Arabic for beginners

At Odessa Airport, a multilingual greeting welcomes the traveler: Peace with you. In most of the languages featuring here, this greeting is not colloquial, so probably this is the same situation as in the previous post: that in Odessa, “foreigner” means “Israeli”, and their שָׁלוֹם עֲלֵיכֶם shālôm ʻalêḵem is translated into the other languages.

In most languages this is fine, at least on the level of raw translation. Except for Arabic. Here, the eye accustomed to Arabic writing sees a startling mishmash instead of the correct السلام عليكم as-salāmu ʻalaikum. If you start to spell it, you will soon find out what happened: someone typed the letters of the greeting one by one, and they did not join together in the usual cursive writing. Each letter displays the “stand-alone” form from the four possible (initial, medial, final, stand-alone). And what is even worse: it all is from left to right.

It is likely that someone typed the greeting in an Arabic word processor, and the file was then read in Odessa in a graphic editor of European language, which isolated the letters, and turned the text from left to right. That no one ever bothered to check it, is the shame of the airport.

And it’s a great luck that the greeting was translated from Hebrew and not Yiddish, because in this case it would have rendered Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich in all languages :) Imagine this in Arabic, left to right, with isolated letters…

In another city of Ukraine, in Lemberg, the large café on Ruska Street has the word “coffee” written in a different language above each window. The Yiddish version – קאַווע kāve – was written with the same mistake: not only was it written in reverse, but the patah, the small line under alef, indicating the vowel “a”, was typed as a separate letter. Probably due to a similar word processor incompatibility error. By now, someone has alerted them, so the word figures now right-to-left and with the patah under alef, but the sunlit traces of the old mistake are well visible on the frame of the window.

The actuality of the problem is illustrated by a very current cartoon. Here, Erdoğan, dressed in ISIS uniform, who has marched into northern Syria to commit genocide, is about to cut the throat of a female figure symbolizing the Kurdish people, whose face is borrowed from the Syrian Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf, executed two days ago by the pro-Turkish militia. Meanwhile, Putin is washing his hands, Trump turns away, and the EU puts its head in the sand. The smallest problem with this constellation is that the name of the region represented by the Kurdish figure is written on her chest in the same mistaken way, with isolated letters, and moreover incorrectly, as Kudristan, instead of the correct form, which is


Postscript. As the Lumen blog pointed out, Erdoğan has personally requested the deletion of this post at Google, apparently due to the above cartoon. That’s all he got from it. Google did not comply with the request – and we live in times where I could not add “of course” in this sentence. So I have to be grateful to both Google for their exceptional courage and Erdoğan for the unsolicited publicity. It is amazing how much nothing escapes the dictators’ attention. Of course, in Turkey this is a tradition.

And, while we are at the Turks, let me enrich the collection of fucked-up Arabic inscriptions with this one, which I harvested from the side of an Istanbul kiosk (köşk). It is amazing that it has not yet leapt to the eye of any Turk, who should, in principle, read the Qurʿan in Arabic.

3 comentarios:

Giacomo Ponzetto dijo...

The Romance translations are slightly uncanny for a subtler reason: the greeting is not colloquial, but it is liturgical. I'd imagine a fair number (possibly a majority) of Spanish- and French-speakers have only ever been greeted "La paz sea con vosotros / Que la paix soit avec vous" by a bishop at Mass, and recall with some degree of automatism the response "Y con tu espíritu / Et avec votre esprit." A memory that seems to clash a bit with the airport setting and the character on the poster.

The same responsorial memory doesn't come naturally to me in English because the liturgical formula is "Peace be with you." I'd imagine the deviation from "Der Friede sei mit euch" is also significant in German, which I don't speak.

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, it also sounded liturgical to me (it is also that in Hungarian, just like in German). The Hebrew original was probably translated by someone who did not know that the formula is only used liturgically in all these languages, except for Arabic, which, however, is wrong.

törzsmókus dijo...

seems Erdoğan actually (personally) tried to remove this blog post o_O