Transliterating Arabic words

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Fraggle Rocker, Jul 18, 2007.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    The name Al Qaeda, as it's customarily spelled in the American press, appeared as usual in an article in today's paper. However, the article extensively quoted a government document, in which it was consistently spelled Al Qaida.

    What is the correct pronunciation of the word? Is that E an English "long E" so it actually sounds like a cardinal I? I know that Arabic is fragmented into dozens of dialects in which pronunciation varies as much as between Glasgow and Dallas. But I also know that "classical" Arabic is accepted as the standard everywhere, so I would assume that transliterations always represent "classical" pronunciation.

    Or is Arabic spelling not terribly phonetic, so we're literally "transliterating" the letters of the Arabic alphabet rather than the sounds of the spoken language? We do that with Russian: the name we spell "Mendeleev" is pronounced Myen-dyel-ye-YOFF.

    Or it could be that Arabic has a set of phonemes that don't map conveniently to the Roman alphabet? Big deal, neither does Mandarin Chinese. That didn't stop the Chinese from inventing the Pin-Yin standardized romanization system and it doesn't stop us from using it. Anyone who wants to recite written romanized Chinese perfectly can learn the system in a couple of days. Arabic is far too important a language to not have a similar resource.

    How about the Arabic news network Al Jazeera? Everyone pronounces it as if it's spelled Al Jazira with a cardinal I. Why don't we write it that way? Or is it actually a double-long cardinal E -- Al Jazayra -- and we're all saying it wrong?

    Considering that we go out of our way to spell Al Qaeda, Aqaba, Qom, and now even Quran, with a Q, to faithfully represent a sound almost none of us knows how to pronounce, you'd think we could do a slightly better job with the vowels!
     
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  3. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    Its hard to explain online the sounds of the different Arabic letters.

    It is a completely phonetic language so once you know the sound of the letter you can pronounce it as written

    The Q sound (as in Qatar) matches up to the letter qaf

    while the K sound (as in Kuwait) matches up to the letter kaf


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    Al Jazeera is pronounced as written with a long ee sound. Al-Jazeera means "the island"

    Al-Qaeda is pronounced as written al - Qa' ay-daa
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2007
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Thanks for the info. I know about the glottal consonants, Q and GH. I had an Iranian friend whose name begins with GH, and I was his only American friend who learned to pronounce it right.
    So, is that a different vowel from the I in Ali, Said, Riyadh, emir, etc.? They don't write those names/words with EE. In fact, I can't think of another Arabic word that is spelled in English with an EE. Why don't they just spell it Jazira?

    And what is the proper pronunciation of Qaeda? Is it an English EE like Jazeera, or a Italian/Polish short E as in "get", or a French/German long E as in "cliche"? Why do some people spell it Qaida?
     
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  7. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    Ali (its Aali, with a short i sound, but not a very long aa as in among)

    Said can be Saeed, Syed (as Sayyad), or Said (short i) all similar but pronounced differently; sometimes Shahid, Shaheed, is also misrepresented as Said.

    Riyadh is Riyaadhh

    Emir is pronounced as Ameer.

    Al Qaeda is as Arabic: القاعدة‎ al-qāʕida; I don't know the IPA but see my edit in the previous post.

    Arabic has several dialects; its spoken slightly differently in Egypt, Morrocco, Tunisia, Lebanon; the differing spellings probably reflect the local flavor of the words.
     
  8. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    Yes you can: baksheesh/ bakshish.

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  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    And I've seen it spelled with an A. Perhaps it was pronounced with an E in the ancient dialect.
    I see, so there's a consonant between the A and the second vowel. One we don't have in English and most Americans don't even hear, a hiccup (for lack of a better word), something like the Rio de Janeiro dialect pronunciation of R. So you're saying that even with our inability to pronounce that consonant, we should be saying Al Qa'ida, not Al Qa'eda. Then we should spell it that way!
    Yeah, we've all learned about that in the past few years as Arabic culture has come into the limelight. Still, we're told that when educated Arabs from diverse regions come together, their lingua franca is the "classical" Arabic that they all learned in school; that's what's spoken on international TV and at academic conferences. One would expect there to be an international standard romanization system, as there is for virtually every other major language that does not use the Roman alphabet. That the U.S. government and the major U.S. newspapers would not spell Al Qaeda two different ways. And that the more prevalent of the two would not be phonetically incorrect.

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    Ah, I haven't heard that word in decades. The explosion of reggae music has gotten us calling it ganja.

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  10. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    Back-handers are ganja?

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    Hashish != baksheesh.
    You got confused maybe?

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  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Ganja is marijuana in its original herbal form. The word is of Sanskrit origin so presumably the Jamaicans picked it up from the island's large Indian community. Sorry, I haven't heard baksheesh in so long that I forgot what it meant.

    But you're right, now that I'm sensitive to the issue, I see the cardinal I sound in Arabic transliterated as EE rather frequently. Mujahedeen, for example, and in fact the whole family of Arabic plurals ending in that syllable.

    I guess there really is no standard, phonetically rigorous system for the transcription of Arabic words. How amazing.
     
  12. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم
     
  13. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    In the name of God, most Gracious and Merciful

    Bismillahii rrahmanii rraheem.
     
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    So why do we write "rraheem" instead of "rrahim" or "rrahiim"?
     
  15. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    I write it as it sounds. e.g. bismillah hiirrahmaan niirraheem would be another way I would write it.

    You can hear it in this audio

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUOltaSiatc
     

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