29 May, 2008

No q in Nakba

Filed under: Language,Society and culture by Joel @ 10:00 am, 29 May 2008.

After a few articles about “Al-Naqba” in the AJN, I wrote to suggest that they should be using a k and not a q:

There is no q in “Al-Naqba”. The Arabic spelling includes the equivalent of a Hebrew kaf, not their quf.

It seems ‘q’ is used, often by Jewish sources, to Arabise the word and make it seem more foreign and distasteful.

Even the spellings of words can express one’s biases, just as “Moslem”, once an accepted variant, is now considered more derogatory than “Muslim”.

The AJN should utilise the more neutral and accurate spellings, and write articles on “Nakba” rather than “Naqba”.

The printed letter stops after the second paragraph, which I maybe should have made more clear: I do not accuse the Jewish press of a conspiracy to use a stigmatised spelling variant. Language is more subtle and subconscious than that.

I try not to dictate others’ language use. In the case of a newspaper, though, there are always editorial style guides, and I wanted to point out two factors in the spelling of this word:

  1. Phonology: there is a letter q in Arabic, but it’s not used in the word “nakba”.
  2. Sociolinguistics: people have a choice to use “nakba” or “naqba” as both are found in the English press (according to Google in about 10:1 ratio). They may actually use the latter because they perceive it as a more “authentic” transliteration. Of course, it is not. On the other hand, it does make the word look more foreign, and so its use carries some pre-conceived “Arab” feeling that makes the word no longer neutral.

Of course, the word is naturally not a neutral word, whichever way it is spelt. People will often react to it either with distate or with pride. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be spelt in the “unbiased press” in a way that shows one’s side and one’s ignorance more than necessary.

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