The Organization for the Islamic Cooperation?

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The Organization of the Islamic Conference renamed itself "The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation" on June 28th at its meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan according to this press release. As I write, the English version of their web site reflects the new name, but the French version does not, although the French version of the press release gives it the same name in French: "Organisation de la Coopération islamique".

The new English name makes "Islamic cooperation" definite, which doesn't make sense. A specific instance of cooperation among Islamic nations could take the definite article, but that clearly is not the intended meaning here, which must be "Islamic cooperation" in an abstract sense. However, although such expressions do take the definite article in some languages, e.g. French, they do not in English. The name "Organization for Islamic Cooperation" would make more sense, and in fact, is the name used in the body of the English press release. I'm wondering where the awkward English name comes from. My best guess is that it is a literal translation of the French or Arabic, but it seems odd that such an organization would make such a slip. Surely the world's second largest international organization has staff fluent in English, as are, certainly, a number of the foreign ministers who attend the meetings.

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12 Comments »

  1. Faber said,

    July 2, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

    The Arabic banner hasn't been updated either. It still says المؤتمر not التعاون .

    The article could come from either one. (In Arabic, the name is literally "Organization the Cooperation the Islamic". A definite noun requires a definite adjective, but "organization" is automatically definite since the construction is possessive. So منظمة doesn't take an article, but islami إسلامي does, since it modifies "organization.")

    It looks like they haven't finished their updating their website yet. Probably somebody fix will the mistake in the English banner along with replacing the Arabic and French ones.

  2. B.T.Carolus said,

    July 2, 2011 @ 10:09 pm

    Do they mean the Islamic Cooperative?

  3. Ben Hemmens said,

    July 3, 2011 @ 7:45 am

    a) Doesn't seem to me much stranger than, e.g. the Nth International, etc. – or, indeed, than the old name.

    b) Lots of people who are "fluent in English" would make such a slip in speaking. What you need to recognize that this is wrong (and have the confidence to insist on it in such a context) is to be a native speaker with some conscious awareness of such things or a non-native with specialized language training. Those are quite different levels of language competence than "fluent".

    c) I suppose it's not impossible they were using local translation services; maybe (as will happen even in the most harmonious international group) they haggled over the exact Arabic wording until the last second and then someone who had waited up all night while they negotiated got 10 minutes to produce the English version of the press release …

  4. Ben Hemmens said,

    July 3, 2011 @ 8:42 am

    15:26 Central European Summer Time, July 3

    http://www.oic-oci.org/index.asp

    "Organization of Islamic Cooperation"

    Someone's gotten to it. Although, perhaps over-zealously, they have disposed of both articles.

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 3, 2011 @ 9:50 am

    A forerunner? The now defunct-or-renamed entity known in English as the Organization of African Unity was known in French as l'Organisation de l'Unité Africaine, but they managed (but perhaps not in the first draft?) to sort out the lack of parallelism on the use of the article.

  6. Bill Poser said,

    July 3, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    I don't know what language or languages the meetings are actually conducted in. Although many of the members are Arabic-speaking and Arabic has pride of place in the Muslim world, quite a few members are not Arabic-speaking. I wonder whether the representatives of countries such as Indonesia and Sierra Leone speak Arabic? I would not be shocked if the working language of the OIC was English or French, or if they allow the use of any of the three and provide interpretation.

  7. Bill Poser said,

    July 3, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    Ben Hemmens' point that there are degrees of "fluency" is well taken. Indeed, imperfections in article usage are one of the few clues to the non-native status of some otherwise very fluent English speakers – the subtleties of article usage seem to be terribly difficult to learn. On the other hand, at least some of the participants in these meetings are probably native speakers or very nearly so, educated from a fairly early age in English. Of course, it is possible that they are not the ones who initially record the decisions. I guess I'm just a little bit surprised that something like this, which is not urgent, would not be checked before publication. One understands why a press release on something that has just come up, say a border incident, might be messy, but this is hardly in that category.

  8. Ben Hemmens said,

    July 3, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

    a) I think these days, there's no such thing as a non-urgent press release.

    b) I'd hazard a guess that this is a group that might still use French as much or more than English,

    and b.i.) – straining the comments policy – this is something that came up here a few days ago:
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3231
    – to which the answer is simply to remember that a mere century ago, French and not English was the lingua franca of Europe's ruling elites and in fact was often used among the aristocracy in preference to national languages. Tolstoy's characters, in the original (I'm told by my knowledgeable wife), often converse in French in the middle of novels written in Russian, simply because that's how the author imagined it and it didn't occur to him to write for people who couldn't read French. Easy to forget.

  9. Bob Violence said,

    July 4, 2011 @ 9:10 am

    Older translations of Russian classics (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc.) seem to follow the same practice and leave the French dialogue untranslated, presumably on the same assumption (i.e. that the reader at least knew enough French to understand what was being said). I'm not sure how modern translators deal with it.

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 4, 2011 @ 11:08 am

    @Ben Hemmens and Bob Violence: Here is a bit of code switching in War and Peace. There's much less in the pages around it. The translation I read a number of years ago had very little French, as I remember.

  11. Chris O'Keefe said,

    July 11, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

    @Faber, the literal translation is not "Organization the Cooperation the Islamic," but "The Organization of Islamic Cooperation." This is so because it's an Arabic grammatical construction called Idaafa. It's curious that now that they've "fixed" the English, they've dropped the definite articles, which are present in Arabic (via the second term of the Idaafa, "Cooperation.") and "carry forward" to the first term. The original, unfixed version is indeed just a translation issue, as definite articles express generality, unlike in English.

  12. Keith said,

    July 12, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

    My initial thought was that the announcement was probably drafted in Arabic and French, then translated from French into English.

    In French, the definite article is used in such constructions as "l'Organisation de la Coopération islamique" which, even when translated into English by a quite competent translator, could easily be rendered as "The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation" (as found here).

    It is a common trait among French native-speakers to insert the definite article in English, where an English native-speaker would either use the indefinite article or no article at all.

    Similarly, Russian native-speakers will often skip all articles in English, simple because Russian lacks them altogether.

    K.

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