Words Transliterated into Arabic

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by Josh_, Nov 9, 2005.

  1. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    This thread (http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=65345) brought up a question I have had for a while. What are anyone’s thoughts about foreign words being transliterated into Arabic? It is my understanding that long vowels are generally used in order to avoid confusion. Obviously this is just a guideline, not a rule, as there are exceptions.


    كاليفورنيا California
    نيو يورك New York
    فولفو Volvo
    كوستا ريكا Costa Rica

    I also remember the thread where Elroy gave the transliteration for Antonio and Tania. He used this guideline, whether he knew it or not:

    By and large, I find that most foreign words transliterated into Arabic use this guideline, although there are numerous exceptions – but a lot of times the exceptions come when the word is universally known and the basic pronunciation is understood, such as:

    تلفزيون television
    تلفون telephone.

    Many times, foreign words transliterated into Arabic have different spelling, although, care is taken to limit and standardize spelling.

    Telephone, for example, is also spelled تليفون .

    Following this guideline, I would spell Taryn as تارين , and not تارن as there can be more confusion as to whether the pronunciation is taran (تارَن ), tarin (تارِن ), or tarun (تارُن ).

    When the long vowel is used, sometimes it seems that it goes with the corresponding foreign vowel letter, not necessarily the actual sound.

    Take my name for example:My name is Josh, usually pronounced with a long ‘a’ sound, like the ‘a’ in father. So when I first began learning Arabic I would spell it this way: جاش . But native speakers would spell it جوش since the English name is spelled with an ‘o’, not an ‘a’.

    Also, we must remember that as languages are different, pronunciation is different also. So, many foreign words, when being brought into a different language, need to be adapted to the other languages pronunciation scheme. So television, in English, would be come tiliifiizyoon and telephone would be tiliifoon, in Arabic.

    What are your thoughts on this subject?
  2. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    This is a problem we, Arab natives, do face. Most of the foreign words used in Arabic were first introduced by translators -of course :)- each of them transliterated the words the way they chose. You spoke of long vowels, but there are other types of differences :

    Washington, is somtimes written واشطنغتون - واشطنجتون - واشنطن (the one in bold is the one most commonly used, but i've seen the others two)
    Los Angeles : لوس أنجلوس - لوس أنجلس - لوس أنجليس

    That's for the modern forms. Well, for the older forms too, we find differences :
    Paris : we now right it باريس but older texts write باريز
    England : إنجلترا - إنجلترة
    London : لندن in older text (and not too old, i.e. those going back to the begining of the XXth century) we find لندرة

    Even for people's name :
    Thomas : توماس - طوماس
    Michel : ميشيل - ميتشل - ميتشيل
    Katherine كاترين - كاثرين
    I personally suggested that the name Taryn to be transliterated as تارين even if it's pronounced as Karen, for we also write this one as كارين.

    I don't have a solution for such problem, but as we agree that Arabs can have different dialects (egyptian, shami, khaliji....) i think they can also have the "freedom" of transliterating words the way they find better, untill someday, in a near future i hope, they can come to wise decision of uniting they way they write -at least, if not the way they talk :)
  3. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Another little something occured to me few minutes ago, and I though i'd share it too :
    Don't you think Arabic word transliterated to "Latin" letters face(d) the same problem ? It's only recently that the transliteration has become more or less standardized. Maybe That will happen with the other way round too. What do you think ?
  4. Jana337

    Jana337 Senior Member

    You touched upon a big problem of languages other than English that use the Latin script. In fact, what has been standardized is being subverted again, under the influence of English. There is a dilemma: Shall we preserver our established ways of transcribing foreign words, or shall we better give in, and adopt the English conventions?

    The problem with Arabic names is not nearly as pressing as it is with Chinese ones, for example. I know that the Czech sinology is very proud of its laboriously developed conversion of Chinese names. But pinyin is on the go, and the difference between Dong Zechu and Tung C'-čchu can create difficulties who read text in both English and Czech.

    In comparison, the differences between the Czech and English versions of Arabic names are miniscule. Wikipedia shows this example: compare English Omar Khayyám with German Omar Chayyam and Polish Omar Chajjam.

    As for the process of standardization in English, I think the influence of Hans Wehr is enormous. But I have no idea about to which extent he borrowed from earlier transliteration stadards.

  5. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    I definitely agree. I have several Arabic -- English dictionaries, and the ones that use transliteration all have different transliteration schemes. There is one dictionary I use more then the others and as such I got use to the scheme in that dictionary. So when I would look at the other dictionaries, I would mispronounce words as I would get the transliteration systems confused and revert to the one I was familiar with. That was mainly before I was able to read Arabic effectively. Now, of course, if I read transliteration I can check by reading the word in Arabic.

    My initial thought is that the problem seems more pronounced with transliteration of Arabic into English than it is the other way around. For example there are many ways of transliterating خ including 'kh', 'x', and 'k'. There is no easy solution. Standardization of transliteration would be nice, but which scheme to use would be the problem as many people prefer one scheme over the other. I have a scheme that I prefer, not because I think it is better, but because I am used to it.
  6. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    That's interesting. I had never thought of that before. I didn't know that English transliteration of non-Latin script languages would have such an influence on transliteration in other countries. If you have an established way of transliterating, then I say, definitely stay with that. It is too bad that English can have such an influence over other languages.

    The Hans Wehr does have a big influence, but I believe that they changed the transliteration scheme (at least somewhat) for the new editions. I don't know how long ago that was, though. I love the Hans Wehr immensely, and use it everyday, but I prefer other transliteration systems. For example, I prefer two English vowels, rather than just one, representing a long vowel in Arabic (i.e. the difference between 'kitāb' and 'kitaab').

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