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Adrian Bailey sent in this Yemeni restaurant menu from @wokeeth's Twitter account:

The Arablish here is really wild.  Here are some of my favorites:

"I went through a pimp" (near the bottom of the left column).

The first two:  "His love is his liver" and "His liver spilled".

Fifth one:  "Total sum".

Right column:  "Henning Rice", "Meat and meat", "Thickness of the maroon", "His love is chicken kneading". "Text of a chicken contract" (!), "Normal problem", "His love is chicken and rice".

Middle column:  "His love is compressed", "Compressed text" (!), "Doubt double".

Left column:  "Ashes", "He passed".

But there are so many others that are too precious for words.

Most of them come right out of Google Translate (GT):

hubb-u kibd-u / hubih kabdah  حبه كبده

His love is his liver

nafar kibd-u / nafar kabdah نفر كبده

His liver spilled

fata Zubaydi / fath zbydy فته زبيدي

Zubaidi came to him

hubb-u madghut / hubih madghut  حبه مضغوط

His love is compressed

But not all can be attributed or credited to GT, including this splendid specimen:

"I went through a pimp"

fata tamurr qishta / fatah tamuru qushtatan فته تمر قشطة

For which GT gives "He passed a cream".

This being Language Log, it would be much appreciated if readers who are conversant with Arabic would offer correct translations of a few of the more bizarre items on the menu.  For each item, please provide:

  1. Arablish mistranslation
  2. Arabic script
  3. Romanization
  4. accurate translation

Compared to the advanced stage we are at in Chinglish Studies, it seems as though Arablish Studies are still in their infancy.

(Thanks to Roger Allen)


  1. Jonathan Wright said,

    September 23, 2018 @ 3:53 pm

    There's a lot there and some of the Yemeni terms are obscure to me. But a few simple ones:
    his love = Hubbuhu, indistinguishable orthographically from Habba, a piece
    text = naSS, written the same as the colloquial nuSS, half
    I went through = futtu, similar to fattah, a common Arabic dish that varies from place to place
    pimp seems to be a translation of qishTa, cream, but I'm not familiar with that usage
    compressed = maDghuuT, a Yemeni culinary term I'm not familiar with
    spilled = nafara, which can indeed mean 'flee, run away, rush' but here it is simply nafar, 'one piece'
    thickness = sumk, written the same as samak, fish.
    maroon = mufa – this clearly is a local species fish. Google Translate gives maroon, but I can't see where they comes from
    The mistranslations with 'his' all come about because the menu writer dropped the two dots on the feminine ending ta' marbuuta, so it could now be the possessive suffix 'his' e.g. 'his basket' is salata, salad, written the same as sallatuhu, his basket

  2. Victor Mair said,

    September 23, 2018 @ 4:46 pm

    @Jonathan Wright

    Thank you very much!

    So it seems that a lot of the misunderstandings come from use of nonstandard Arabic.

    I've been told that the variation among spoken, regional Arabic languages is as great as that among the various Sinitic topolects.

  3. Michael C. Dunn said,

    September 23, 2018 @ 8:29 pm

    One example of a local Yemeni term is "bayd 'Adeni" (Aden style eggs, whatever they may be), here translated as "The eggs of my back."

  4. Mike K said,

    September 23, 2018 @ 11:32 pm

    This is what you get when you combine machine translation with severe diglossia .

  5. Mike M said,

    September 24, 2018 @ 7:45 am

    As other commenters have noted, a lot of this has to do with colloquial Yemeni. Half is pronounced nuṣṣ colloquially but is always written nuṣf. Everywhere ة is replaced with ه for feminine endings, so حبة ḥabba(t), which literally means a seed but in Yemen is used as a counter, winds up reading as حبه ḥubbuh, his love. There are some really weird ones though, like تمر tamr, meaning date, reading as تمرّ tamurr, meaning you/she passed – I don't know how they got it into the first person.

    Salta سلتة and fahsa فحسة are two of the most traditional Yemeni dishes, but I guess they don't have names in formal Arabic; silla سلة means basket, and ة the transforms into a when written ت before an enclitic pronoun, hence sillatuh سلته, his basket. Mushakkal مشكل– mixed – which appears in several items is indeed related to mushkila مشكلة– problem – but it's a very common word and I'm surprised a translation screwed it up. Mulawwaḥ ملوّح is a type of Yemeni bread which means something like 'tiered' or 'layered'.

    A lot of the problems here are from writing colloquial words, and because of the lack of vowels and Arabic's extremely rich vocabulary down the centuries, there is almost always some formal word that is spelt similarly. I lived in Yemen for a year, and while I don't remember all these dishes, I am now extremely nostalgic and hungry.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    September 24, 2018 @ 8:15 am

    I am so glad that I made this post, because from the excellent comments I am learning so many important things about written vernacular Arabic topolects that I didn't know about in detail before, but had always wondered about.

  7. Robot Therapist said,

    September 24, 2018 @ 11:36 am

    I think I'd have to order "vastness". That's basically what I want on a plate.

  8. Jorge said,

    September 24, 2018 @ 11:46 am

    Yup, this is why we have DLPTs for a bunch of the colloquial Arabics. NOT mutually intelligible. Great post, btb.


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