Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yadda Yadda Allah Allah

Thanks Marie Dhumières. Thanks a lot. I might as well hang up my monotran hat. The gist is this:
I couldn't help thinking that, when translated literally into English, these expressions make Arabs sound very religious – or even like fundamentalists – in the eyes of those who have a tendency to jump to quick conclusions.
Putting Arabs in our shoes, we get this:
In English, we say "God damn it", "God bless you", "Jesus Christ", which would sound very strange if they were to be translated literally into another language. So next time you hear in the news or in a movie an Arabic guy saying "Praise be to God," remember he may just be saying "Great, the electricity is back."

What's odd about this though, is that she flits between 'God' and 'Allah' as the translation. Thing is, you see, 'Allah' and 'الله‎' don't mean the same thing. When Arabs say it, they mean 'God' (usually, but apparently not always, the Muslim version). When English-speakers say it, we mean a specifically Muslim God, distinct from the usual Big Man.

This is fairly common with Arabic as far as I can see: we say both 'hajj' and 'pilgrimmage', 'verse' and 'sura', 'holy war' and 'jihad' (we'll also say 'martyr' and 'jihadi' from time to time if we're idiots). Obviously, Arabs don't have that dilemma. Every time we choose between the two, we also choose whether to present the word as general or specific, anglophone or Muslim, ours or theirs. And that's rarely a simple, clear-cut choice.