Mark Liberman asks a question that has often occurred to me as well: what is the proper (Iraqi) way to pronounce the name of the city Samarra? I’ve always said [s@m’ar@] (except in the name of the John O’Hara novel Appointment in Samarra, where for some reason I say [s@m’ær@], probably because that’s how I heard it spoken of when I was a kid), and my usually reliable Webster’s Geographical Dictionar concurs, but Mark says:
I asked Tim Buckwalter how this word is pronounced in Arabic, and he responded:
The word sAmar~A’ has two long vowels (/sa:mar:a:?/) so the stress should fall on the last long vowel and all preceding ones get shortened. However, names that end in /a:?/ tend to drop the glottal stop, and stress shifts to the nearest preceeding long vowel. A good example of this is “Sinai”: /si:na:?/ in MSA, but /si:na/ in colloquial (and sloppy MSA). So, I suspect that this is how he got /sa:mar:a/. But since I don’t know Iraqi, maybe I got it all wrong.
[Note: for the interpretation of Tim’s transliteration sAmar~A’, see this table]. According to Tim’s answer, the correct formal pronunciation in Modern Standard Arabic would have final-syllable stress (which neither NPR announcer used), whereas the colloquial pronunciation (at least in the Levantine Arabic that Tim knows best) would have initial-syllable stress, as in Carl Kasell’s pronunciation. If I understand the transliteration right, the vowel quality would also be closer to American English cat than cot .
So my question is, does anybody out there know how the word is said in Iraqi Arabic? No educated guesses, please; we have one of those from an actual Arabist above.
While we’re on the subject of Iraqi place names, I find it strange that all European languages have /o/ in the first syllable of Mosul when the Arabic name has /u/—or so I thought, but a Google search suggests that it has /i/ (“MEE-sul”). Anybody know what they say in Iraq?
Update. I just heard Mishal Husain, who grew up in the Middle East and generally seems to pronounce Arabic names authentically, say [s@m’ar@]. She’s not Iraqi, so I’m not accepting it as definitive, but it’s certainly suggestive.
Further update. Mark has contacted an actual Iraqi and posted the results; apparently the stress is on the last syllable. Furthermore, it seems the traditional etymology from /sarra man ra?a:/ ‘delights/cheers (he/she) who sees [it]’ is wrong; the short form Samarra is based on the pre-Arabic toponym represented by Latin Sumere and Syriac Sumra, and “Surra Man Ra’a, a verbal form of name unusual in Arabic which recalls earlier Akkadian and Sumerian practices, is a word-play invented at the Caliph’s court,” which fits better with how I understand these things to work. (I’m still hoping to hear about Mosul, though.)