Haifa subway station names

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In several recent posts, I have pointed out how Chinese and Japanese announcements and greetings for foreigners are often pronounced in a special way that deviates markedly from what Chinese and Japanese would say to each other:

The people of Haifa several times told me proudly of their beloved Carmelit, which they said was "the shortest subway in the world" and "the only subway in Israel" (it's technically an underground funicular rather than a subway).  The stations of the Carmelit are announced in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.  I was very curious how the station names would sound in the three different languages.  Since I had to go down the mountain to the harbor area and wanted to see what the Carmelit was like, I took a round trip ride.

The subway itself was charming — small, but neat and clean, with nicely decorated, well lit stations.  As I passed from one station to the next, I was struck by how the station names were announced with the same Hebrew pronunciation in all three languages.

Here are recordings of two station announcements, so you can hear for yourself.  Despite a fair amount of ambient noise, you can still make out the names of the stations clearly enough to tell that they are being pronounced in the same way, i.e., without foreignization.

Even though growing up in rural Ohio I was familiar with Bnai Brith ("Sons of the Covenant") and Bnai Zion ("Sons of Zion [the Temple Mount in Jerusalem]"), I learned to pronounce the diphthong of "Bnai" as in "agapai", "bonsai", "samurai", etc., not as the diphthong at the end of "issei", "nisei", "sensei", etc., and I even went to a Camp Zion, which we pronounced as zī′ən (I think that is how most speakers of English pronounce it), not as צִיּוֹ Tsiyyon, nor even as indicated by its other Romanizations:  Tsion, Tzion, Sion, Sayon, Syon.  Consequently, as I listened for the station named Bnai Zion, my head was full of the English pronunciation that I have used all my life, and it was very difficult for me to pick out the bnā′ tsiyyon of the announcement.

At first I felt frustrated by that, but then Guy Almog, who lives in Haifa, told me that "there is an annoying tendency in Israel to transcribe names of places to English in a random and unsystematic way".  And he illustrated that with two photographs of the "Bnai Zion" stop on the Carmalit itself:


The latter gives a more Hebrew sounding pronunciation of b'né בני, but without capital letters for some reason.

Here are unedited originals of the above two photographs:

The ambivalence over "bnai" vs. "bnei" in the Carmalit itself underscores the difference between the Hebrew and English pronunciations of the word.

Here follow detailed remarks on the names of the Haifa subway stations by Nimrod Chiat:

Preliminary note:

Where Arabic appears on signs in Israel, it is either transliterated Hebrew or an actual translation of the Hebrew text into Arabic. The translators will occasionally borrow letters from other Arabic-descended alphabets (mostly Farsi) to represent sounds that exist in Hebrew but do not exist in Palestinian Arabic (primarily g [as in garden], v [as in van], p [as in parrot]). Thus, in what follows, I will try and describe what is present and theorize as to what is not present. Two more things — first, my Hebrew diacritics are approximate. The rules of Hebrew diacriticization (niqqud) are ancient (10th Century AD) and arcane, and only experts know them all; second, I am by no means fluent in Arabic, but I should be mostly correct (though some may surely take issue with my transliteration choices). If necessary, I can consult with native Arabic speakers, though I'm sure they will come themselves if you publish this….

With this in mind, let's begin:

First Station
Hebrew Name: גַּן הַאֵם
Transliterated: Gan Ha'Em
Arabic name (transliterated form): چن هإم [They used the Persian letter چ (approximately 'tsh' — there is a hard 'g' sound in Persian, represented by the letter گ, but it is not used in Israeli signs to the best of my knowledge) to represent the hard 'g' sound of the Hebrew letter ג (gimmel), and the second word is pronounced ha-im, which is as close as you can get to 'em' in Arabic, which has no 'e' vowel as in 'bed']
Arabic name (transliterated form transliterated into English): tshan ha'im
Arabic name (translated form): حديقة ٱلأم
Arabic name (translated form transliterated into English): hadiiqat-ul-um (note that the initial h is a unvoiced pharyngeal fricative, while q represents an uvular fricative).
English meaning: Mother's Park (literally 'park of the mother') [there is a whole story behind this name but the gist of it is that legendary Haifa mayor Abba Hushi gave it this name because it was meant 'for mothers and their children,' since he was very strong on traditional family values]

Second Station
Hebrew name: בְּנֵי צִיּוֹן
Transliterated: B'nei Tsiyyon
Arabic name (transliterated form): بني تسيون [Arabic does not have an 'o' sound as in 'dog' either, so I used an 'u' sound as in 'bull']
Arabic name (transliterated form transliterated into English): bani tsiyun [Though it is probably ungrammatical to use a schwa (sukkun) at the beginning of a word as I did here with 'tsiyun']
Arabic name (translated form): بني صهيون
Arabic name (translated form transliterated into English): bani sahiyun
English meaning: Sons of Zion [named after the nearby B'nei Tsiyyon Medical Center, but not entirely true. In fact, the station was originally called Golomb (named after the street it is located in, itself named after the Haganah commander and later social democrat Eliyahu Golomb (1893-1945)). It goes even deeper, since the Medical Center was formerly known as Rothschild Medical Center (named after Baroness Ada de Rothschild (1853-1935)), but was renamed on account of significant donation given to the Medical Center by the US based Bnai Zion Foundation]

Third Station
Hebrew name: מְצָדָה
Transliterated: Metsada
Arabic name (transliterated form): مصدة
Arabic name (transliterated form transliterated into English): misada/masada [depending on the vowel used]
Arabic name (translated form): متسادا or مسعدة
Arabic name (translated form transliterated into English): matsada or masa'da (the apostrophe represents a voiced pharyngeal fricative)
English meaning: Masada (named after the street it is located in, which is either named after the historical fortress of Masada or after the famous 1920s poem of the same name)

Fourth Station
Hebrew name: הַנְּבִיאִים
Transliterated: Ha'Nevi'im
Arabic name (transliterated form): هنبيئم‎
Arabic name (transliterated form transliterated into English): hanabiy'im/hanibiy'im (depending on the vowel used; the apostrophe here represents the hamza, which can be thought of as a glottal stop, although it is more complex than that.)
Arabic name (translated form): الأنبياء
Arabic name (translated form transliterated into English): Al-Anbiya'
English meaning: The Prophets (named after the street it is located in, which is probably named after the biblical prophets)

Fifth Station
Hebrew name: סוֹלֵל בּוֹנֶה
Transliterated: Solel Boneh
Arabic name (transliterated form): سولل بوني
Arabic name (transliterated form transliterated into English): sulil buniy
Arabic name (translated form): سولل بوني (same because it is a proper name)
Arabic name (translated form transliterated into English): sulil buniy
English meaning: Solel Boneh (literally 'paves [and] constructs') (named after the famous Construction company, established in 1921, whose historical Haifa headquarters building (the 'Solel Boneh' Building) is located nearby)

Sixth Station
Hebrew name: כִּכָּר פָּרִיז/כִּכָּר פָּרִיס
Transliterated: Kikar Pariz
Arabic name (transliterated form): كيكر باريس
Arabic name (transliterated form transliterated into English): kiykar baariys
Arabic name (translated form): ساحة باريس
Arabic name (translated form transliterated into English): saahat baariys (the 'h' here represents the voiceless pharyngeal fricative)
English meaning: Paris Square (Technically 'Place de Paris' in French. This is because the Carmelit was constructed by a French company (Compagnie Dunkerquoise d'Entreprises, S.A.), and the nearby square was renamed in honour of the friendly relations between Israel and France at the time (the 1950s). The square was originally known as Hamra Square (Hamra means 'red' in Arabic))

Nimrod's notes are based on his general knowledge of the names of the Carmelit stations garnered nearly twenty years ago, the last time he rode on the subway in Haifa.

Providing adequate signage and understandable announcements for as many people as possible in a multilingual society is not an easy task.  I think that the managers of the Carmelit have done a respectable job.


  1. Lane said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 11:08 am

    The non-capital letters are surely just because Hebrew doesn't have them,no? And so whoever did the transliteration was just carelessly not paying attention to this feature his script doesn't bother with.

  2. Yuval said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 11:21 am

    While it's true that only experts know how to employ niqqud, every Israeli Hebrew speaker can read it.

  3. Jim said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 11:43 am

    Unrelated to the content, but I noticed something odd about this post: it showed up strangely in my news feed. Were there any Hebrew characters in the post description? I'm wondering if the part of the text somehow got nudged into right-to-left display mode and that's what caused that element to be right-aligned.

  4. Lameen said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 12:07 pm

    The third station is an interesting case. The mountain known in Hebrew as מְצָדָה (Məṣāḏāh) is known in Arabic as مسعدة (masʕadah), so this can be considered a translation. But whereas the Hebrew name means "fortress", the Arabic one is a personal name, formed (like Said, Saad, Masoud, etc.) from the root sʕd "be happy, rejoice". Such folk-etymological reinterpretations of place names are rather common in history: Genesis furnishes a classic example when it derives Babel from Hebrew bālal "confuse, confound".

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

    The Tünel in Istanbul is only one-third the length of the Carmelit.

  6. Rodger C said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 12:58 pm

    I've always heard "B'nai B'rith" in English with the vowel of "belay."

  7. Rick said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 1:18 pm

    An off-topic (but still linguistic!) little quibble. Surely the Carmelit qualifies as a subway even by the strictest definition, at least in AmE – an underground urban rail line, complete with underground stations. I can't think of any basic element of subway-ness that it lacks.
    And thanks to Coby for mentioning Istanbul's Tünel. Acccording to Wikipedia it is the second oldest (surviving) subway line in the world, after the initial segment of the London Underground.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 2:42 pm

    I have been on the Tünel in Istabul, the Carmelit in Haifa, and the Peak Tram in Hong Kong. They are all funicular (from Latin funiculus ["a slender rope"]) railways. The first two are underground and the third is above ground. My recollection is that the Tünel is much shorter and steeper than the Carmelit. One of the first things I noticed when I stepped in the station at the top of Mt. Carmel is the cable between the tracks that pulls the cars up the tracks and lets them down. The cars do not have their own engines. So the Carmelit is both a subway and a funicular railway.

  9. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 2:53 pm

    "So the Carmelit is both a subway and a funicular railway."
    Just as the cable cars in San Francisco are both streetcar lines and funicular railways.

  10. Y said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 4:37 pm

    פָּרִיס 'Paris' is also notable. The name is pronounced /pariz/ in Hebrew, whether it's spelled with a final ז (/z/) or a ס (/s/). The ס spelling is more common, and I suppose it came about to acknowledge the final s of the French name.

  11. Y said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 4:46 pm

    Niqqud is a bit of a lost art. With three different pointing marks all pronounced /a/ in the modern language (and 2-3 for each of the other vowel sounds), and an unpronounced gemination mark, there are no spoken cues for them in standard spoken Hebrew. Written texts don't usually employ niqqud, the ones that do (children's literature, poetry, the Bible) are not the bulk of what readers are exposed to, and some texts are published with faulty niqqud. I count myself lucky for having read a lot of older books when I was a child, which were immaculately pointed, and I can write with nearly perfect niqqud even though I don't know the rules for it.

  12. Rubrick said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 4:58 pm

    I'm charmed by your use of Japanese, rather than English, words to elucidate the pronunciation of "Bnai" you'd heard in Ohio. Once a Sinologist, always a Sinologist, I guess. :-)

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 5:19 pm

    As with (apparently) some of the Arabic, I take it there is an inconsistency of practice as to whether names are being "translated" into English versus just printing the Hebrew in a transliterated/romanized script. This is perhaps more of an issue with Hebrew than with many others natively written in non-Latin scripts, because a meaningful chunk of Hebrew personal names and toponyms are found in the Bible and thus have well-established English versions. I expect that for sufficiently high-profile names practice will swerve toward the latter, e.g. signage will say "Jerusalem" not "yerushalayim." By contrast the given name of the erstwhile Foreign Minister Ms. Lipni may be transliterated as "Tziporah" rather than given the traditional English spelling "Zipporah," although a quick check shows that the Latin-scripted spelling of her name seems to vary between wikipedia articles in different Latin-scripted languages, so at a minimum not everyone is following the same romanization conventions.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 5:24 pm

    Separately on the underground-transportation-terminology front, the fairly new subway station in Manhattan at 34th St. and 11th Ave (the terminus of the beyond-Times-Square extension of the 7 line) has large elevators that slowly traverse a diagonal route from just-below-surface level to the unusually deep platform/track level. They could I suppose be plausibly described as underground funiculars, although the "station" at the bottom is not one you exit the system at.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

    The morning I was about to leave Israel and return to the States, Guy Almog drove me to the Haifa station where I would catch a train for Ben Gurion International Airport. On the way, we talked a lot about transcription and translation of Chinese and Hebrew. Guy rattled off a bunch of names from antiquity that I knew about in their customary English spellings, yet when Guy said them in Hebrew, I had not a clue. One that struck me in particular was Acre (/ˈɑːkər/ or /ˈeɪkər/) (which I always thought was an odd name for a city), but in Hebrew it isעַכּוֹ‎ ʻAkko and in Arabic it is عكّا‎‎, ʻAkkā.

  16. l said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 7:05 pm

    Bernard Spolsky has an excellent book called Languages of Jerusalem which talks a lot about signage in the Old City where you find the most extreme examples of inconsistency in translation and transliteration.

    A subway can also be a pedestrian underpass, so surely it's just any transport route that goes underground, even a road, and not a type of train.

    Cable cars are not the same as funiculars although there are hybrid systems. SF streetcars are "true" cable cars (continuously moving cable which the car can grip or release), while many systems called cable cars around the world are actually funiculars (cars are fixed to the cable and the cable and cars move and stop together) or sometimes hybrids.

  17. Brett said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 9:57 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: Your comment reminded me about how Hebrew proper names are pronounced in the parts of Jewish religious services that are conducted in the vernacular. (How much this is depends hugely on the denomination.) When prayers are read in Hebrew, the pronunciation is fairly clear (although there are dialectical differences in modern Hebrew, and there are also some people who prefer to attempt something closer to ancient pronunciation). However, in the parts that have been rendered into English, there is disagreement about how to pronounce names like "Zion," etc. I like to listen to the variety of pronunciations used around me. Some people use the traditional English version, some people stick with pure Hebrew, and there are many intermediate gradations.

    @I: Are you a native English speaker? Because in my idiolect, a "subway" definitely cannot refer to a pedestrian or automobile tunnel. Some kind of tracked cars are required for it to be a "subway."

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 11:23 pm

    @Brett, I expect previous commenter "I" was assuming the highly-regionally-marked meaning 3 of https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/subway, suggesting that he/she may well be a native speaker of English but not of American English.

  19. Thomas Lumley said,

    January 3, 2017 @ 11:34 pm

    @Brett, @I:

    "subway" meaning pedestrian underpass is British English, but not American English. It's in the OED as sense 1b (1a being a tunnel for pipes and wires, and 2 being the railway).

    The philosopher Daniel Dennett uses an anecdote of his confusion by the BritEng meaning to introduce one of the lectures that make up his book Elbow Room

  20. Keith said,

    January 4, 2017 @ 3:50 am

    I've only ever heard Zion pronounced as /ˈzaɪjɔn/ or /ˈzaɪjən/ in the UK, and most of my American Jewish friends, from memory, pronounced it something like /ˈzaɪjɒːn/.

    The comments by J.W. Brewer are very interesting, and I'm sure that LL could fill page after page with discussion about place names.

    A recent case (OK, I just looked it up and saw it was in 2006, so not so recent) that struck me was the winter games in Italy, in a town I grew up knowing as "Turin" in English, and that the Americans insisted on calling "Torino". Wikipedia's article on the games has a link to an article titled "Turin or Torino, depends on whom you ask" (both the link and the cached version seem broken for now, though).

  21. Andreas Johansson said,

    January 4, 2017 @ 4:31 am

    "Turin" is sort of funny, because the English pronunciation is closer to the local Piedmontese one than the Standard Italian "Torino" is.

  22. B.Ma said,

    January 4, 2017 @ 4:44 am

    In Hong Kong, following from the British usage, a subway is also a pedestrian tunnel/underpass and is usually labelled as such.

    On the topic of metro announcements, I was in Seoul recently and the Korean pronunciation of all place names was used in the four languages used for announcements – Korean, English, Mandarin and Japanese. The only exceptions were when the name was already in English (e.g. Digital Media City) or had an obvious English translation (e.g. university stations), in which cases the English portions would also be translated into Mandarin.

    The announcements are therefore not particularly helpful since:
    1) about half of the time, an English-only speaker trying to read Revised Romanization would fail to match it with the Korean pronunciation heard over the speakers
    2) the usual practice in Chinese is to pronounce Hanja place names with the Mandarin pronunciation. Chinese who cannot read Korean would have no indication on how to pronounce the characters on signs in Korean
    3) place names are written in Japanese katakana as renderings of the Korean pronunciation, but there is no attempt to pronounce the katakana in a Japanese manner. The Japanese listener would have had 3 chances to hear the Korean name already so the Japanese announcement only serves to keep the carriage noisy

  23. Cervantes said,

    January 4, 2017 @ 11:26 am


    @I: Are you a native English speaker? Because in my idiolect, a "subway" definitely cannot refer to a pedestrian or automobile tunnel.

    I expect previous commenter "I" was assuming the highly-regionally-marked meaning 3 of https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/subway, suggesting that he/she may well be a native speaker of English but not of American English.

    "subway" meaning pedestrian underpass is British English, but not American English.

    There are places in the US where "subway" can be used to mean "pedestrian underpass." Take Rochester, Minnesota, for instance, which has an entire system of "subways" and "skyways" for the benefit of pedestrians.

  24. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 4, 2017 @ 12:14 pm

    פּריז is the name of Paris in Hebrew Wikipedia. The /z/ sound probably comes from German via Yiddish.
    "Turin" comes to English from French, as do many names of major historic European cities (Florence, Rome, Naples, Munich, Cologne, Lucerne, Prague, Seville…) except in the north, where they are more likely to come from Low German (Brunswick, Copenhagen…).

  25. Y said,

    January 4, 2017 @ 6:55 pm

    פריז is somewhat more common nowadays, judging by ghits; פריס more so in the past, by my recollection and from Google Books ghits. The Academy for the Hebrew Language is not overly prescriptive about it, but recommends פריז as a better match for the pronunciation.

  26. C. Forrest Treaze said,

    January 4, 2017 @ 10:42 pm

    To B.Ma:
    "1) an English-only speaker trying to read Revised Romanization would fail to match it with the Korean pronunciation heard over the speakers"

    I still think the way it's done is the best way. At least it's infinitely better than making up foreignized "English" pronunciations which would only confuse those people who, while they may not understand the entire Korean announcement, are familiar with the Korean pronunciation of station names.

    I think that in discussions about issues like this, or about romanization, many English speakers and Koreans alike tend to forget that monolingual English speakers need not be the sole target, and that many people who understand English but also know other languages' orthographies will have much less problems to match a Korean pronunciation to its romanization.

  27. BZ said,

    January 5, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

    A big problem with Hebrew Romanizations is that they were done into German. and not English, so Zion is exactly how "Tzion" would be spelled in German. Nobody ever bothered to Anglicize them, so they are just pronounced in the way they would be pronounced in English, so the problem here is one of transcription. If you want these names to be read in English approximately as they are in Hebrew, they need to be transcribed accordingly.

    As for subway terminology, being underground is not enough to be called a Subway, though it is a requirement for it to be partially (not necessarily mostly) underground. In many places, to be considered a subway, a system must be rapid transit as well. Sometimes that distinction is not observed. The Newark (New Jersey) City Subway is not rapid transit, but rather light rail (and in fact is now officially called "Newark Light Rail", not because someone got pedantic about definitions, but because a second, almost entirely above ground, line was added to the system)

  28. I said,

    January 5, 2017 @ 1:11 pm

    @Brett: Yes, native English speaker: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subway_(underpass)

  29. Rodger C said,

    January 6, 2017 @ 12:32 pm

    @BZ: The spelling "Zion" (as an English word at least) isn't German, it's 1611 English. It replaced "Sion" or "Syon."

  30. January First-of-May said,

    January 8, 2017 @ 10:39 am

    The pronunciation of "Zion" is a significant plot point in the web serial novel Worm (I could give the details if anyone asks, but they're a bit of a spoiler).

    The Russian, for what it's worth, is Сион (even though the "tz" sound does exist in Russian). I'm not sure why.

  31. Jongseong Park said,

    January 9, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

    @January First-of-May, Hebrew צ (ṣadi or tsadi), which represents [ts] in Israeli Hebrew pronunciation (but also [sˤ] in Yeminite Jews, and possibly in older forms of Hebrew pronunciation) regularly mapped to Ancient Greek σ (sigma). So Zion is Σιών Siṓn in Ancient Greek, which explains Russian Сион Sion as well as other forms starting with the s sound in many European languages. It is 시온 Sion in Korean as well.

    Compare also Isaac from Hebrew יצחק ‎Yiṣḥāq, usually written Yitzhak when the Modern Hebrew pronunciation is intended. The usual English form comes from Ancient Greek Ισαάκ Isaák, as does Russian Исаак Isaak and Korean 이삭 Isak.

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