More on linguistic politics in Tunisia

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Lameen Souag has posted a detailed analysis of "the language being used by the newly significant figures jockeying for power" in Tunisia ("Language Use in Tunisian Politics",  Jabal al-Lughat, 1/17/2011).


  1. GeorgeW said,

    January 18, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

    It is also interesting that Souag uses King James English to translate the portion of a sermon, “and whoso killeth a soul deliberately, his reward shall be to dwell eternally in Hell, and God shall wax wroth against him and curse him, and He has prepared for him a painful punishment"

    This is good way to render antiquated, religious Arabic into English.

  2. marie-lucie said,

    January 18, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

    I agree about the suitability of a King James-like register, but is this Souag's own translation, or a quote from some earlier translation? The Qur'an has been translated many times before. I don't think that "wax wroth" is the first thing that would come to the mind of a modern English speaker translating an occasional sentence on the spur of the moment, unless that person were extremely well-acquainted with the KJV. (Shouldn't "He has" be "He hath"?).

  3. GeorgeW said,

    January 18, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

    @Marie-Lucie: I thought about that as well. But, she is translating something said by one of the Tunisian politicians speaking very recently. Maybe, this is a Qur'an passage that she could find a translation for which is in this language (as some are). When I have a few extra minutes, I might see what I can find.

    I really like the idea of sacred language in the source language > sacred language in the target language.

  4. GeorgeW said,

    January 18, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

    @Marie (again): Okay, it is Qur'an verse 4:93, so she could well have used an existing translation. I have a couple of translations using KJV language, but it is not one that I have.

  5. Lazar said,

    January 18, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

    I remember constantly rolling my eyes at the overwrought pseudo-KJ English in Burton's Thousand and One Nights when we read it in high school. I was pretty much the only person in the class who was aware that people didn't actually talk like that in 1885.

  6. marie-lucie said,

    January 18, 2011 @ 8:57 pm

    I did not mean to denigrate Lameen Souag (who, by the way, is a man).

  7. GeorgeW said,

    January 18, 2011 @ 9:31 pm

    @Marie-Lucie: "I did not mean to denigrate Lameen Souag (who, by the way, is a man)."

    Whoops, I wrote she. Thanks for the correction.

    No, it is certainly not demeaning to use an existing translation. I am a native English speaker and although I could understand it, I could not spontaneously render a text with KJV English.

  8. Lameen said,

    January 19, 2011 @ 4:43 am

    Re the Qur'anic quote: Actually, first time around I somehow managed to mishear the third word, and therefore took it for a paraphrase rather than a direct quote. I've listened to it again and corrected it now, substituting the Pickthall translation. Thanks for spotting this. And yes, I rendered it in a King James-like way to try to convey the register…

  9. GeorgeW said,

    January 19, 2011 @ 6:17 am

    @Lameen: Good job and an interesting post.

  10. marie-lucie said,

    January 19, 2011 @ 11:14 am

    Congratulations then, Lameen. Your blog is invaluable to those of us who don't know any Arabic or related languages.

  11. Dan Parvaz said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 5:51 am

    The fuSHa dialect diglossia is used by politicians all over the Arab world, depending on how much populism they intend to inject into their speech. In Jordan, for instance, when addressing the Bedouin tribes (essential part of the Monarchy's power base), the King or his representative sounds very much like one of them.

    And sometimes it gets used to cover up one's errors in the Classical language[*]. Saddam Hussein, for example, was terrible at it.

    Of the available English translations of the Qur'an, the Pickthall translation used by Lameen is probably the most archaic/King-Jamesy sounding one. In all of the older translations, though, Divine ire (wa-ghaḍiba Allāhu ʕalayhī) is referred to as "wr(a|o)th". Later translations render it simply as "anger."

    [*] Prescriptivist, I know, but we're talking about a frozen Katharevousa Arabic; it comes with the territory.

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