The Phoenician Alphabet

Latin-Arabic Alphabetical Order Equivalence Chart

After years of being away due to motherhood-induced upheavals and globetrotting, I am finally back, more intent on sharing my translation-relevant insights, experiences and eventual tips.

Indeed, the other day as I was using an older version of MS Word, I realized that it only included in its bullet points numbering lists the conventional alphabetical order in Arabic (أ ب ث د …) which is not useful  because the order to use in such collation processes is the phoenician-inspired semitic Abjad configuration (that is آبجد هوز حطي كلمن سعفص قرشت ثخذ ضغظ).

I encountered many situations where such an order was not included in the MS Word or Openoffice version I happened to be using, or even in situations of interpretation, and had therefore to write down an improvised chart listing the Latin alphabet with its equivalent Abjad letters on post-it notes, that were later lost and had to be redone whenever the same situation reoccurred.

So I had the idea of making a downloadable spreadsheet of such a chart that can be saved either in its soft or printed format. And of course I thought to share it with any eventual colleague out there. So you only have to click on the link, and download it from the File Menu of Google docs or print it out directly.

Hope many will find this useful.

Lebanon’s Glory in the Heart of Rome

A linguist by profession, a Lebanese by birth and an expat by choice/destiny.  These are the factors that explain, I suppose, why I am an assiduous seeker of Lebanon’s subtle cultural fingerprints around the world… inside words.

Yes, words!

Words say it all you know! Etymology is the key to hidden valuable secrets enclosed within words.

Historical truths and glorious pasts lie under a thin layer of the dust of time, waiting to be revealed by a sharp eye and a keen sense of curiosity.

Questioning the names of places, of persons, of things, always reveals their origin and links them to dimensions unknown to us.

As far as Lebanon is concerned, everywhere I looked, when abroad, I almost always found some connection, some link, that referred to our Lebanese heritage.

In this very instance, I happened to be strolling in the narrow streets of Rome by night to burn some of the calories gulped in sometime before at a restaurant serving exquisite Roman cuisine in the Testaccio area.  As I crossed Via Portico d’Ottavia, I looked up inadvertently and something caught my eye. A word engraved on a small dome in the middle of the street. A word that said: “Libani”!

Libani in Latin could only mean one thing, one name, one place: LEBANON. My homeland.

I went closer and there it was:  a small cupola-roofed sanctuary with one sentence engraved on it: “GLORIA LIBANI DATA EST EL, DECORUM CARMELI ET SARON”.

Even though I have never studied Latin, my brain cells scurried to work out  connections between scattered pieces of knowledge stored in there for years… A mental-mnemonic process at the end of which I was finally able to utter the translation: The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and SharonIsaiah 35:2.

I knew it was a bible verse praising the beauty of Lebanon.

I knew that “Gloria Libani” is the title preceding the names of the Patriarchs of the Maronite Church (check the link).

But I did not know the reason it was there.

I took the pictures (figuring here above) and hurried back to my hotel room, turned on my laptop, activated the Wi-Fi connection and typed in some keywords on my Google browser. And there I found it. An article in Italian explaining it all.

That sanctuary was a temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary. According to the exact wording of the article it was “dedicated to the Lady of the Carmel, otherwise known as the Lady of Mount Lebanon”!

For the readers that are not well-versed in geopolitics, in modern times the Mount Carmel (Garden of God) and the Mount Lebanon are each located now on two hostile territories.

Strange how history changes transforming in the process the division of lands and ultimately ideas and perceptions.

The article also mentioned that this sanctuary known in Italian as Il Tempietto del Carmelo (The little temple of the Carmel) was built by a family of grocers in 1759 to shelter a picture of the Virgin Mary placed upon an altar.

Due to negligence and subsequent degradation, both the picture and the supporting altar were lost, but the structure remained.

Fortunately, in 2004 restoration works were initiated at the cost of 97.000 Euros, and finally the cupola and the engraved inscription crowning it were restored.

Being located at the entrance of Rome’s Ghetto, locals also regard it as a symbol of peace vis-à-vis the inhabitants. But that’s another issue.

In the period when I made this discovery, Lebanon’s name in the media was particularly associated with all negative things imaginable.

Finding its name unexpectedly, glowing by night in all its glory in the heart of Rome and on top of a Marian sanctuary, within a sentence paying homage to its biblical splendour, was not only refreshing but also a witness to its beautiful and spiritually rich past, that for sure will make its way back again to the collective consciousness of humanity, against all odds.

 

Maronite book of prayers in Syriac, a language that influences greatly the modern spoken tongue of Lebanon

Lebanese Translators and Diglossia

 

Diglossia… A curious Greek-based term I came across a few years back , and which served as an eye-opener to the linguistic “situation” I have been unawarely facing since birth, practically.

A good definition is the following: “In linguistics, diglossia is a situation where, in a given society, there are two (often closely-related) languages, one of high prestige, which is generally used by the government and in formal texts, and one of low prestige, which is usually the spoken vernacular tongue. The high-prestige language tends to be the more formalised, and its forms and vocabulary often ‘filter down’ into the vernacular, though often in a changed form.”

And this what exactly applies to Lebanon and probably to Arab-speaking countries, where the written language differs in many respects with the one spoken.

The matter actually goes beyond the “level of speech” as in the mainstream European languages. There you might have “Argot” in the French language, or Slang in the case of English.

However, The problem with dialects of Arabic, is that they differ from the classical written Arabic, not only on the level of words origins and sentence structures, which is only used in written material and read on the broadcast news bulletins and other formal speeches, but they also differ in logic and structure. Here lies an unconscious problem for translators which reflects automatically in the work of many of them.

For instance, in Lebanese dialect the same word means foot and leg “Ejer” إجر (a deviation of

“Rejel” رجل in classical Arabic). In the latter the word for leg is “Saq” ساق.

In my work as a reviser of Arabic translations for a subtitling company, in 99% of the times I had translators writing “Rejel” instead of “Saq” obviously due to the confusion of the dialectal term in their head.

In order to make them aware of the nuance, I used to show them the monolingual Arabic dictionary’s entry of “Rejel” defining the foot as the body part extending from the ankle to the toes, while “Saq”, the leg, is the limb extending from the knee to the ankle.

I had also the same problem with the word “Left” designating the direction. The classical term in Arabic is “Yassar”. The dialectal commonly uses “Shmel” (a deviation of Shimal) that might means left, but is mainly used for designating the North. And here again, many translators would write “he went to “shimal” إتجه شمالاً which might imply to readers that “he went North” and not left يساراً.

Unfortunately, examples abound in that regard.

The crux of the problem lies in the fact that we automatically assume that “we speak Arabic” while in fact we speak and think in our local dialect, which is a tongue that developed in a path of its own, due to many pre-Arabic and post-Arabic linguistic and cultural influences (Syriac, Turkish, Persian, French but to name a few).

One of the possible solutions would consist in raising the awareness of the translators and language professionals to this matter and inviting them to read further and think in classical Arabic when writing it or translating it, and not confusing this mainly written language with their daily spoken dialect.