THE FULL ARABIAN NIGHTS.

I learn from Geert Jan van Gelder’s TLS review that there is a new, three-volume “complete” edition of the Arabian Nights (subtitled “Tales of 1001 nights,” thus covering all bases) published by Penguin and translated by Malcolm C. Lyons. The review has a useful summary of the history of the collection in Arabic (“It was anonymous, its language was not sufficiently polished, and it was too obviously fictional and fantastic in parts, all of which precluded its acceptance in highbrow circles. At the same time it was never as truly popular, in the sense of widespread among and beloved by the illiterate, as the monstrously lengthy and equally anonymous epic tales such as Sirat Antar or Sirat Bani Hilal.”) and in its European avatar, sparked off by Antoine Galland’s French translation:

Galland did more than merely translate: he shaped the text into what became a more or less canonical form; as a result the Nights are as much a part of Western literature as of Arabic. To Western readers, the stories of Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sindbad belong to the core of the Nights and are among the best-known tales; but they did not belong to the Arabic text until Galland added them. There is, in fact, no known Arabic text of the Aladdin and Ali Baba stories that predates Galland, and elements in the story of Aladdin suggest that it may have been a European fairy tale rather than an Arabic one.

The reviewer thinks very highly of the translation, but he notes a couple of things at the end of the review that bother me more than they apparently do him. First off, Lyons does not render Arabic obscenities with English ones, either substituting formal words (“vagina”) or simply transliterating the Arabic (he refers to the porter’s “zubb”); as van Gelder says, “Some readers will be delighted to learn some naughty Arabic, but surely English has a profusion of equally vulgar words for the sexual organs.” Not a big deal, especially since there are apparently few obscene words in the original, but irritating. But the fact that there are no indications of vowel length really annoys me:

Already I imagine, with horror, how the name of the beautiful Badi’ al-Jamal will be pronounced by future readers as if she had something to do with a camel (jamal, different from jamâl, “beauty”), or how the name of the slave girl Hubub would sound like “hubbub”: it should be stressed on the second syllable and rhyme with “boob”, and I believe the correct reading would actually be Habub. The general reading public is supposedly averse to diacritical signs, but I have personally never met a “general reader” who abhorred macrons or circumflexes, and “Habûb” cannot look too off-putting.

And there is a minimum of annotation; again, I agree with the reviewer: “When, for instance, someone walks in one of the streets of al-Hira, the reader may want to know where that place is, but neither the maps nor the glossary will help. A reference to the ‘Abjad-Hawwaz alphabet’ may suggest a secret or cryptic script; a note could have explained that it is the ordinary Arabic alphabet in the old ‘Semitic’ order, as still used in Hebrew.” If you’re going to produce a massive, presumably definitive version of such an important work (and charge £125 for it), it seems to me foolish and counterproductive to skimp in such ways.
(Incidentally, I didn’t realize the TLS was online until jamessal mentioned it; I’d looked years ago, not found a web presence, and given up on it. Thanks, Jim!)

Comments

  1. Now you have me curious. How complete was Burton’s translation? (Which certainly runs to three volumes in the edition I have, one of the best productions of the Heritage Press.)
    The point about annotations is odd. Perhaps it represents a change for the worse in Penguin, but annotations were generally a strong point in all their editions of the classics.

  2. I think I took my parents’ edition along after the divorse, but I have little idea where it might be now.
    I read some of it as a kid, but I can’t recall much anymore.

  3. I really look forward to seeing this edition, but I’m much more annoyed and rather mystified by the reluctance to translate obscenities than by the lack of macrons or circumflexes. In particular, what justification is there for not translating “zubb” and “air” at all? Aside from the question of whether the reader will get the meaning or not,* there are so many good literary reasons to translate them, and translate them colloquially. For one, it is a fine illustration of the mixed nature of the Nights, between highbrow/lowbrow, classical/oral, and the fact that outright vulgarities are relatively rare in the original suggests to me that when they do appear, they should pack the punch in English that they do in the Arabic. If anything cries out for explicit vulgarity and the dissonance that might produce in the reader, it is that section about the body parts in the Porter and the Three Ladies.
    For anyone who has seen this edition : is it only obscenities, or are other expressions left untranslated as well (like Bismallah or interjections)? Is this part of an overall translation approach?
    *I assume in the context of the story, readers can figure out what it means, but I was initially confused by this sentence in the TLS online review: “This tale contains a passage on the naming of parts; the ladies are said to refer to the porter’s zubb or air.” I kept reading “air” as the English word (as an explanatory gloss on zubb), leading to fleeting conjectures about hot air and air pockets, and wondering about such convoluted innuendo. I could have really used an ‘ayn before that word (van Gelder’s thoughts on the ‘ayn in the review notwithstanding). But I’m sure it’s italicized or otherwise marked in the book, right?

  4. Good question, Khawaga, and I hope someone who has seen the book will weigh in. (I too was baffled by the “air.”)
    kishnevi: Yes, I remember with fondness the lavishly annotated Penguin editions of my youth. Ah well, brightness falls from the air (I don’t care how many times I’m told that Nashe probably wrote “hair,” I’m not going to accept it).

  5. As to vulgar terms packing a punch, it seems to me that the promiscuous use of such words in contemporary English writing has made the blow very soft. As it is, this reader goes right by vulgarities, hardly noticing. If they were more rare, the blow landed would be more powerful.

  6. I also have the Heritage edition. My brother inherited my parents’ edition, which I had read quite a bit of, so I went out and bought one for myself.
    Heritage Club books are remarkably cheap used. They’re physically very satisfying books even if you don’t want to read them (there’s a lot of 1870-1920 kitsch.) But there are a lot of wonderful classic choices — Gibbon, Boswell, Herodotus, etc. etc.

  7. I also have the Heritage edition. My brother inherited my parents’ edition, which I had read quite a bit of, so I went out and bought one for myself.
    Heritage Club books are remarkably cheap used. They’re physically very satisfying books even if you don’t want to read them (there’s a lot of 1870-1920 kitsch.) But there are a lot of wonderful classic choices — Gibbon, Boswell, Herodotus, etc. etc.

  8. I believe Burton’s is quite complete, but Galland had muddied the water considerably. A “standard” text is going to be made up in any case, since it was sort of a kitchen-sink of tall tales and dirty stories and old fables from the git go.
    I like Burton’s translation myself, though it’s hardly unflawed. One of his critics referred to Burton’s “barmy erudition,” which is very apt. His footnotes are copious but bizarre. Critics seem especially to loathe his use of archaic English to translate archaic Arabic, and the fact that he tries to reproduce the “rhyming prose” of the original: both things that I, personally, appreciate and think he pulls off quite well. Of course the linguistic tools that Burton had to hand were very crude and (I’m told) he made mistakes. But I actually like it much better than modern translations, which try to be correct and achieve being limp.
    It is a horribly sexist and racist text, by the way. Nearly unendurable sometimes.

  9. Well, for “The Porter and the Three Ladies” a translator in fact needs a variety of terms, don’t they? Lane leaves the naming game out, but Payne and Burton end up getting cited by slang dictionaries of the time for their choices.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    This may be a little off the mark at this point, but it is related:
    As a fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez I recently bought a new, annotated edition of A hundred years of solitude in Spanish. The annotator’s quite scholarly preface lists a number of translations in various languages, done shortly after the publication of the book. I thought I would try to get the Russian edition, in order to practice reading Russian with a story I knew and liked already. Unfortunately, there was a caveat that the Russian translation (dated 1971) had omitted entire passages, and the translator had felt it his duty to “purify” the text of alleged obscenities! I have read the book several times (in Spanish) and there are many episodes one could certainly call “earthy” or even “raunchy”, but in my opinion not particularly “obscene” – there is a naturalness about them for which the word “obscene” is not right. Does anyone know of a more recent, unbowdlerized Russian translation?

  11. Here is the Stolbov/Butyrlina translation, which as far as I know is the only one; it came out in 1970 with what the Russian Wikipedia article on Stolbov calls “некоторыми цензурными купюрами, позднее восстановленными” (some cuts due to censorship, which have since been restored); I presume the online version is unbowdlerized. I must say I’m not impressed by the first sentence, where “su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo” (‘his father took him to [come to know/learn about, or in Rabassa's famous version "discover"] ice’) is rendered “отец взял его с собой посмотреть на лед” (‘his father took him to look at ice’). But of course it’s unfair to judge a translation by one sentence.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, LH, so fast! I will try to print it. Even though the translation might not be perfect, I should still be able to learn a lot of Russian vocabulary without having to constantly refer to a dictionary. Muchas gracias!

  13. “It is a horribly sexist and racist text”
    Considerably more horribly racist and sexist in Burton’s version, according to Robert Irwin’s The Arabian Nights: A Companion:
    “In the ‘Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince’, Burton has the king imitate ‘blackamoor’ speech – ‘he keeps calling on ‘eaven for aid until sleep is strange to me even from evenin’ till mawnin’, and he prays and damns, cussing us two’, and so on. As has been indicated earlier in this chapter, it is hardly possible for Arabic to accommodate ‘dis kine o’ lordy lordy’ speech, and in fact in the Calcutta II text the king speaks an uncoloured and correct Arabic.”

  14. Irwin is also the critic who refers to Burton’s “barmy erudition”.
    “One of the most curious features of this curiosity of English literature is the obtrusive and often supernumerary footnotes. Burton wished to achieve recognition in the world of learning as an anthropologist or scientist of sorts, but Lane’s edition with its heavy annotation had more or less done all that was necessary in setting out what the lay reader needed to know about Muslim manners and material life [...] out of rivalry with Lane , Burton seems to have been driven to annotate more and more recondite matters in his equally copious notes [...]”
    “…Burton’s footnotes are a parade of barmy erudition interspersed with snatches of autobiography. Bab is the Arabic word for ‘door’ or ‘chapter’. It is naturally one of the commoner words in that language. Two-thirds of the way through the ninth volume, Burton is able to give this word his scholarly attention and point out that it has a rare variant (and, in the context of the passage being annotated, utterly irrelevant) meaning of ‘Coptic sepulchral chamber.’ A note on shaykh in the first volume tells us that, in Islamic lore, Abraham was the first man to part his hair and use a toothpick. In a note in the fifth supplementary volume, he cites Swedenborg on how there will be no looking at the back of people’s heads in the afterlife. In other footnotes, he remembers how he was once attacked by a dog in Alexandria and reminisces on the seances he has attended [...] Burton’s notes are obtrusive, kinky and personal. It is tempting to speculate that they might have furnished one of the models for Kinbote’s egocentrically deranged annotative scholarship in Nabokov’s marvellous novel Pale Fire. (There is, however, no evidence Nabokov ever read Burton.)”

  15. I kept reading “air” as the English word (as an explanatory gloss on zubb)
    If I read it correctly, it was an English equivalent for “hir” whatever that is.
    I have personally never met a “general reader” who abhorred macrons or circumflexes
    I must not be a “general reader”. They have absolutely no meaning for me.
    the beautiful Badi’ al-Jamal
    I would certainly interpret Jamal as camel–(jah’ mahl). This doesn’t look at all like Jameel (jah meel’) (beautiful/happy/nice). I actually know someone named Jameel, but I’m not sure how he spells his name.
    My version of Arabian Nights seems to be the “abridged” one done by Isabel Burton, missing the “naming game”, but with the illustrations by Steele Savage (can that be a real name?) where the Arabian ladies don’t seem to be wearing much for shirts.
    There are several translations of Arabian Nights available online, including Burtons’ unabridged one with all the naughty footnotes about pederasty–it’s all in the public domain. Check the links at the end of its Wikipedia article.
    there will be no looking at the back of people’s heads in the afterlife
    I have heard this too. Since everyone will be naked, and you’re not supposed to look at nekkid people, everyone will have their head stuck looking upwards to Allah. Not sure how this works out with the 99 virgins. I rather like Burton’s quirkiness-I have the first volume of his visit to Mecca.

  16. It is a horribly sexist and racist text, by the way. Nearly unendurable sometimes.

    O tempores, o mores! Having lived in Germany for 40 years, that “unendurably sexist and racist text” cup has passed me by – and a good thing too. It’s prurient meta-priggishness. Do people want to know, and yet not to know, and yet to tell? (sorry, dale, I know the stance is not your invention: others here have taken up the cry).
    It’s hypocritical at worst, superfluous at best, to parade squeamishness in this way. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If you read the stuff, nobody forces you to pass it on with a moue of conspicuous disapproval. Remember the princess and the pea? A real princess can’t sleep at night, because she feels a pea through x mattresses. So sensitive! That’s how the prince found the right gal (the idea was his mother’s).
    Possibly the whole business is in fact just another tactic in the mating game, so my strictures may be off target.

  17. everyone will have their head stuck looking upwards to Allah

    Thanx for the explanation, Nijma. I was wondering how I would discover what Swedenborg meant without having to read him (Kant wrote a book on him).

  18. SnowLeopard says:

    I, for one, would like to see an expanded trend in publishing works like the Arabian Nights in bilingual editions with the original and the translation on facing pages. Having the original immediately at my disposal somehow makes me much more indulgent toward the translation.

  19. Having the original immediately at my disposal somehow makes me much more indulgent toward the translation

    Knowing how hard it can be to do a good translation, I see your point, SnowLeopard. You can, in cases of doubt, refer directly to the original, possibly huff and puff about the inadequacy of the translation, then try to think of something better. Later, chastened, you continue reading.

  20. an expanded trend in publishing works like the Arabian Nights in bilingual editions with the original and the translation on facing pages.
    Something like this is already going on with Bible and Koran portals. If someone is really into exegesis they can get the verse up on the screen and switch between the Greek, NRSV (my denomination uses), the NIV, the TNIV (my own favorite), and a bunch of others, and see notes too. Or with Koran you can put up several English translators on the same page at the same time–I haven’t seen the Arabic on the same page yet though. You can also select between different reciters to hear it.

  21. The delight of Burton’s footnotes is their borderline irrelevance. (We have a 17 vol. set.) On the page to which I linked above, he tells us about basil (which we’re probably more familiar with than the Victorians), sending us off to Boccaccio, and then Kalilah and Dimnah. Except it wasn’t basil after all, it was pennyroyal, (which Lane confirms). Oh, and, he messed up the scientific names for both Ocimum basilicum and Mentha pulegium. And I’m still not sure what “basil of the bridges” (حبق الجسور ḥabaq alǧusūr), to which this was attached, is supposed to mean, even should it allude to the pecten. A show which might well not be to one’s taste.

  22. Langues pour tous publishes a little pocket book with three tales in parallel Arabic and French with vocabulary notes. It was cheap, even with the exchange rate.
    I haven’t seen the Arabic on the same page yet though.
    multimediaquran.com has both (and sound).
    answering-christianity.com has the Arabic in with even more English translations. (It’s rather provocatively named; I think answering-islam.com started it, though.)

  23. I have personally never met a “general reader” who abhorred macrons or circumflexes
    I must not be a “general reader”. They have absolutely no meaning for me.
    The point was not that they should have meaning for the general reader, it was that that hypothetical creature would not “abhor macrons or circumflexes” (i.e., would not resist buying a book that had them). Presumably you fit into that category. If they do not deter the general reader and are of great assistance to the informed one, why not include them?
    I, for one, would like to see an expanded trend in publishing works like the Arabian Nights in bilingual editions with the original and the translation on facing pages.
    It’s probably unnecessary for me to add that I support this notion.
    multimediaquran.com has both (and sound).
    What a great find! You are a treasure, MMcM.

  24. Koran portal
    Nice. You don’t see the Sales translation very often. He had really interesting footnotes though; it would be nice to see them. Unfortunately, in my Sales the chapters have numbers but not the ayahs, so it’s very difficult to compare any verses. This Koran portal goes straight for Koran without taking cheap shots at other religions. To change translator, click “work”, then “display”. There are more Koranic resources on the site, but I’m not quite sure what they are. Hadith maybe? Commentary by branch of Islam?
    of great assistance to the informed one.
    In that case count me the ignoramus one, because I would rather see something that helped the reader to actually pronounce the word or recognize it if they already know some Arabic, like maybe spelling it phonetically.There are standardized systems of transliteration and there are the systems the Arabs themselves use, like for blogging with an English keyboard. There are also individual systems made up by people studying Arabic. My Jordanian roommate and I have similar personal systems for representing Arabic for quick notetaking, since we both count Spanish to be our default second language. In the above example I would pronounce jamâl as (Jah mahl’)(Wasn’t there a “Jamal and the Night Visitors”)? Habûb and zubb are a bit more confusing. We already know “zubb” refers to male naughty bits, which I pronounce “zibb”. So is “Habûb” pronounced “ha BEEB” (loved one) from حب hobe (like, love)?
    Some of these transliteration schemes don’t make any sense at all. For instance the one where an s with a dot under it somewhere is supposed to represent “sh”. Why not just write “sh”? But that’s exactly the sort of thing an ignoramus like me would think of. And then an ignoramus like me would probably go online and look for the free Burton download with the naughty footnotes.

  25. A.J.P. Crown says:

    (which Lane confirms)
    Though in my experience goats rarely, if ever, make loud farts.

  26. Wasn’t there a “Jamal and the Night Visitors”

    There is Amahl and the Night Visitors, a one-act “Christmas opera” by Giancarlo Menotti, commissioned for television in 1951. I saw it as a kid, and thought the music was wonderful.
    In the 1971 movie “Heinous Dan” with Clint Eastwood as Dan, in one scene:

    [Dan] is forced to take an exit, and ends up smashing into an ice rink, where a theatrical production of Ghetto Jamal and the Night Visitors is currently taking place, as evidenced by a poster which is visible before the crash

    According to the link,

    [this is] the only movie in history which has made a former president vomit upon viewing from both intense violence and intense musical scenes

  27. michael farris says:

    Subscript dots are used for emphatic/pharyngealized consonants. For the English ‘sh’ sound linguists now seem to use the Czech symbol – š).
    For a general interest text aimed at general readers sh is okay (and the emphatics don’t need to be marked at all), but it’s a disaster for linguistic texts of course where the diacritics are worth their weight in gold (I’ll just add that I find the mixed case transcription unbearably ugly)
    And of course a simple guide to the spelling and pronunciation of names at the beginning of the text would help readers who were interested (and could safely be passed over by those who don’t care).
    Also: Amahl had the night visitors:
    video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2708548570131617639
    Final (maybe interesting) note on names: In Tunesian (and other maghrebi dialects?) a name like Jamal would be jami:l (j = French j) but the adjective form would be jmi:l, that is the short vowel that routinely gets dropped in Maghrebic is maintained in personal names (maybe because they’re felt to be more Arabic than local?)
    I suppose that Jami:l jmi:l could even be a sentence (Jameel is handsome) though I haven’t tested it yet.

  28. Ah, thanks for the link, michael! Over the next hour, It’s back to childhood for me

  29. I find the mixed case transcription unbearably ugly
    Me too.

  30. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Nearly unendurable sometimes.
    unbearably ugly
    Me too
    I agree with Grumbly Stu, you’re wimps, all of you. I never heard such a fuss about nothing. Pull yourselves together!

  31. marie-lucie says:

    One reason that digraphs like sh are not used in phonetic transcriptions is that such transcriptions are meant to be international, not limited to a specific audience such as English speakers. Also, these transcriptions at least try to adhere to the principle of “one sound, one symbol” (and vice-versa). sh is ambiguous if the language represented has sequences of the sound [s] followed by the sound [h] (as in English “mis(-)heard” vs “disheveled”). Such things as a dot above or below a phonetic symbol have precise meanings and it is important to use them correctly. This is especially important when the language to be represented has sounds which do not exist in the learner’s language, as with the “emphatic” consonants of Arabic. Although a native speaker will probably recognize words even if some crucial element is omitted from the transcription (as in the English examples above), a person serious about learning the language needs to be aware of the differences in order to approximate native pronunciation and not confuse words.

  32. So a transcription system is “ugly” unless it looks European? I take it this refers to the Qalam alphabet as opposed to the DIN 31635 and others similar. To me the one with the diacriticals looks eastern European. To me Arabic is not anything like Czech. Why would anyone want to write Arabic as if it were pronounced like Czech? And the system is not at all intuitive. I know, I know, they changed the j to g for the German speakers and so forth to make it more international. But as a native English speaker who would most likely read this in English, the system with the diacriticals does not help me pronounce the Arabic at all, or even recognize words in Arabic.
    The transliteration system they call “Qalam” (in the above link) for me is very intuitive. I can read it and get pretty close to the actual pronunciation, even without checking a pronunciation key or knowing any Arabic. Before I studied Arabic those circumflexes drove me nuts, and they still do–they just slow down the reading if your eyes have to stop every time you see the thing and try to process it–but the occasional capital letters sort of made sense. Saying a system is “ugly” doesn’t make sense at all. You don’t want to marry it, you want it to work.
    I would agree that specialized explanations of pronunciation belong on a separate page, if at all. In a blog like this with very specialized readers, I would expect to find extensive comments with weird diacriticals and cryptic if any explanations of them, and I would expect to try to accommodate myself to them as best I could, and maybe even learn something in the process. One doesn’t come to LH looking for something that has been dumbed down. But in a book meant for a general as well as a specialized readership, a special transliteration scheme jsut doesn’t belong in the body of the text.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    Diacritics for phonetic transcription come from various sources, and the one placed over and s or c to indicate sh and ch is used in normal Czech spelling, but it and other diacritics are also used for phonetic transcriptions of English as well as other languages (according to American transcription – British transcription of these sounds is different and involves specialized characters).
    I understand Nijma’s frustration with unfamiliar symbols and diacritics, but I can’t see how the Qalam system is particularly helpful for someone who doesn’t know any Arabic and has no idea what the capital letters stand for (like me without looking at the DIN equivalents on the Wiki site). Nor is it obvious, for instance, that dh does not mean the sound of th in other, or the one from India as in Radha or Buddha, but something quite different.
    Just about any consistent spelling system will do for someone who already knows a language, but for someone who doesn’t, and the language to be learned includes fairly rare sounds which are not in one’s own language, nothing beats a good phonetic transcription with international characters (and instruction about how to recognize and pronounce such characters). This does not mean that such a transcription is preferable to traditional spelling, or even to a simplified transcription for general use, but it is an indispensable adjunct. (When I was a student of English, I did not buy an English dictionary – there were several large ones I could consult in libraries – but I bought an English pronouncing dictionary where the words were not defined but just written in phonetic transcription).
    In the present case, for a book meant for a general as well as a specialized readership, a full transcription with diacritics seems to me to be preferable to the Qalam – non-linguists or non-Arabists can ignore the diacritics, but those familiar with the transcription will be happy to have a true phonetic representation. Another solution would be to use a less detailed transcription in the body of the text, but to have a list of all Arabic words in a separate section of the book, with the simplified transcription as in the text, a full phonetic transcription, and if possible the original spelling in Arabic characters.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    The Qalam transcription has one big problem: it would have to be used like the official transcription of Klingon, that is, without any capitalization for any other purpose. Unfortunately, it isn’t used that way, and you have to guess whether a word begins with s or S if it happens to be at the start of a sentence.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    Nor is it obvious, for instance, that dh does not mean the sound of th in other

    It does — except that this rare sound has AFAIK disappeared in most modern “dialects”.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t know Arabic, I just know phonetic transcription, and I am going by the information under Qalam in the site linked to above. The symbol does not look like what would be used for the. Perhaps the sound has not “disappeared” but has changed into /been replaced by something else.

  37. Nor is it obvious, for instance, that dh does not mean the sound of th in other, or the one from India as in Radha or Buddha, but something quite different.
    I find it quite obvious from the context. When I see dh or gh or kh, they look to me like dipthongs, but not English dipthongs. I find them easy to distinguish from two separate consonents that separate two syllables. They approximate the actual sounds in Arabic even if you don’t know these sounds in Arabic, but they give you the impression it is a different sound from any you have heard before. Once you have learned some Arabic, they represent specific sounds. Sorry, but anything remotely like French just doesn’t click with me. I might attempt occasional bad Latin here, but never French.

  38. Burton’s adaptation of French foutre is famous, is it not? But futter never passed into general use.

  39. You guys are getting way too pedantic. That stuff doesn’t count here, this is more a case of “horseshoes and hand grenades”. The goal here is not to produce an alphabet that can be rewritten into Arabic with precision, but to approximate the sounds so a reader with some concept of English phonics can have an idea of what the sounds look and just read the stupid book already without flipping around a lot of pages and looking up a bunch of footnotes. I’m a footnote person myself and I have never looked up these stupid diacriticals (okay, except for the s with the dot thing, which I found appalling)
    In all reality, I can’t really tell the difference between s and S or d and D in spoken Arabic–I suspect it has more to do with the vowels that follow them than with the consonants themselves. When I write in my super-secret home Arabic transliteration notetaking code, I don’t differentiate between them, and quite frankly, the Arabs don’t have any problem understanding my consonants. We won’t mention vowels. Sometimes I do write h as H, if I hear them pronounce the H with a strong exhalation, maybe because it sounds so sexy.

  40. foutre? futter?
    Google translate fails me, I do hope it’s something naughty.

  41. It’s the f-word.

  42. a good phonetic transcription with international characters
    Marie-lucie, is there anything standardized enough to use consistently? It seems like whenever I read something with lots or Arabic words in it, there is always a different system used. To me there is no point in learning some system that will not help me with the next book I might pick up.

  43. Id est, both naughty and nice.

  44. “Futter” sounds vaguely like pederasty. Or maybe “bugger” (or should I say “bother”).
    I’ve never heard “foutre”. It sounds French.

  45. Besides transcription problems, Arabic transcription has lots of dialect differences. Chinese is almost always transcribed in Mandarin, and occasionally in Cantonese, and since about 1900 there have really been only two main transcriptions. Things like “Kieuw” for “Qu” are archaic.

  46. Besides transcription problems, Arabic transcription has lots of dialect differences. Chinese is almost always transcribed in Mandarin, and occasionally in Cantonese, and since about 1900 there have really been only two main transcriptions. Things like “Kieuw” for “Qu” are archaic.

  47. michael farris says:

    “The goal here is not to produce an alphabet that can be rewritten into Arabic with precision, but to approximate the sounds so a reader with some concept of English phonics can have an idea of what the sounds look and just read the stupid book already without flipping around a lot of pages and looking up a bunch of footnotes.”
    I actually agree (as I wrote) the transcription/transliteration used for Arabic in a general text for the general reader in English doesn’t have to be good, just (very) roughly understandable to roughly literate reader (even a key is not that necessary, and if Sally Housecoat reads ‘j’ as having it’s Spanish value then it doesn’t matter at all. Those who are really interested can figure it out or find an Arabic speaker to ask (they’re not exactly rare).
    On the other hand for any text intended for linguists, the diacritics have to be there and ‘sh’ (for that matter th and dh and kh) just don’t cut it for lots of reasons.
    I find qalam ugly mostly because no language is actually written that way and it disturbs my sense of what capital letters ‘really’ mean. If a language works out a functional everyday orthography with mixed case letters then I’ll just have to swall my aesthetic sense and accept it. Until then it’s uggggggly.
    Lastly, I’m apalled that Nijma wants to wall off Czech orthographics into a Czech ghetto rather than recognize their vast international scope (that’s a joke, really).

  48. The hacek, the pistol, the howitzer, the wagenburg, and the Reformation were all Czech inventions. And the Svejk.

  49. The hacek, the pistol, the howitzer, the wagenburg, and the Reformation were all Czech inventions. And the Svejk.

  50. no language is actually written that way
    What about internet RUDE SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS? Except that in Arabic certain individual consonants are being stressed or shouted.
    Or what about Irish names. McDonald’s. McCain. O’Connor. O’Leary. There, you have the apostrophe hamza symbol too. So it HAS been done before. Not that I would consider that a valid argument for not doing something.
    As I said before, my home alliteration doesn’t necessarily use it, and you don’t need to differentiate between d and D in order to follow the Arabic enough to get the idea. But picture the phrase for “I love you”: “Ana behebik”.
    If instead, you write it “Ana beHebik” can’t you just visualize the heavy breathing that evokes in the second syllable?
    Czechs–what a bunch of wild and crazy guys.

  51. From 1981 (the late John Belushi shows up towards the end)
    The Czech Brothers: “Two wild and crazy guys.”

  52. Pronunciation of “Ana behebik” (ana ba7ebak aktar) sung by an Egyptian and a Greek with subtitles in English. Arabic transliteration using numbers for letters.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Various points about Arabic transcription (seen from the point of view of someone who does not know Arabic except for a few general linguistic facts):
    - Nijma, who said anything about French? not me, I just mentioned an internationally valid transcription.
    - It is a pity that there should be several competing transcriptions for Arabic, but the international one should be valid no matter what language you speak (assuming that you have taken the trouble to learn what the characters and diacritics represent, you won’t have to learn them twice).
    - Nijma mentioned works to be read by “both” general and specialist readers, and this is what I was commenting on.
    - “a transcription valid for English speakers”: this assumes a) that it is sufficient for those speakers, and b) that a book written in English will not be translated into other languages: I don’t mean translating an English version of the Arabian Nights into another language, but for instance translating an English-language book on Middle Eastern history into another language where the Arabic words would have to be retransliterated according to the new language. (For instance, whatever transcription Galland used in his French translation is probably not right for English readers). The only way to do a retransliteration of the same words, geared to speakers of another language (let’s say German or Finnish or Japanese) would be to go back to a full phonetic transcription and work from there to simplify it for the language in question.
    - When learning another language, very few adults will sound just like native speakers, and that should not necessarily be the goal of language instruction, but if you are not taught how to make the significant contrasts in the language you will always force your listeners to mentally adjust to your pronunciation, and that will stand in the way of your actual words being attended to. For instance, eef I was go-eeng too yoose a seeck FRench ac-cent when spee-keeng too yoo, yoo wood soon bee-come ti-Red of my con-vaiR-sai-shun end yoo wood bee-come fo-cused on my ac-cent Ra-zuR zan my i-deas.
    Arabic has a number of sounds which are difficult to hear and produce for speakers of other languages, and phonetic approximation where you use the same sound where Arabic might have four different ones can only get you so far. For instance, one thing I learned is that there is a difference between kalbi and qalbi: one (I don’t remember which) means “my heart” and the other one “my dog”, surely an important reason not to mix up k and q (the latter pronounced further back in the mouth).
    - Mixing upper and lower case: In the Irish or Scottish case the words are complex, and more importantly, the upper and lower case are just versions of the same letter, they do not represent different sounds, but the Qalam spelling uses capital letters for sounds that are different from the those of the plain letters. (This is sometimes the case for phonetic transcription, but that kind of transcription is not meant for general spelling purposes).
    - Finally, nobody needs to call themself an “ignoramus”: it is always possible to learn.

  54. Marie-lucie, is there anything standardized enough to use consistently?
    What about the DMG system, i.e. the one Wehr uses, which is almost identical to DIN-31635? That one seems fairly standard…

  55. Crap, should have scrolled all the way up. Well, in that case:
    Why would anyone want to write Arabic as if it were pronounced like Czech?
    Sorry, that doesn’t make sense. I could ask ‘why would anyone want to write Arabic as if it were pronounced like English’ and … Nope, still doesn’t make sense.
    When I see dh or gh or kh, they look to me like dipthongs, but not English dipthongs.
    But those are not diphthongs…
    If instead, you write it “Ana beHebik” can’t you just visualize the heavy breathing
    Um… No? Besides, it’s more like “anā baḥebbak/anā baḥibbak” and in most dialects, there’s a difference between that and “anā baḥebbik/baḥibbik”.
    If you want a reason to stick to DMG/DIN-31635, I’ll give you two: Wehr and “Handbuch der arabischen Dialekte”. The former remains the number one dictionary of Arabic and the latter is the standard work on Arabic dialects. Both of them use DMG/DIN-31635 and both of them are indispensable to any student of Arabic. And that’s not to mention scholarly journals like ZAL or Arabica.
    Sorry to be blunt, but where I come from, students of Arabic have to learn to read Cyrillic/Russian and German. Is it that much to ask to get used to a very simple and very elegant transctiption?

  56. Except that in Arabic certain individual consonants are being stressed or shouted.
    No, they are not. They’re pharyngealized or perhaps velarized and in case of ḥ, pharyngeal all the way. Maybe this is another reason not to use qalam – it might be too intuitive and thus misrepresents the nature of the consonant.

  57. I, for one, would like to see an expanded trend in publishing works like the Arabian Nights in bilingual editions with the original and the translation on facing pages.
    Can I get an amen? Can I get a hallelujah? Can I get a friggin’ EU directive mandating this?
    There is this wonderful Czech printing house called OIKOYMENH. For the past few years, they’ve been printing various works of philosophy and theology in bilingual editions, including Isidore of Sevilla’s “Etymologiae”, Dante’s “De Vulgari Eloquentia” and even selected texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls (edited and translated in part by the late Stanislav Segert). May God bless them and everyone else emulate them.

  58. Chinese is pretty good for having facing pages editions of all the classics, except not novels IIRC. In Taiwan they also have editions telling you the correct pronunciations of everything, probably for Hokkienes, etc., non-native speakers of Mandarin.

  59. Chinese is pretty good for having facing pages editions of all the classics, except not novels IIRC. In Taiwan they also have editions telling you the correct pronunciations of everything, probably for Hokkienes, etc., non-native speakers of Mandarin.

  60. michael farris says:

    “it’s more like “anā baḥebbak/anā baḥibbak” and in most dialects, there’s a difference between that and “anā baḥebbik/baḥibbik””
    But does the b- prefix exist in MSA? I thought it was restricted to certain colloquials (roughly from Egyptian thru Syria). IIRC it doesn’t occur in Maghrebi (or peninsular?) dialcts….
    For what it’s worth, the Tunisian dialect I’m using in Field methods hardly appears (so far) to use pharyngeal t, d and s. Our consultant is _very_ picky about some things but hasn’t once tried to correct a t, d or s except for length a few times. She might be prioritizing and waiting for us to be able to pronounce ḥ halfway decently before tackling the trickier issues and the general phonetic impresssion of everything is so tense I wonder how anyone could notice any extra tenseness.
    My idea is maybe that they show up in the vowel qualities (as in the choice between [a] and [e] but lose the contrast otherwise but that’s not clear. On the other hand, the double d in dda:r (the house) sounds very different from the single d in da:r…) and not just longer.

  61. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Nij: Or what about Irish names. McDonald’s.
    Is this some sort of joke, Nij?

  62. michael,
    But does the b- prefix exist in MSA?
    You’re right, it doesn’t occur in MSA or in Maghrib. It’s
    For what it’s worth, the Tunisian dialect I’m using in Field methods hardly appears (so far) to use pharyngeal t, d and s.
    Wow, now that would be something. Are you really sure? Do you have any audio you’d be willing to share?
    Our consultant is _very_ picky about some things but hasn’t once tried to correct a t, d or s except for length a few times.
    Well, there’s a difference between documenting and teaching/learning.
    the double d in dda:r (the house) sounds very different from the single d in da:r
    The d should not be pharyngealized, on the other hand, the r might be. Again, I’d love to hear it.

  63. michael farris says:

    “Wow, now that would be something. Are you really sure? Do you have any audio you’d be willing to share?”
    No, I’m not sure at all (about a lot of things). No audio yet, but I might be able to get some later.
    “Well, there’s a difference between documenting and teaching/learning”
    Well, traditionally in a field methods environment you learn about lots of distinctions thru your inability to hear or say them correctly (so that you produce forms that mean something else or gibberish that the consultant can’t understand at all). Neither one of those has happened yet (except with h, ḥ and x).
    “the double d in dda:r (the house) sounds very different from the single d in da:r
    The d should not be pharyngealized, on the other hand, the r might be.”
    I don’t think the dd is pharyngealized, but the doubled version sounds …. more different than just doubled. The next elicitation won’t happen for a couple of weeks so I’m going to go over my data some more looking for how the vowel allophones are distributed.

  64. Well, traditionally in a field methods environment you learn about lots of distinctions thru your inability to hear or say them correctly
    I’m fine with ‘hear’, but I’m not so sure about the ‘say’ part. It took most of my classmates almost two years of extended exposure to spoken Arabic to get the emphatics right, somehow I don’t see how the same could be accomplished within a field methods class.
    To clarify: the difference in baḥibbak/baḥibbik lies in the object pronouns – the former is masculine, the latter feminine.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t know Arabic, I just know phonetic transcription, and I am going by the information under Qalam in the site linked to above. The symbol does not look like what would be used for the.

    The DIN 31635 symbol is the Semitist symbol for IPA [ð]. An underscore means “fricative” to Semitists.

    In all reality, I can’t really tell the difference between s and S or d and D in spoken Arabic–I suspect it has more to do with the vowels that follow them than with the consonants themselves.

    Being pharyngealized (which means “extra-dark” like the L in Allāh), they pull adjacent vowels in a direction towards the English “ah”-sound (I’m being specific because here the difference to the Spanish/French a matters). And because all sorts of Arabic distinguish* few vowels (four to six, AFAIK, and that’s counting the length difference where it exists), there’s a lot of movement that can go on before the danger of confusion arises. So, in at least some “dialects”, a learner can — I imagine — get pretty far by pretending that Arabic distinguishes more vowels and fewer consonants and has a couple of very odd rules about which vowels can occur next to which consonants.
    * By this I mean using their differences to distinguish words.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    Scottish surnames with Mc-: that’s an abbreviation for “Mac”, which means “son” and is (when spelled out) followed by a space (and I think an article in actual Gaelic). In earlier centuries, it was common to add another step of abbreviation when the Mc- convention would have produce a cC as in McCain: further contraction and an apostrophe, for example M’Cain.
    Irish surnames with O’-: that’s a fairly silly misunderstanding of the word Ó.

    I don’t think the dd is pharyngealized, but the doubled version sounds …. more different than just doubled.

    Long voiced plosives are difficult to pronounce, because the rising pressure tends to stop the vibration of the vocal chords. So, maybe the long d you hear is prenasalized or implosive, which, incidentally, would be mighty cool.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    The DIN 31635 symbol is the Semitist symbol for IPA [ð]. An underscore means “fricative” to Semitists.
    I did not know that Semitists had their own transcription, I have been touting the IPA (or at least an international transcription) as something that is broadly applicable to all languages. Still, if DIN etc is a generally accepted transcription among Semitists (Semiticists?), then that is the one that a learner of Arabic should become familiar with (in terms of what the symbols and diacritics are and what sounds they stand for).

  68. I’ve been leafing through various books I have where Arabic words are represented in English, and I’m not seeing any consistent system.

  69. Nijma,
    well that depends on the type of the book, the audience or the author. I was somewhat surprised when I first opened Jonathan Owens’ “Linguistic History of Arabic” to see that he used a system where pharyngealization was marked with a circle under the letter, the glottal stop was transcribed the IPA way, shin was sometimes [ʃ] and sometimes ‘sh’ and long vowels were written the same way they are in qalam. But what marie-lucie and I said still stands – if there is a standard, which DMG/DIN 31635 appears to be, let’s stick to that.

  70. I think it depends somewhat on the first language of the person reading it too. That’s where we get our internalized ideas about rules for writing language.

  71. It shouldn’t depend on the first language of the person reading it; that’s the whole point of having a standardized system.

  72. And that’s why they changed at least one “standardized” system–the native German speakers were having trouble with j so they changed it to g with some sort of marking. So now the “international” system makes sense–to native German speakers.

  73. the native German speakers were having trouble with j so they changed it to g with some sort of marking.
    No, English speakers had a problem with that and the French complained, too. Germans read j the way God intended it to be read, so there could have been no confusion for them.
    So now the “international” system makes sense–to native German speakers.
    No, it doesn’t. There are no háčeks, no underdots, macrons or underscores in German.

  74. A.J.P. Crown says:

    When I lived in Germany I found they even had DIN rain. This was useful for calculating the minimum allowable pitch for drainage.

  75. marie-lucie says:

    The international phonetic alphabet uses letters and diacritics from a variety of sources, as well as some madeup ones. It does not favour one language over others, except that it is based on the Latin alphabet, so Russians, Arabs, Chinese, etc are the ones who have extra work to do in order to learn it. But many linguistic works written in those languages do include international phonetic transcriptions, so you can for instance see pages of Japanese script with examples of words and sentences from Japanese or other languages written in the phonetic alphabet.

  76. When I lived in Germany I found they even had DIN rain

    DIN standards can have annoying side effects. Many of you will have experienced having a loop of your bathrobe get caught on the handle of a door when you pass from one room into another. (This occurs here in Germany, since people still wear bathrobes and most doors have handles, not knobs. I assume everyone in America now wears silk house kimonos and rustles through bead curtains when changing rooms, and doors rarely have handles instead of knobs – but think back to childhood).
    DIN comes in like this. A standard average person of certain dimensions and proportions is defined. When this person’s arms are hanging, he (sorry, ladies) raises his hand slightly to (un)buckle his belt. Since he does this several times a day, if he gets lucky, this is considered to be a natural height for his hand to be at. Doors have to opened and closed many times a day, even when your luck runs out. So the height of door handles and belts was standardized to the same value, for convenient living. This is why larger belt loops, as on a bathrobe, get caught on door handles.
    The information about belts and doors comes from a fat DIN standard volume I once had to consult for some other reason. The justification for the slightly raised hand was a tad different from the one I just gave, but this is the way I was able to remember it. You sometimes get caught even when you’re lucky.

  77. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Well it’s just average Germans who get their belts caught. And you can easily avoid it, if you’re too average, by having your legs shortened by 20mm (or stretched, but that’s harder). Or you can wear braces.

  78. A.J.P. Crown says:

    (Not on your teeth, obviously. The ones that hold up your trousers).

  79. hold up your trousers

    JJ, that is not what average guys want to do. I fear I didn’t get my point across. Or are you considerably older than me?

  80. Translation: braces is British for “suspenders”. Young guys look really hot in these. Older guys probably want something that will disguise the belly a little. In the house Americans wear sweats. Then you can either sleep in them or excercise in them and no one knows if you just got out of bed or just finished working out.
    My doorknobs are a good 7 or 8 inches below my waistline, as are my hands. Europeans must be either very short waisted or very long armed. And since more than 51% of the population is female, the average person is female, actually. But that’s not why we wear sweats.

  81. Since the Arabs already have a western keyboard version of their language for texting, isn’t is a bit prescriptionist to make up a new international one(s)instead of using the one they all use? Oh, and Arabic doesn’t have capital letters either–isn’t it strange to put them in just because they’re represented in English? I know I’m wondering about things that don’t matter, but I’m in a wondering mood.

  82. No, wait, if their hands end at their waistlines, Europeans would be short armed, wouldn’t they?

  83. marie-lucie says:

    Since the Arabs already have a western keyboard version of their language for texting, isn’t is a bit prescriptionist to make up a new international one(s)instead of using the one they all use?
    Nobody is talking of making a new international phonetic transcription for transcribing Arabic, the point is that there is already a phonetic transcription which is used in a lot of scholarly literature and which faithfully represents the sounds of the language. For obvious reasons, a “texting” version is not going to be older than the phonetic transcription bulbul and I have been referring to. And just as “texting” conventions for English use neither the regular spelling nor a true phonetic transcription, it is likely that the Arabic counterpart may miss some of the subtleties of pronunciation. Again as in texting, the shortcuts may not matter for native speakers, who can reconstruct the actual words meant, but they would definitely be a hindrance to a learner or scholar who would need the transcription to be much more precise.

  84. michael farris says:

    Nijma, the romanization needs vary in different situations.
    Native Arabic speakers wanting to text in an ASCII environment,
    English speakers reading a novel (written in Arabic or some other language) set in the Arab world,
    linguists presenting an analysis of some aspect of Arabic grammar to other linguists.
    Each of these groups have different needs and a system that works well for one could and would be a catastrophe for another.
    For the first group an ad hoc mixed case system (also using numbers as consonants and/or diagraphs or not making certain distinctions that are important in Arabic script at all) is fine, all that’s required is that each can read the other’s writing.
    Mixed case transciption would look out of place in an English text (as would numbers). Diagraphs are okay and if the reader misinteprets j as a German or Spanish j then no harm done. A few diacritics probably won’t bother many people but aren’t required.
    For a linguistic analysis of Arabic the principle one symbol per consonant phoneme is imperative (since the distribution of consonants and vowels is so important) so diagraphs are out and mixed case is distracting and/or not formal enough looking (especially when capitalization might be desired). And since the Latin consonant inventory doesn’t match up well with Arabic this pretty much means diacritics are going to be required.
    I’m personally not a big fan of DMG/DIN 31635 for various reasons but it does what it’s designed to do well enough (and it’s target audience is not Arabs texting each other or Angolophone readers of general interest material but linguists speaking many different languages who need a Latin transcription for their work). I think ǧ makes some sense since the sound was at one time a (palatalized) g (and the hacek indicates palatalization internationally in linguistics). It also acknowledges the Egyptian reversion to [g].

  85. marie-lucie says:

    Excellently put, Michael.
    I would add that a serious student of Arabic (not necessarily interested in the linguistics of the language) does need to be familiar with the sounds and their accurate transcription. This is true for any language, but it is especially important for a language (or family of languages) which has many consonant sounds which are relatively rare in languages in general, and which are likely to be confused or misinterpreted by speakers of languages with fewer or more common consonants.

  86. Native speakers of Arabic also tend to leave off the vowel markings. I’m not sure if they do that in texting, probably not as much. مرحبا (mrhba) (hello) probably becomes marhaba. It would be easy enough to look on Majoob or another forum to see. But in Arabic they very rarely add the caseras and fathas, the diacritic vowel markings above and below the letters, in everyday handwriting.
    Here’s an actual example of texting from the Majoob forum: بنت girl (bnt)(pronounced “bint”) becomes “bint” in texting.

  87. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Grumbly Stu, at 55 I’m nearly as old as Beethoven was when he died, so I’m sure I’m considerably older than the average German, M. or F., and you’ll have to be more direct if you want me to understand something either sexual, technical or toilet-related (or both, or all three).

  88. Oh, AJP, stop sniveling about your age. You are in your prime. If you don’t want to end like Beethoven, don’t chew on paint chips.

  89. you’ll have to be more direct if you want me to understand

    <Sigh> The easiest thing would be for me simply to lift my mind out of the gutter. I’ll get to work on that this weekend.

  90. A.J.P. Crown says:

    The point about Beethoven is that if we are to be compared, I’ve only got eighteen months to write nine symphonies, piano concertos, sonatas. That’s not counting the time required to learn the piano; it’s just not going to work.
    Don’t worry about being in the gutter. Just remember the thing about looking at the stars while you’re there; it’s a lot more dignified than lying on a sofa looking at an acoustical tile ceiling.

  91. it’s just not going to work.
    In that case, you’d better write a novel.

  92. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Thanks, but I’m happier just reading novels. And knowing it’s not going to work.

  93. michael farris says:

    “Native speakers of Arabic also tend to leave off the vowel markings… Here’s an actual example of texting from the Majoob forum: بنت girl (bnt)(pronounced “bint”) becomes “bint” in texting.”
    Yeah, for all the beauty of Arabic script, the everyday vowelless form is not a tool that aids in the analysis of Arabic structure (unless the vowels are written in, which is awkward and probably makes it harder for Arabs to read).
    In texting, where perfect phonemic accuracy is certainly not required, adding in vowels can make up for some of the ambiguities of diagraphs or just not making certain consonant distinctions.

  94. But native speakers of Arabic rarely text in MSA. So when they text, they attempt to write, best they can, what is largely an unwritten language.

  95. “unless the vowels are written in, which is awkward and probably makes it harder for Arabs to read”
    I think they don’t know how to do it. The Koran is the only thing I’ve seen fully vowelled, but religious knowledge isn’t all that common, in spite of having it in public school. The people I knew were educated too, mostly other teachers.
    [colloquial Arabic] “largely an unwritten language”
    I’m not so sure about that either. They seem to be able to produce handwritten notes for each other pretty automatically, like in case an edjnabeeya with challenged Arabic skills needs something complex written down for another native speaker to read at the other end. If you ask about MSA or if they feel compelled to give it to you out of propriety, they have to think about it for a minute or two before they write it.

  96. They seem to be able to produce handwritten notes for each other pretty automatically
    Which is why I included the caveat ‘largely’. I routinely text, IM and write emails in my native dialect, yet I’d still hesitate to say that it is a written language. For one, there is no accepted orthography.

  97. David Marjanović says:

    I did not know that Semitists had their own transcription

    Sadly, the IPA is so young that everyone has their own transcription. The Caucasianists have one, the Uralists have another… you know the Americanist one, I suppose…

    and the hacek indicates palatalization internationally in linguistics

    Not in the IPA, where it means “rising tone” (and therefore wouldn’t be used on a g).

    I routinely text, IM and write emails in my native dialect, yet I’d still hesitate to say that it is a written language.

    I never text, IM or write e-mails in my native dialect. That’s because its vowel system and a few other things are so different from Standard German* that I’d have to literally sit down and think up some kind of spelling system, however incoherent, and then I’d have to teach it to someone before I could use it…
    * And it’s not something simple like (AFAIK) the vowel system of Standard Arabic is /æ æː i iː u uː/ while generic Maghrebi has /aː iː uː ɪ/ instead. May the term Middle Bavarian e Confusion suffice.

  98. David Marjanović says:

    And, of course, Proto-Indo-European is written in its own transcription, which differs from that used for Proto-Germanic. In general, historical linguists almost never seem to use IPA — for, I suppose, historical reasons…

  99. I never text, IM or write e-mails in my native dialect. That’s because its vowel system and a few other things are so different from Standard German
    Yeah, but that’s because you’re aware of it. I expect people who are not use something resembling Standard German orthography.

  100. I routinely text, IM and write emails in my native dialect
    I haven’t yet figured out everything bulbul speaks, much less which one is native. I would have guessed English.
    Texting wasn’t available when I first lived there, and email was new. By the time I left, the price of everything had dropped and even I could afford a mobile. The Arabs are such social creatures, I can’t imaging the lack of a standardized anything could keep them from trying to communicate. The tenders of the internet cafes were pretty good at it.
    All of the colloquial Arabic teachers we had were in amazing agreement about how to spell everything. I don’t doubt for a minute they use it every day. There was also a colloquial Arabic grammar text in several volumes that I don’t remember the name of with a bunch of annoying conjugations. My tutor liked to write little conversations with lots of slang.

  101. Lets avoid anti-Semitistism, please. They’re free to use their own indigenous writing system if they wish.

  102. Lets avoid anti-Semitistism, please. They’re free to use their own indigenous writing system if they wish.

  103. AJP: I’m nearly as old as Beethoven was when he died
    Being the same age as AJP (29, officially) I would have to say that lately I have been having more frequent thoughts about my own mortality. Probably goes with the territory. It doesn’t help to get one of those phone calls at an unreasonable hour that looking at the caller ID you know you’ll regret answering (no one I was close to). Still you want to use the remaining years wisely and think of what kind of legacy you want to leave. Or what types of hedonism have not been sufficiently explored. Perhaps for AJP, a small tome on designing goat spaces? I have always wondered about whether the Norwegians really live in the same building above their animals, and when Kron says he blogs with the goats 10 feet away, the imagination runs wild. Ah, but the mice are living with the goats, and not with the people, so that argues for a separate goat domicile. I have seen the Danish chicken houses with the 3-foot thick walls; maybe that’s how Norwegian goats live.
    Did I say the same age as AJP? Not quite, I think I’m about three months older. Virgo?

  104. And whatever is taking Gumbo-Stu so much time in the bathroom–could it be the Germanic water is not as quality controlled as Texas water?–I think it’s time for him to defecate or discommode.

  105. michael farris says:

    “In general, historical linguists almost never seem to use IPA — for, I suppose, historical reasons…”
    Well …. actually it’s because IPA is just not that versatile or useful in doing what most linguists do most of the time. It can be very useful for a certain kind of phonetic transcription (crucially, when you already know what’s going on) and that’s about it.
    In field linguistics the immediate concern is getting past phonetic complications to be able to perceive the phonemic structure and IPA just doesn’t help in that regard.
    “while generic Maghrebi has /aː iː uː ɪ/”
    The Tunisian dialect I’m working with has either three or four (I’m currently thinking that in synchronic terms it has four but /a/ and /e/ are levelled some contexts – or to put it diachronically the original /a/ has split into /a/ and /e/ in at least some contexts).
    Also, I would say that phonemically the vowels don’t occupy positions on a vowel chart but areas (that may overlap). Each vowel has a fairly wide area and depending on its position in the word (and/or the consonants around it) gets pulled in some direction or other, but trying to pin down the difference between these small hearable variations in IPA isn’t going to help at this stage especially since it often happens that if our consultant repeats a word three times the vowel sounds different each time…
    Different problems with IPA will arise in historical linguistics, contrastive linguistics, etc.

  106. michael farris says:

    “I haven’t yet figured out everything bulbul speaks, much less which one is native”
    psssst (looks around warily and whispers) …. Slovak …. (and maybe… Hungarian). Remember I don’t gossip, so you didn’t hear it from me….

  107. michael farris says:

    “All of the colloquial Arabic teachers we had were in amazing agreement about how to spell everything”
    I think it depends on the particular variety, but a number of the colloquials have pretty well worked out informal orthographies (in Arabic script). And dialect writing does appear in some contexts.
    Egyptian (possibly the best worked out) has its own (still very small) Wikipedia:
    http://arz.wikipedia.org/wiki/
    I’ve read that one point there was the possibility of establishing Egyptian as the official language but pan-Arabism was finally decided to be in the best interest of the elites.
    For an example of (informal, incomplete) romanization of Egyptian there’s this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caMTgLwHIxM
    One interesting point, when Scar says he murdered Simba’s father he uses the typical Egyptian glottal stop for /q/ “I murdered” written atalt, but when Simba calls him a murderer he uses the more MSA /q/ written qatil .

  108. A.J.P. Old Fart says:

    In texting, where perfect phonemic accuracy is certainly not required, adding in vowels can make up for some of the ambiguities of diagraphs or just not making certain consonant distinctions.
    This was not a problem in the old days, when people used the telephone.

  109. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Grumbly Stu must take his showers before 10 p.m., or face arrest.
    Hens live below blogging room, goats in adjoining building, parrot & dog in house, horse 300 metres away, badgers in between, mice everywhere.

  110. And whatever is taking Gumbo-Stu so much time in the bathroom

    The crapper has been unoccupied this long while. I said my mind was in the gutter, not the latter.

    I never text, IM or write e-mails in my native dialect. That’s because its vowel system and a few other things are so different from Standard German* that I’d have to literally sit down and think up some kind of spelling system, however incoherent, and then I’d have to teach it to someone before I could use it..

    German youfs, when texting, don’t just leave out vowels. Because even everyday German words can be long, they have to be abbreviated. If you only left out the vowels, the result would be unintelligible. The other day a guy sent me an SMS with the word “tellen” in it. Because he speaks Kölsch, at first I thought this was an English-based neologism, associated with “verzälle” = “erzählen” = “tell”. It turns out to be a short form of “telefonieren”.

  111. “mice everywhere”
    No cat.
    My dog enjoyed having kittens very much. Not sure how the parrot would feel, nervous maybe. The mice would definitely feel crowded.
    Sometimes I miss having animals, but I don’t miss taking care of them. That’s what my dairy-farmer uncle who just died said about cows when he retired. When you have to milk the cows every day, you can’t go on vacation.

  112. “This was not a problem in the old days, when people used the telephone.”
    Ah, but in the old days they shot a gun into the air, and everyone would know there was news and come running to see what it was. Usually an engagement notice, or maybe even guests. Before the British influence, the sound of grinding coffee beans with mortar and pestle was a loud announcement of the arrival of guests. Back when the dessert was empty you could fire a gun in the air with no problem, but these days people live so packed together you can’t fire a gun without hitting someone somewhere. Just ask the people who are out looking for a private place to park in the countryside. But why must the Arabs continue to fire their guns now that they all have cell phones?

  113. I haven’t yet figured out everything bulbul speaks, much less which one is native. I would have guessed English.
    You flatter me, jā Niǧma :) It’s actually a little complicated, but let’s say that my native languages are Slovak and Hungarian. Plus there’s some German from one side of the family. That native dialect is Eastern Slovak.
    michael,
    thanks for the link. That romanization illustrates very well the usual problems: ‘ stands for both the glottal stop and the pharyngeal approximant, no distinction is made for the emphatics, the placement of ayin in off (they write a’yish for what should be ‘aayish) etc.
    As for [q] in e.g. 2:41 (Scar), I’d say this is diglossia at play. Unlike my classmates, I am not fluent in Egyptian dialect, but having seen a few Disney movies in Egyptian Arabic, I suspect their language is tilting ever so slightly in the MSA direction.
    OMFG “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story in Arabic!

  114. marie-lucie says:

    Michael Farris, I don’t understand why you are so against the IPA (the “International Phonetic Alphabet”). Surely it is meant for phonetic transcription and does that job well. The fact that you as a linguist have to sort out which are the important sounds and which ones are variants, and to decide how to represent the important ones in a way that makes sense for the language in question, is another matter, for which you can make a choice which may not depend entirely on the phonetics (eg to set up a practical orthography, or as a technical spelling for a language area with commonalities in phonetics).
    I consider myself a historical linguist and see no problem with using the IPA symbols as a foundation, even though reconstructed forms may require some adjustment in symbols (eg when one cannot be sure of the quality of a reconstructed sound), but this is for highly technical work where (for obvious reasons) one does not have access to the exact phonetics.

  115. michael farris says:

    marie-lucie, I’m not really against the IPA (as I wrote, it’s very useful for what it’s designed to do). It’s just that nothing I do really requires or would be enhanced by it and some things I do could be impeded by it.

  116. marie-lucie,
    I won’t speak for michael, but I can imagine several reasons why one wouldn’t like IPA. A number of them have been laid out by Sally Thomason. What I dislike most about IPA is the use of digraphs, some strange choices ([c] for the voiceless palatal stop comes to mind) and the symbol for vowel length. But I am not against IPA and I don’t think michael is either. It’s just that it’s not always the best thing to use.

  117. michael farris says:

    “having seen a few Disney movies in Egyptian Arabic, I suspect their language is tilting ever so slightly in the MSA direction”
    Well that makes sense if Disney doesn’t dub into other varieties of Arabic (though apparently Spanish, French and Portuguese usually are done twice for the new and old worlds respectively).
    I was thinking it might have to do with context. When Scar is using the words, he’s sharing a personal (if hateful) confidence, whereas Simba uses the more formal q in what amounts to a public accusation and as part of his assumption of his role as rightful king …. or I could be just overanalyzing things.

  118. marie-lucie says:

    Bulbul and Michael, thank you for your clarifications. I am not trying to defend the specific choices of the IPA, as the few contested symbols can easily be modified or replaced and do not affect the general validity and usefulness of the whole. ([c] as a palatal stop ??).

  119. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Nij: My dog enjoyed having kittens very much.
    Were you living near chemical waste?

  120. David Marjanović says:

    Yeah, but that’s because you’re aware of it. I expect people who are not use something resembling Standard German orthography.

    Oh no. The differences are so great that everyone is aware of it. For example, in the standard, the tense vowels are long (when stressed, but they are almost always stressed) and the lax ones are short; in the dialect, there is no length contrast, so that the actual phonetic vowel length is all over the place, which means you get combinations that don’t exist in the standard, most obviously [e] and [ɛː]… and literally everything in between (that’s the e confusion). Because they are used to Standard German, people aren’t aware that their own dialect lacks a phonemic length contrast; probably all attempts at writing Bavarian-Austrian dialects contain (rather chaotic) indications of vowel length, especially but not only when it isn’t in the same places as in the standard. There’s an extra vowel phoneme, [ɒ̈] (same as the French an sound, only it’s not nasal). Conversely, the very similar [ɔ] is missing (except in loans from the standard!), so that the /ɔ/ and /oː/ of the standard have merged into /o/. The contrast between /ɪ/ and /iː/ and, I think (!!!), /ʊ/ and /uː/ is also missing. There are several nasal vowels with optional minimal pairs between them and their oral counterparts. The diphthongs [ıɐ̯] and [ʊɐ̯] occur not only in places where they correspond to Standard /ɪʀ/ and /ʊʀ/, but also in places where the standard has /iː/ and /uː/. Finally, the dialect has lax vowels occurring in front of short consonants; the German orthography doesn’t provide for that possibility, making it impossible to write the exclamation of surprise [ˈœha] in a way that will neither be misinterpreted as [ˈøha] nor look simply unpronounceable.
    That’s in total a larger difference than what can be found in all Slavic languages together, including, say, the Silesian dialect of Polish.

    Well …. actually it’s because IPA is just not that versatile or useful in doing what most linguists do most of the time. It can be very useful for a certain kind of phonetic transcription (crucially, when you already know what’s going on) and that’s about it.
    In field linguistics the immediate concern is getting past phonetic complications to be able to perceive the phonemic structure and IPA just doesn’t help in that regard.

    What?
    The IPA is explicitly supposed to cater for phonemic transcriptions. Several sounds that are well described and occur in lots of languages and/or widely spoken languages lack IPA symbols because they don’t contrast phonemically with something that already has one. To get outright phonetic, for example when you want to compare the phonetics of different languages, you need to stack diacritics on top of each other. For example, the French an sound is nothing short of [ɒ̈̃], which almost certainly won’t get displayed in a legible fashion. (Dictionaries will tell you it’s just [ɒ̃] or even [ɑ̃], which makes some sense in a phonemic transcription, but phonetically speaking it’s a lie. What’s really going on is that most dictionaries use brackets, even though brackets are supposed to be used only for phonetic transcription, and slashes for phonemic transcription… I suppose most dictionary-makers simply don’t know what a phoneme is.)

    Also, I would say that phonemically the vowels don’t occupy positions on a vowel chart but areas (that may overlap). Each vowel has a fairly wide area and depending on its position in the word (and/or the consonants around it) gets pulled in some direction or other

    Of course. That’s why I used phonemic transcription and chose the symbols for the (AFAIK) most common allophones (in the kinds of Algerian Arabic that Lameen always talks about).

    I won’t speak for michael, but I can imagine several reasons why one wouldn’t like IPA. A number of them have been laid out by Sally Thomason.

    Yeah. I started writing a reply immediately — and then never found the time to finish and send it. As far as I remember, though, of all her objections only one is defensible: the unquestioned fact that the IPA is not meant to be written by hand and therefore presumably sucks majorly for field linguists that take notes in the field.
    Strangely, Thomason and all other people she mentions in that post seem to be completely unaware of the existence of the tie bar and/or its use to mark affricates as such (especially in phonemic transcription). Was it introduced that recently?

    What I dislike most about IPA is the use of digraphs [...]

    That can come in very handy, because it allows one to write any and all affricates instead of just the most common ones. Were you there when I explained the difference between Polish cz and trz as [t̠͡ʃ] vs [t͡ʃ] two or three months ago?

    and the symbol for vowel length.

    This was a deliberate choice to avoid having to stack diacritics on top of each other. It worked for a time, see above.

    ([c] as a palatal stop ??)

    Yes. Before people noticed the existence of, say, Hungarian, the use of this letter was probably deliberately avoided because it means so many different things between and within so many languages; and then, the basic letter without a sound was combined with the theoretically basic sound without a letter, I suppose. Also, note the connection to [ç], the voiceless palatal fricative.
    For really stupid choices of IPA symbols, I offer [e] and [o] for the the sounds of French é and ô, in spite of the fact that [ɛ] and [ɔ] (French è, and o as in bonne) are much more common at least in Europe and probably worldwide. As a language with an actual [a e i o u] vowel system, I can offer isiZulu and apparently some kinds of Latin American Spanish. I’ll rather go to bed than list dozens of languages with an [a ɛ i ɔ u] vowel system.

  121. David Marjanović says:

    If you get only squares displayed, copy & paste them into the Windows Character Table, highlight them, and set the font to something reasonable like Arial Unicode MS.

  122. michael farris says:

    To (quickly, I have classes tomorrow morning) reply to David.
    My problems with IPA for field linguistics are that the philosophy behind IPA (create a unique symbol for each … sound? allphone? what precisely?) doesn’t mesh well with catching on the fly (a prerequisite of field linguistics) or in thinking in terms of distinctive features and how particular phones relate to phonemes and how phonemes relate to each other. A linguist using IPA in preliminary work would spend too much time trying to match sound to symbol and not enough time figuring out how the distinctive features of the language’s phonemic system are structured.
    As I said, IPA is most useful when you already know what’s going on (never the case in preliminary description, in fact IME things I think I know ahead of time just get in the way).
    Your points about innaccuracies between just make the point I was trying to make. A linguist in the early days of work absolutely cannot depend on their own hearing (unless they’re one in a million with computer ears) and trying to do so will just lead to disaster. The linguist has to learn how to let their consultant’s hearing work for them and the Americanist system (with its no-symbol-is-sacred, feel-free-to-make-your-own-symbol) approach facilitates that in ways that IPA doesn’t.
    For example, there are many, many, many distinctions I just don’t hear. There’s no way on earth I would be able to distinguish between [ɒ̈̃], [ɒ̃] and [ɑ̃] (no, really, I still can’t even reliably hear the difference between cz and ć in Polish though the difference between cz and trz is a lot easier for me).
    Now, if I’m working with a language that maybe makes such a distinction I’ll try (but probably fail for a long time) to hear the difference, but what I really care about is ‘Does the consultant hear a difference?’ in which case I need to distinguish them somehow. If not, then the precise symbol I choose doesn’t matter the slightest in early stages of fieldwork. At a (much) later date I might want to fine tune the phonetic description and might even choose IPA symbols for a formal written description.
    Summary: IPA presupposes that the linguist can make exceedingly fine-tuned distinctions across a variety of languages, whereas in reality …. that’s not usually the case.

  123. David Marjanović says:

    the philosophy behind IPA (create a unique symbol for each … sound? allphone? what precisely?)

    For each sound that occurs in a not too small number of languages as a phoneme separate from something that already has a symbol.
    It goes without saying that reality is more complicated. For example, the labiodental nasal isn’t a separate phoneme anywhere, but has a separate symbol — [ɱ] — probably because it occurs in English.

    A linguist using IPA in preliminary work would spend too much time trying to match sound to symbol and not enough time figuring out how the distinctive features of the language’s phonemic system are structured.

    I don’t see why.

    Summary: IPA presupposes that the linguist can make exceedingly fine-tuned distinctions across a variety of languages

    Not at all. That’s why I used brackets rather than slashes around [ɒ̈]; I could write it as /ɒ/ or arguably even /ɑ/ without losing phonological information. Just /a/ wouldn’t work because there’s already a separate /a/. /ɔ/ would almost work, and so on…
    If you know all the diacritics, you can express a pretty large amount of phonetic precision in IPA. But that’s not usually done.

  124. Were you living near chemical waste?
    I knew what Kron was going to do, I just didn’t know how.

  125. marie-lucie says:

    Michael, David:
    When beginning field work, or learning any language on your own, a linguist should note the sounds as precisely as possible, without trying to determine right away which are the phonemes, let alone the distinctive features which separate them. That way we won’t inadvertently lump together sounds for which there are few minimal pairs but which might turn out to be separate after all. In North America many native languages are now extinct, so we have to rely on earlier linguists’ descriptions, many of which were done before the principle of the phoneme was established, and as a result the detailed phonetic transcriptions can still be useful, sometimes crucially so.
    For instance, in one language I was looking at recently there were some minimal pairs differing only in glottalization of a consonant, so obviously glottalization was phonemic, but some verb stems occurred sometimes without glottalization and sometimes (perhaps in one in ten examples) with glottalization. A more recent linguist had written about this language and either regularized glottalization or written both forms with the note that it was not possible to determine which one was right. I went through the entire corpus of stories, recorded by the earlier linguist before the language died, and discovered that in those doubtful cases the glottalized forms had a different aspectual meaning than the unglottalized ones. This would have been impossible to discover if the first linguist had not faithfully noted glottalization where it occurred, even if it was less common than non-glottalization and he did not realize that the difference was meaningful. In another language some consonants occur with aspiration in a manner which generally suggests allophonic variation, as in English, but this is not true in all cases and I found that some aspirated consonants should be interpreted as corresponding to sequences C+h (as when the h is part of a suffix). This would be hard to decide if the recorder had not faithfully written what he heard but instead ignored aspiration in his transcription because it seemed predictable.

  126. michael farris says:

    marie-lucie,
    I basically agree with everything you write in principle for just the kind of reasons you mention. On the other hand, generally the linguist working with a new language needs to start collecting texts before they have the complete phonetic/phonemic picture (and extreme phonetic transciption can hamper text collection in inconvenient ways).
    Basically, most of the time about 3 sessions is enough for the linguist to have over 90% of the phonemic system worked out. The remaining less than 10 % can take …. years. That’s why before starting to elicit texts, the linguist wants to explicitly record what variation they are and aren’t still distinguishing in their transcription and again explicitly state in their notes each successive decision about the phonemic system. For one thing that means (as in your second example) if the linguist realizes they’ve made a mistake about a phonemic feature, the data that needs to reconsidered can be more quickly isolated. Of course phonetic analysis doesn’t stop once the linguist starts looking at morphology and syntax.
    Your first example sounds like the second linguist simply hadn’t worked with the language long (or well) enough. Congratulations on your excellent detective work!

  127. Christophe Strobbe says:

    A.J.P. Crown wrote:

    When I lived in Germany I found they even had DIN rain.

    And the Dutch have a NEN Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas, not Santa Claus, which is a sad rip-off): see NEN 0512 (PDF) and Sinterklaasnorm NEN 0512 (with video).

  128. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I think this is very sensible. This should, once and for all, nail those “six to eight” black men.

  129. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Unfortunately for a norm institute their links don’t work. You have to google Sinterklaasnorm NEN 0512 to find it.

  130. Christophe Strobbe says:

    Hi, A.J.P. Crown,
    Thanks for the “six to eight black men”.
    The NEN links work for me.
    As far as I know, the real reason for this standard was to draw the general public’s attention to the benefits of standards. (0512 refers to 5 December.)

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