllevó a un equívoco generalizado, alentando la idea de que uno era un derivado del otro y se pensó en las grafías castellanas que rabel, rebec y rebeb eran sinónimos.
    En el norte de África, bajo el nombre rabab, se tocan instrumentos con diferentes formas. El vocablo rebeb vino junto con el instrumento al que se llama así, y la sociedad hispano-musulmana paree que acoge el término rabé junto con el instrumento, pero la palabra rebeb siguió usándose y quedó fijada para denominar al instrumento que todavía hoy se usa en el Magreb y que tiene la misma forma que de aquella (sic; I think he means “entonces”).
    El autor Juan del Encina, antes del 1500, y Lucas Fernández, antes de 1514, documentan el nombre de rabilero. Una variante moderna es rabelero. (sic) Lo que nos hace ver que el vocablo más antiguo sería rabil. Actualmente se conoce al músico por rabelista.[…]

  55. >Y
    2nd.part-
    El vocablo rababa es persa y rabab es el plural, y da nombre a un instrumento llamado rabab. […]
    Anduve a la búsqueda de significados del consonántico rbb y me encontré con los datos que muestro a continuación. Algunos están relacionados con la posesión o la cantidad:
    Rabb, señor, amo, dueño.
    Ribab, alianza, compañeros.
    Rubba, ¡Cuánto!
    Rabba, es reunir.
    Rabba, también significa componer.
    Rabab, tiene el significado de nube blanca.
    Rabb es un vocablo que vale para denominar a una persona, (sic) por ejemplo, rabb zann, es el que cree en algo, o Rabb ad-da’n, es el hombre de los carneros.
    Rabab o alrababa, según algunos autores significa resonar.
    El caso es que echando un ojo a las diferentes variantes y acepciones del consonántico rbb, solamente tiene relación con la música la acepción de resonar.
    No encuentro una clara relación entre instrumento, su uso, o los materiales utilizados en su construcción, cosa que sucede mucho con los nombres de instrumentos musicales como vemos a lo largo de este trabajo, aunque más adelante planteo una solución en cuanto al significado de este vocablo en relación a los instrumentos.
    En cuanto al vocablo rabel hay varias observaciones que hacer. La cuestión es que planteo la duda sobre si realmente el vocablo rabel tiene algo que ver con el consonántico persa y arabizado rbb.
    Este es el razonamiento. La aparición, hasta ahora, de los primeros datos en Europa sobre instrumentos musicales de arco están fechados (sic) al comienzo del siglo 10 (sic), entre los años 920 y 930, en uno de los trabajos gráficos de los monjes, llamados Beatos, como los de Liébana. […]
    Parece que la palabra antigua que llega a nosotros sería rabé, y de procedencia persa, a través del mundo árabe afincado en la Península desde el siglo 7. Así, aparece documentado rabé, en el Libro del Buen Amor, del Arcipreste de Hita, en el año 1330. Por otro lado, parece que la primera documentación del vocablo rabel es del siglo 16. […]

  56. >Y
    3rd. part.-

    La cuestión es que existe el vocablo rabil, utilizado en Asturies (sic), y en otros lugares, que se usa para denominar cualquier manivela como la de los antiguos molinos, tanto para moler cereales como en el molinillo de café. […] en el instrumento conocido en la Península Ibérica como rabel se utiliza, para frotar las cuerdas, un arco que de forma tradicional se fabrica con los cadejos de la cola, o rabo, de un caballo. En Asturies, en el entorno de la bandurria en estudio, a estos arcos los llamamos rabiles. Además en Asturianu, la acción de mover el rabil al tocar se llama rabilar. La relación entre rabel y rabil es más que clara, y el cambio entre la /e/ y la /i/, por metafonía, es un hecho bien documentado.
    Por esto pienso que se entremezcló desde antiguo el vocablo rabé y rabel, por su semejanza y por aplicarse a un instrumento musical parecido, por lo que entonces, el vocablo rabel sería latino, y creo que este vocablo pudiera derivarse de rabo. Vocablo que Joan Coromines cree probable derive del latín rapum* , que quiere decir nabo, y que haría referencia a las hojas que le salen a este tubérculo en forma de cola.
    Esto daría que la utilización de instrumentos con nombres parecidoa, como el rabé morisco, usados por los árabes en la Península Ibérica, se confundiría con la palabra rabel o rabil, de rabo, utilizada para denominar al arco, o cualquier tipo de manivela, y su acción de rabilar, lo que sucede actualmente.
    Además, según la consulta a diferentes catedráticos en estudios árabes, el cambio de la consonante final /r/ (sic) por /l/, en el consonántico rbb, es muy difícil que se de en las lenguas orientales.**
    Con todos estos datos podemos observar que tanto los instrumentos como los étimos rabab y rabel, (sic) no son la misma cosa, ni tienen el mismo significado.
    * Curiously, according to RAE, “nabo” (turnip) came from Latin “napus”. However, it also says “rabo” came from Latin “rapum” meaning “nabo” as well.
    ** De la Cuesta adds this note: “El catedrático de Estudios Árabes de la Universidad de Zaragoza, Federico Corriente, me proporcionó los datos que muestro seguidamente sobre este cambio. No existe regularidad ninguna en la conversión de la /b/ final en /l/ pero, al no ser admisible en la fonotaxis cs (sic; I think it means “castellana”), sufría distintos cambios para adaptarse a tales reglas. No podemos estar muy seguros de si cayó, como parece sugerir el cs. ant. rabé, siendo probable, en tal caso, que la adición de /l/ sea metanálisis del sufijo diminutivo –él (l), o si hizo un recorrido por las labiales y sonorantes b>m>n>l.”
    As for this note, I think there is a mistake in the Spanish text (and in the Asturianu one) about the “consonante final /r/” because Corriente says /b/, more logical.

  57. >Y

    Obviously I am at your complete disposal to look for in that book.

  58. >Y

    I add this extract about the bow named “rabil”:
    “Rabil
    El rabil es un elemento externo al instrumento [bandurria frotada], pero que es imprescindible para hacerlo sonar. El rabil es una varita curva de madera, que se hace de una rama de cualquier tipo de árbol. También se usaron cañaveras. Puede tener sencillamente una forma curva o una forma curva rematada en un mango en escuadra, como si fuera un cayado o bastón. […] Esta pieza se complete con un manojo de cadejos, generalmente de cola de caballo, que se sujetan en los extremos en número de 70, más o menos. Estos pelos son los que se frotan por las cuerdas y sirven para que suenen al rozar por ellas.”

  59. Jesús—thanks very much for your trouble.

    To summarize, Rabé appears as early as 1330, and the instrument may have come in earlier; rabelero/rabilero appears around 1500. An early account specifically says that the rabab was in Andalus in the 1300, but not in North Africa, and hence one can say that it arrived there ( ultimately from Persia?) by another route. That agrees with the appearance of the rebec in France about that time.
    Rabil is used in Asturian (and elsewhere) meaning ‘bow’, and also as the word for a crank on a hand-mill. The author quotes Corominas, according to whom rabel is ultimately from rapum ‘turnip’, whose stem resembles a tail, whence ‘tail’ and eventually ‘horsetail hair bow’.

    De la Cuesta tries to somehow connect rebab / rabé and rabel, but I don’t think he makes a good case for direct inheritance. Perhaps the shift from ‘bow’ to the bowed instrument was influenced by the older Arabic word, but that kind of influence is always hard to prove.

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