19 November 2015

The name of the enemy

There's a certain amount of confusion about the name of the enemy in the current Middle East war.  ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, and so on are all commonly used.  What should we call them?

The actual name of the group is this:
In transliteration, allowing for the fact that the sound system of Arabic is very different from that of English, this is:  Ad-Dawlah al-Islâmiyyah fî al-'Irâq wa-ash-Shâm (in actual speech the "a" vowel of al- drops out in most situations and the words are pronounced in a more run-together fashion).  The name translates as "The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria", the acronym of which, ISIS, has become the most common English term for the group.

Ash-Shâm is actually an archaic word for Syria as a region, which historically refers to a larger area than the present-day country of Syria (the Arabic name of the modern country of Syria is Sûriyâ), so some writers translate it into English as "the Levant" -- hence ISIL, the other commonly-used acronym for the group.

The letters I've underlined in red above are the first letters of each of the four words (the reason they don't look like they're at the beginning of the words is that in Arabic the definite article al- is written joined to the word following it).  The first letter of 'Irâq is actually a "throat" consonant with no European equivalent, often represented in transliteration by an apostrophe.  When you combine the four letters to form an Arabic-script acronym, you get this:
The letters look different from how they do in the full name, because just as letters in our own alphabet have two forms (capital and lower case), Arabic letters have up to four forms which are used depending on how they join, or not, to the letters adjacent to them.  The acronym would be pronounced Dâ'ish in Arabic, and this is actually what the group is often called in Arabic and, with some difference in pronunciation, in Persian and Kurdish as well.  Dâ'ish doesn't actually mean anything in Arabic as far as I know, but I've seen claims that it has a derogatory sound to it and that the group has tried to forbid people from using it.

Using Dâ'ish in English would have some advantages.  It would end the confusion between ISIS and ISIL, which are just acronyms for different translations of the same Arabic name and not really different names at all.  Abandoning ISIS would end the sullying of a perfectly good ancient Egyptian goddess and perhaps stop idiocies like this.  And it would put us on the same page with the Arabic-, Kurdish-, and Persian-speaking people who are fighting against the group.  We get along fine, after all, calling al-Qâ'idah by its Arabic name, however badly mispronounced (it translates as "the base", but few Americans even know that).  To say Dâ'ish correctly, drawl out the first vowel a bit (DAA-ish) and try to glide from the "a" to the "i" without any consonant in between (or a glottal stop, to approximate the Persian pronunciation), and you'll get pretty close.  It's the name I'll be using from now on.

6 Comments:

Blogger Pinku-Sensei said...

The French also call the organization "Daesh," which I understand upsets the Islamic State no end. Taken further, the people within the organization could be called Daeshbags. I don't know if I'll do either on my own blog. I still like my nickname for them, the Sith Jihad, even if it's unfair to the Sith. At least the Dark Side of the Force has some reverence for artifacts of the past, something the Daeshbags lack.

19 November, 2015 12:39  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Thanx for the "lesson", although I'll tell you, it's a little confusing to me, and I dont know if I'll ever be able to pronounce some of that stuff correctly, because a few times, guys that I know that are fluent in Arabic have tried to help me pronounce some things, and I have a difficult time saying it like them actually (probably just not enough practice or whatever). I remember a time back when you showed me how to write my buddies name in Arabic (Lotfi) ... I traced it on paper and gave it to him one night and he freaked out, wondering how I knew how to write like that?? ... it was hilarious looking at the look on his face. No ... all shit aside guy ... every bloody time I hear the name ISIS, I get an image in my head of the Egyptian/ Pagan mythological Goddess.

20 November, 2015 03:39  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Pinku: Well, if the Daeshbags don't like it, I'm sure the French can think of plenty of other things to call them.

Ranch: Yeah, it can be difficult -- I think it's almost more difficult keeping track of all the terms people throw around now, though. I've seen people on the net who actually thought that ISIS and ISIL were two different things.

20 November, 2015 04:06  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Thanks for the lesson. I did know that ISIS and ISIL were the same, and now I'm glad to know the term "Daesh." I prefer that to the other two.

21 November, 2015 04:20  
Blogger uzza said...

Another very good reason to avoid the name ISIS is that it's a fairly common name for girls. People being idiots, Google it and you'll find umpteen reports of kids with that name who are being mocked, bullied, kicked off facebook, even given death threats.
>:-(

p.s. to this trained linguist your breakdown is totes awesome :-)

26 November, 2015 19:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shukran jazîran! Yes, it's unbelievable the cruel stupidities some people will perpetrate on the basis of chance similarities of words. The entire Yazidi religion, widely believed (by Sunnis) to be Devil-worshipers just because their name by pure coincidence sounds similar to the name of a medieval ruler popularly associated with the Devil, is another example.

26 November, 2015 21:40  

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