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The Golden Middle in translating from Arabic, e.g., into English

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Abstract [1]

The paper argues for a golden middle in translating from Arabic, for example, into English. That is, faced with a text which is not in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), e.g., a text in Classical Arabic (CA), or in any of the colloquial varieties of the language, a translator should start by rendering into MSA - intralingually translating the colloquial or classical version into a modern standard one. This is not simply because of familiarity with the variety of Arabic the text is in, but also because CA is not readily accessible to an average user of Arabic today and because the colloquial varieties of the language lack adequate codification and standardization. The factor of familiarity remains an important reason, however. Other reasons include intelligibility and feasibility and avoidance of the confusion of words which have different meanings in different Arabics. An emotional-ideological motivation that relates to the globalization vs. localization balance is also there. MSA is a variety recognized in almost every Arab country – something of a modern lingua franca for the Arab world and a midway between the local vernaculars and the super-ordinate Classical Arabic which is restricted to religious and ritualistic uses. Examples of doing this kind of intralingual translation and of words and expressions which cause confusion are provided in the paper, following a note on types of translation, a discussion of varieties of Arabic and an elaboration on the motives and benefits of intralingual translation in this context.


An Emirati student of mine told me the following joke:

(1-a) sakraan yriid yushnuq nafsah rabaT ryuula / saɁluuh leesh / qaal rabaTta fi rqubti bagheet Ɂamuut


(1-b) Lit. a drunk (person) wants to hang himself (he) tied his feet (they) asked him why he said I tied (it to) my neck and I wanted to die/ almost died


(1-c) A drunken guy wanted to commit suicide by hanging. He applied a ligature to his feet. He was asked why (he should apply it to his feet rather than to his neck). To which he responded thus, "I applied the ligature to my neck and I almost died!"

This is an interesting example of misunderstanding that may be caused by dialectal variation in Arabic. When I heard the joke for the first time, I could not get it because in my (Egyptian Arabic, Standard Arabic) understanding bagheet means "(I) wanted" - Ɂaradtu – or "transgressed", "behaved arrogantly" - baghaytu. The latter meaning is ruled out by the (con)text of the joke. The joke teller explained to me that, for him, the word means "almost (did)" – an approximation, or muqaaraba, auxiliary: Ɂawshaktu from Ɂawshaka or kidtu from kaada. Only then, the joke made some sense, or I could make sense of its nonsense. The drunken guy wanted to commit suicide by hanging. To be logical, the script should continue thus "he applied a ligature to his neck and dropped." The script is aborted and the expectation is flouted, and so are scripts and expectations in most jokes. The flouting explains the humor in the joke. What explains my misunderstanding is that the same word meant something for me and something different for the joke teller. An alternative from MSA such as Ɂawshaktu ("I almost did …") could have been more readily intelligible for both of us.

The same kind of confusion can happen with other local varieties of Arabic. In the case of Egyptian Arabic, traditionally regarded as the most wide-spread variety of colloquial Arabic because of mass media and migrant labor, some words can still cause confusion especially for the younger generations in other Arab countries that are brought up into a new era where Egyptian Arabic no longer has the status or reach it used to have. (The following is the verbal part in a contemporary cartoon text by the Egyptian cartoonist Moustafa Hussein: ba-qullik Ɂeeh ya shahrazaad khudii Ɂajaaza n-nahardah masruur jaab li l qanaah bitaaʕit is-sii Ɂinn Ɂinn. Lit. "What I say to you Scheherazade take a vacation today; Masrour has brought the CNN channel for me" - "Scheherazade, you may take today off; Masrour has brought me the CNN channel/ has installed the CNN channel for me”. At least two of the words in this text have regional variants: Ɂin-nahardah - "today", bitaaʕit (possessive "-'s") and jaab ("brought").

There is an upsurge of interest in local colloquial Arabics today as borne out by satellite channels and attention to vernacular forms of literary expression in colloquial Arabic. What this upsurge means, among other things, is that a lingua franca is needed for users of Arabic to be able to move from one variety to another; for, for example, an Algerian to be able to translate a text in, for example, Syrian into a foreign language, for example, English; for a Saudi to be able to translate a text in Libyan or Moroccan. The varieties that have served as lingua francas in this context are Classical and Modern Standard Arabic (CA and MSA) – very frequently used interchangeably, although they should not (e.g., Haeri, 2000). To say CA and MSA are more or less the same is to say that the English of Shakespeare is more or less the same as CNN English – granting that the two parts of the analogy should be examined in context. In this article, a rationale for intralingually translating a text that is in a local variety of Arabic into MSA, not into CA, before interlingually translating it into a foreign language such as English, is provided. The article also provides illustrations from colloquial Arabics and CA of how this process can happen. A note on the types of translation is necessary before moving on to the heart of the article.

Types of Translation

One classic typology of translation is Roman Jakobson's where three kinds of translation are identified – (1) Intralingual, or translation within the same language, or "saying the same thing in the same language" (Weller, 2005: 171), e.g., formal into informal and CA into MSA – balagha s-saylu z-zuba (Lit. "the flood has reached the peaks") may be rendered into zaad l-Ɂamru ʕan ђaddih ("That's too much") or lam yaʕudi iS-Sabru mumkinan ("Patience is no longer possible/ It is no longer possible to be patient"), (2) Interlingual, e.g. Arabic into English, and (3) Inter-semiotic from one semiotic code to another, e.g. a poem into a portrait, a picture into a text, a table into a text, and so on.

What is commonly, and perhaps mistakenly, recognized as translation proper is interlingual translation. Intersemiotic translation is hardly recognized as translation, except in the very broad, non-technical sense of the word. Intralingual translation, on the other hand, partly because it is intralingual, is not taken as seriously as interlingual translation. It is something translators do subconsciously, some think. However, without enough training and explicit instruction, it is never done at all. This attention to interlingual at the expense of intralingual translation is part of a perspective on translation where it is regarded as a product, not a process, and where context is not given adequate attention. Without adequate understanding of the source text (ST) and without being able to find relevant counterparts in the target language (TL), a good translation is not possible. Intralingual translation is needed when a translator has difficulty understanding the ST in its original version, e.g., a modern Arab translator handling a pre-Islamic poem in Arabic.

Perhaps intralingual translation is too pervasive to merit attention in its own right - 

… it seems nonetheless evident that translation of some kind (proper or not, ethical or not) is taking place not just between one language and another, not just between one sign system and another, but within any given language, not least one’s own language, every time the principle ‘‘in other words’’ governs what is being written or spoken. Paraphrase, as one form of interpretation, would be a subcategory of translation in this more general sense, as would commentary and indeed interpretation itself. The word ‘‘translation’’ would in fact be a translation of ‘‘interpretation,’’ and hermeneutics a theory of translation (Weller, 2005: 171, original emphases).


However, for many reasons elaborated in this article, special attention should be given to intralingual translation, in the sense of switching from one variety to another within the same language, in the context of translating from Arabic. The danger of things being lost in translation is intensified in the case of Arabic by the danger of even more valuable things being lost in variation – which is a fact of life we can only whole-heartedly embrace. 

Varieties of Arabic

Arabic is an umbrella term for a rich galaxy of dialects, accents, registers and styles. Variation in the language may be sketched along historical, geographical and functional lines. Historically, two varieties of Arabic may be easily identified – CA, the language of the Qur'an and pre-Islamic poetry, and MSA, the official language in all Arab countries and the language of quality media and academia. To these should be added an infinite number of colloquials in every Arab country or region.

Geographically, four blocks of colloquial Arabic may be identified – the Arabic of Egypt, Moroccan Arabic, spoken in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, Levant Arabic, spoken in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, and Gulf Arabic, spoken in gulf countries, with some blends and shades falling between these major blocks. There are a number of local accents and dialects in almost every single Arab country, e.g., Shehhi in the UAE and Sa'idi (Upper Egyptian) in Egypt. The confusing situation of Arabic colloquials, compared to the CA-MSA development, explains many cases of unintelligibility, for example, between speakers of Iraqi and Moroccan - although CA and MSA remain fairly equally intelligible in Iraq and Morocco.

Functional variation in Arabic is often discussed in terms of diglossia - Ferguson's (1959) long standing, although over-simplistic, characterization of the sociolinguistic situation of Arabic. In his original conceptualization, Ferguson argues for division in Arabic between two varieties, judging by the domains they are used in – one he characterizes as High (CA and later MSA), used in sermons and other formal contexts, and another he describes as Low (colloquial Arabic), used in everyday conversations and other informal encounters. There is so much to disagree with in this conceptualization. In addition to the bias toward the literary or written built in the two adjectives "high" and "low", the varieties Ferguson identifies are not separate. The sociolinguistic situation of Arabic, moreover, should be best described as poly-, or heteroglossic. 

This is the thrust of a more realistic characterization provided by Badawi (1985) which, although about the Arabic of Egypt, can readily apply to other Arab countries. Badawi identifies five levels of Egyptian Arabic: Classical Arabic of Tradition (fusђa t-turaaθ), the language of the Qur'an and pre-Islamic poetry, quoted today in religious sermons and very formal situations, Modern Standard Arabic (fusђa l ʕaSr), used in academic settings, news broadcasts, political speeches and other formal and official contexts, the Colloquial of the Educated (ʕaammiyyatu l muθaqqafiin), used by educated, or "cultured", people in their discussion of academic, political and economic issues, the Colloquial of the Enlightened (ʕaammiyyatu l mutanawwiriin), used, for example, by university students talking about their courses, exams and grades and majors, and the Colloquial of the Illiterate (ʕaammiyyatu l Ɂummiyyiin).

There is inevitably a lot of code-switching and code-mixing between these levels. However, MSA remains a golden mean, somewhere between CA and the various colloquials. With influences from foreign languages, coinages to keep up with advances in science and technology and a relaxation of the syntactic rules of CA in favor of journalistic style, MSA has served as medium of communication between speakers of Arabic who have no access to each other's varieties – a function also performed by English, the lingua franca of today's world. More is said in the following section about why MSA is a golden mean in translating from Arabic, e.g., into English 

Why MSA?

Some of the reasons why MSA should be regarded as a golden mean between CA, on the one hand, and the multitude of Arabic colloquials, on the other, have already been suggested above. MSA and CA are the unifying varieties in the Arab world. However, CA is not readily accessible to every speaker of the language. The traditional variety in its Qur'anic version is heard and recited by Muslim Arabs, but it is not a language of everyday, spoken or written, communication – "The social reproduction of Classical Arabic for most people outside the reading-writing elite is mainly through their performance of religious rituals, particularly the performance of the daily prayers" (Haeri, 200: 74; see also Robertson, 2002, 2006).

On the other hand, there is a lot of variation which can result in confusion amongst the many colloquial varieties of Arabic. An Emirati requesting ʕeesh ("bread", "rice") in an Egyptian supermarket or restaurant will normally be offered bread; an Egyptian requesting the same in an Emirati supermarket or restaurant will be normally offered rice. The MSA partial synonym khubz ("bread") can bridge the gap between speakers of the two varieties of Arabic.

Some examples of words and expressions that vary from one colloquial variety of Arabic to another are given here. The list of variants for each word or expression is not exclusive: (1) "very much": barsha barsha (Tunisian), waajid and waayid (Gulf, UAE, Kuwait), ђeel, marrah (Gulf, Saudi), biz-zaaf (Moroccan), qawi and ?awi, jiddan and giddan (Egypt); (2) "man, guy": raajil and raagil (Egypt), rayyaal (UAE), zalamih (Levant, Syrian, Lebanese), zoul (Sudanese); (3) "now": dilwaɁti, dilwakiit, dilawakiiti, and dilwak (Egypt), al ђiin and da ђiin (UAE), hassih (Iraqi, Jordanian); (4) "thus, as such": kida, kdih and kidahawwiiti (Egypt), heek (Syrian, Lebanese), tshi (UAE), hakka (Tunisian); (5) "I want you to": (Ɂana) ʕaawzak / ʕaayzak (Egypt), Ɂabiik, Ɂabaak (UAE), (Ɂana) Ɂariidak (Iraqi), baddi yyaak (Syrian, Jordanian), bagheet(ak) (Moroccan), Ɂabghaak (Saudi).

Similar variants and confusables are often resolved by resorting to MSA, to English, or to an explanation. Various degrees of converging and diverging between speakers of Arabic varieties do exist and are often determined by pragmatic as well as power-related factors, e.g., an Emirati switching to Syrian, or vice versa, to get the communication going. Intelligibility is, therefore, an important reason why MSA is a golden mean between different levels of Arabic. MSA is obviously more intelligible to most speakers of Arabic than CA. It is more intelligible for an average speaker of one variety of Arabic than another variety s/he is not familiar with. This factor of intelligibility explains, for example, why a lot of Arabic literature in MSA, and comparatively very little in local colloquials, is translated into foreign languages.

Another factor is that of economy, but this one has to do more with translating into Arabic. It is far more economic to subtitle or dub an American movie into one MSA than into many local vernaculars. When subtitled or dubbed into local vernaculars, the audience of the movie will be only those who can handle those vernaculars. In other words, an American movie subtitled or dubbed into MSA can travel easily from one Arab country to another; the same movie subtitled into, for example, Saudi Arabic can only have an impact on those who know this variety.  Other versions of the movie in other local Arabics will be needed for the movie to reach other Arab audiences.

A third reason why MSA is the golden mean between varieties of Arabic has to do with standardization and lexicography. Very few local varieties of Arabic are standardized enough. (A lot of attention has been given to Egyptian Arabic and there are a good number of grammars and dictionaries of the variety, but this is not the case with other local varieties of Arabic.) The Arabic used in most Arabic-English-Arabic dictionaries, e.g., Al-Mawrid, is MSA. Monolingual Arabic dictionaries, e.g., Lisaan ul ʕarab, Al-Muʕjam ul-Wajiiz, are in CA and/or MSA. Tourist's bilingual pocket dictionaries in local varieties, which teach expatriates how to say "Hello", "Thank you" and other gambits in, for example, Saudi or UAE Arabic, are of very little help when it comes to translation.

A translator faced with such UAE expressions as ramsah, yTarrish, gharshih, khashuugah will have to translate these into MSA (kalaam/ ђadiiθ, yursil, zujaajah and milʕaqah, respectively) and then look up there equivalents in English ("talk/ speech", "send", "bottle" and "spoon", respectively), unless s/he is a native speaker of this variety or someone who is somehow familiar with it.

One last reason why MSA should be embraced as a golden mean in translating from Arabic is one that is open to debate, and maybe controversy. Faced with the globalizing force of English and the Anglicizing force of globalization, speakers of Arabic should continue to have their own regional lingua franca – MSA being the most suitable candidate. They can, of course, use English, but it should remain an option not an obligation. It is politically revealing and, in fact, discomforting that two speakers of Arabic who are not familiar with each other's local variety should resort to English, not to MSA, to communicate when there is no (business, technological, etc.) motivation to use English.

For the reasons discussed above, translating an Arabic text in CA or in a local variety into MSA before translating it into English is sometimes not only desirable but also crucial to understanding the text, finding equivalent vocabulary in English and then translating it into the language. It is easy to fall into ideological and political traps here and to conflate the argument for intralingual translation from CA to MSA with lack of adequate respect and commitment to the language of the Holy Qur'an, for intralingual translation from local vernaculars into MSA with a desire to suppress dialects in favor of "standards". It is also easy to go on and on arguing against the unwarranted conflations.

The "semi-sacred" status of CA (e.g., Asker, 2006) is an outcome of its association with the Holy Qur'an. The argument for simplifying a text in CA should not collide with a Muslim's respect for the divine text. In fact, this is the only way to rescue CA legacy from oblivion and to pay tribute to pre-Islamic and early Muslim authors. Arabic-English textbooks scarcely contain texts such as those translated in this article because of their difficulty and because of students' lack of familiarity with their language. When CA texts are partially or completely simplified into MSA, Arab translation students are likely to be capable of handling them. If not, such texts remain a source of fear or fun.

In the same vein, very little, if any, attention is paid to local Arabic varieties in Arabic-English translation courses and course-books. Reasons for this inattention are many, including the very fact of variation itself, the difference between teachers and students as far as their vernaculars are concerned, especially in Gulf countries, and the not-so-respectful view in (Arab) academia of such vernacular genres as caricature, jokes, folk tales and (formulaic) local expressions. Whereas intralingually translating CA into MSA would mean making the former more accessible and more intimate, doing the same with local varieties would mean uplifting them so that they cease to be a source of fun. 

The shift to MSA is therefore unavoidable in any attempt at translating classical Arabic heritage as well as local Arabic literatures and forms of expression. How this shift happens when translating an Arabic text is explained below.

Translating from Arabic

The diagram below outlines the process of translating a text in Arabic (CA or local vernacular) into another language, e.g., English. Although the process should apply in translating Arabic into any other language, references are made to English here and throughout the article.

Translating from Arabic

Fig. 1: Translating from Arabic: Process

Most textbooks on translation (as a process rather than a product) start with reading and analyzing the ST – in our case a text in a local variety of Arabic or in CA. At this stage, intralingual translation involves understanding the ST and its context. Most often, intralingual translation is used to make the ST simple enough for the translator (e.g., Lhermite, 2005). Here is an example of a ST in UAE Arabic: Ɂil ghada zaahib baaji iS-SalaTa tђibbuun titghadduun Ɂaђiinah walla ʕuqub ma tkhallSuun it-tawSiyaat. Potentially confusable words in this text are zaahib ("ready", "done"), baaji ("not ready yet", "left"), Ɂaђiinah ("now", "this moment") and ʕuqub ("after"). Translated into MSA, the text reads Ɂal ghadaaɁ jaahiz lam tabqa Ɂilla S-SalaTaat hal tawadduuna tanaawulahu l Ɂaan Ɂam baʕda Ɂan tantahuu min jalsat it-tawSyaat (Other renderings are of course possible.) A speaker of UAE Arabic or someone who is familiar with the variety may not need to go through this intralingual translation. Someone who is not may have to translate the text into his/her own variety or into MSA to avoid confusables such as zaahib (confusable with ðaahib meaning "going"). Once the ST is comprehended, an interlingual translation into English, including finding equivalent vocabulary, becomes possible: "Lunch is ready – only the salad is not ready yet. Would you like to have it now or after you finish the recommendation (closing) session?" or "Lunch is ready – we are now preparing the salad. Would you like to have it now or after you finish the recommendation (closing) session?"

In many cases, intralingual translation into MSA appears to be redundant, something speakers of Arabic do subconsciously or mechanically. In other cases, this translation, which does not have to be explicit, is indispensible for an understanding and thus for an interlingual translation of a ST. An expression such as nitrayyaak in UAE Arabic illustrates some of the processes (that should be) involved in translating from a local variety of Arabic. The expression, originally nitrajjaak, contains a /j/ changed into a /y/, a phonological tendency in many Gulf varieties including UAE Arabic. The original is confusable with nitrajjaak or natarajjaak meaning "we are begging/ asking/ entreating you" in other varieties of Arabic. The alternative MSA nantaZiruk ("we are waiting for you") is less confusing and more readily understandable for speakers of other varieties of Arabic. In the following section of the article, two STs in CA, which belong to classical Arabic wisdom literature (Gutas, 1981), are examined with the same objective of illustrating the importance of intralingual translation into MSA in translating from Arabic into English.

Two Texts in CA

Text (A):

Pre-Islamic Arab Woman's Advice on Marriage

The first text is a famous, oft-quoted, piece of advice by a pre-Islamic Arab woman, Omama bint Al-Harith, to her daughter, Umm Ɂiyaas, upon her wedding. Nothing is said here about the ideology of the text; it is approached from a translational perspective, although it contains a number of debatable statements and controversial issues. A complete transcription of the text is given in Appendix A.1.

This is a fairly accessible text for an average Arab university student. However a lot of intralingual translation is needed, not only at the level of vocabulary items likely to be incomprehensible, but also at the level of syntax. This is a partial list of vocabulary intralingually translated into MSA. Depending on how proficient in Arabic the (student) translator is, the range of incomprehensible vocabulary can expand or shrink:

a. faDli Ɂadabin: ziyaadatu Ɂadabin ("plenty or excess of good breeding, politeness");

b. khallafti: tarakti, ghaadarti  ("left behind");

c. darajti: taʕallamti l mashy ("learned to walk");

d. milkihi ʕalayki: ʕaqdihi qiraanak ("his/ your getting officially married to you/ him");

e. raqiiban: masɁuulan ("in charge of");

f. ʕabdan washiika: ʕabdan muTiiʕa ("a responsive, obedient servant"); 

g. ðukhran: kanzan, θarwatan ("treasure", "wealth");

h. malhabah: tushʕilu naara l ghaDab, taghiiZ ("sparkle the fire of anger", "vexing");

i. maghDabah: sababun li l ghaDab ("irritating", "infuriating");

j. Ɂawgharti Sadrah: Ɂaθarti ʕadaawatah ("made an enemy of him");

k. Ɂit-taqii: Ɂiђzarii ("beware", "avoid");

l. tariђan: ђaziinan, muktaɁiban ("depressed", "blue", "sad").

Intralingual translation of the text can also include syntactic paraphrasing or simplifying. For example Ɂinna l waSiyyata law turikat li faDli Ɂadabin turikat li ðaalika minki can be rephrased as Ɂaa kaanat in-naSiiђa tuqaddamu li ghayr l muɁaddabiin fa la yajibu Ɂan tuqaddama Ɂilayki li Ɂannaki muɁaddabah ("If advice is not given to the well-bred, then it should not be given to you" or "you are well-bred enough not to need advice"). The next stage would be an interlingual translation into English. The translation in Appendix A.2 is just one possible translation that can undergo further editing.

Further editing of the translation can involve adding some music to the text to mirror the original. It can also involve experimenting with nominalization such as "obedience" instead of noun phrases such as "obedient companion". This English-to-English intralingual translation is beside the point of the present article, although it is an extremely important component of the translation process – a component that often sets apart a beautiful from a merely correct, or "survival", translation.

Text (B):

Warn and Make a Case before You Punish

The second text (Appendix B.1) is apparently more difficult, judging by the reaction of my Arab university translation students. Some context is essential to an understanding of what is going on in the text. The speaker is Al-Aws ibn Harithah who lived so long and had after all got only one son, Maalik. His brother, Al-Khazraj had got five, a reason for envy in a pre-Islamic tribal context and elsewhere. Al-Aws contents himself with the prospect of his son Maalik being able to have plenty of sons himself. The rest of the text is invested in offering advice to Maalik so that we are left with a masterpiece of pre-Islamic didactic prose quoted in many Arabic sources and anthologies. Some important contextual references are explained and some CA expressions are rendered in MSA below:

a. maalik: the only son of the speaker;

b. khazraj: his brother who has got five sons;

c. allaði istakharaja l ʕaðqa mina l jariimah wa n-naara mina l waθiimahman Ɂakhraja n-nakhla mina l buðuur wan-naara mina l Ɂaђjaar: formulaic reference to God embedded in a formulaic CA oath, "He who causes a seed to become a palm tree and stones to produce fire (by friction)";

d. rijaalan buslan - shujʕaan: brave men;

e. Ɂat-tajalludu - ɁaSSabr: fortitude, patience,

f. mushtaffɁashshurb ђatta Ɂaakhir qaTrah: (someone drinking) to the very last drop;

g. muqtaff - sariiʕ ul Ɂakl: (someone eating) hurriedly and fast;

h. Ɂamirazaada or ʕalaa: (he) gained more, moved up;

i. tabTartatakabbar or tajђad: (you) behave arrogantly or ungratefully;

j. sa yanђasir - yamDii: will pass, diminish, disappear;

k. Ɂashshariifu l Ɂablaj - kaθiiru shsharaf: (the) openly, very noble;

l. wa l-laɁiimu l muʕalhaj - shadiidu l luɁm: and (the) extremely mean and low;

m. Ɂal mawtu l mufiit – Ɂal mawtu l laðii yamurru ʕala l jamiiʕ: death that drops by and spares none;

n. yuqaala laka habiityuqaalu ʕanka Ɂaђmaq: is said "fool" to you.

Based on the context partially described and the intralingual simplifications given above, a translation into English can now be attempted (Appendix B.2).

Discussion and Conclusion

The examples from local Arabic varieties as well as from CA mentioned and/or examined above underscore the value of intralingual translation in translating from Arabic. In fact, intralingual translation, in the form of paraphrasing, summarizing, rephrasing, simplifying, editing, rewriting, etc., seems to be unavoidable, considering that it could be explicit or implicit, conscious or subconscious, in any translation from any language or variety. It is particularly important in translating from Arabic because the monolithic term does not designate one language but a multitude of varieties, levels, registers, dialects, accents and styles.

The amount and the degree of explicitness of intralingual translation needed in handling a ST in Arabic depend on how familiar the language variety of the text is for the translator. A Jordanian translating a joke in local Jordanian Arabic may not need to explicitly rephrase it into MSA; a Tunisian not familiar with Jordanian Arabic will have to rephrase the joke in his/her own variety and/or in MSA.

Intralingual translation needs not be explicit, it has already been suggested. It needs not be exhaustive, either. Sometimes, only portions of a text need to be simplified into MSA. However, training Arab translation students on doing it explicitly is an important part of preparing them to deal with different levels and varieties of Arabic. The more confidently they can move from one variety to another, from one level to another, the more capable they become of dealing with texts in CA and in local vernaculars. 

Transcription Symbols

The following symbols are used in transcribing Arabic words in the article: Ɂء  - ђ ح - kh خ  - ðذ  - θ ثsh  شS ص - D ضZ ظT ط ʕ – ع - gh  غ - q ق – y ىLong vowels and geminate consonants are indicated by doubling the relevant symbols. Transliterations are given in italics.


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______________ (2006). Learning to read "properly" by moving between parallel literacy classes. Language & Education 20: 44-61.

Weller, S. (2005). In other words: On the ethics of translation. Angelaki - Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 10(3): 171-187.


Appendix A.1

Ɂay bunayyah Ɂinna l waSiyyata law turikat li faDli Ɂadabin turikat li ðaalika minki wa laakinnahaa tazkiratun lil ghaafil wa maʕuunatun lil ʕaaqil wa law Ɂanna mraɁatan istaghnat ʕan iz-zawji li ghina Ɂabawayhaa wa shiddati ђaajatihima Ɂilayhaa kunti Ɂaghna n-naasi ʕanh wa laakinna n-nisaaɁa lir-rijaali khuliqna wa lahunna khuliqa r-rijaal Ɂay bunayyah Ɂinnaki faaraqti j-jawwa l-laði minhu kharajti wa khallafti il ʕushsha l-laði fiihi darajti Ɂila wakrin lam taʕrifiih wa qariinin lam taɁlafiih fa ɁaSbaђ bi milkihi ʕalayki raqiiban wa maliika fa kuunii lahu Ɂamatan yakun laki ʕabdan washiika Ɂay bunayyah Ɂiђmilii ʕanni ʕashra khiSaalin takun lakii ðukhran wa ðikra ɁaSSuђbatu bi l qanaaʕah wa l muʕaasharatu bi ђusni s-samʕi wa T-Taaʕah wa t-taʕahhudu li mawqiʕi ʕaynihi wa t-tafaqqudu li mawDiʕi Ɂanfih fa laa taqaʕu ʕaynuhu minki ʕala qabiiђ wa laa yashummu minki Ɂilla ɁaTayba riiђ wa l kuђlu Ɂaђsanu l ђusni wa l maaɁu ɁaTaybu T-Tiib wa t-taʕahhudu li waqti Taʕaamihi wa l huduuɁ ʕanhu ʕinda manaamih fa Ɂinna ђaraarata j-juuʕi malhabah wa tanghiiSa n-nawmi maghDabah wa l ɁiђtifaaZu bi baytihii wa maalih wa l ɁirʕaaɁu ʕala nafsihii wa ђashamihii wa ʕiyaalih fa Ɂinna l iђtifaaZa bi l maali ђusnu t-taqdiir wa l ɁirʕaaɁa ʕala l ʕiyaali wa l ђashami jamiilun ђasanu t-tadbiir wa laa tufshii lahu sirra wa laa taʕSii lahu Ɂamra fa Ɂinnaki Ɂin Ɂafshayti sirrahu lam taɁmanii ghadrah wa Ɂin ʕaSayti Ɂamrahu Ɂawgharti Sadrah θumma t-taqii min ðaalika l faraђ Ɂin kaana tariђan wa l iktiɁaaba ʕindahu Ɂin kaana fariђan fa l khiSlatu l Ɂulaa mina t-taqSiir wa θ-θaaniyatu mina t-takdiir wa kuunii Ɂashadda maa takuuniina lahu ɁiʕZaaman yakun Ɂashadda maa yakuunu laki Ɂikraaman wa Ɂashadda maa takuuniina lahu muwaafaqatan yakun ɁaTwala maa takuuniina lahu murafaqah wa ʕlamii Ɂannaki la taSiliina Ɂila maa tuђibbiina ђatta tuɁθirii riDaahu ؟ala riDaaki wa hawaahu ؟ala hawaaki fiimaa Ɂђbabti wa karihti wa llaahu yakhiiru laki (Source of original: Majma' Al-Amthaal, 2: 143; Al-iqd Al-Farid, 3: 223).

Appendix A.2

"Sweetie, you are well-bred enough not to need advice; it is just a reminder for the absent-minded and an aide to the wise. Should a girl give up marriage for having well-off parents or for being too indispensable for them, you would be that kind of girl. Women, however, are made for men and men are made for women. My daughter, you have almost departed from the environment you have been brought up in and left behind the nest where you have learned to walk and talk, to a place you have never known and a spouse you have never been familiar with. He has become your guardian and your king upon legally marrying you; so, be his slave and he will be your servant. Follow these ten tips and they will be your treasure and repertoire for a great life. Be a content and easy to please spouse and a receptive, obedient companion. Always watch for where your husband's eyes look and where his nose sticks, so that his eyes may never behold something ugly and his nose may never smell something not good about you. Kuhl (antimony, ithmid) is the best cosmetic and water is the best perfume. Always remember the times when he has his meals and be quiet when he sleeps; the heat of hunger can set someone ablaze and the disruption of sleep is infuriating. Maintain his household and protect his money – sure signs of good judgment - and take care of him, his kids and his kith and kin – a sure sign of good management. Never reveal his secrets and never disobey him. If you reveal his secrets, you can never be certain he will be honest to you, and if you disobey him, you are likely to antagonize (make an enemy of) him. Avoid displaying happiness when he is unhappy, which is irresponsible, and unhappiness when he is happy, which is disconcerting. The more you honor him, the more kind he is to you; the more you are in accord with him, the longer you are likely to live together. You will never get what you want until you give priority to what pleases him over what pleases you, to his desires over your own in your likes and dislikes as well. May God guide you to make wise decisions and choices!"

Appendix B.1

lam yahlik haalikun taraka miθla maalik / wa Ɂin kaana l khazraju ðaa ʕadadin wa laysa li maalikin walad fa laʕalla llaði istakharaja l ʕaðqa mina l jariimah wa n-naara mina l waθiimah Ɂan yajʕala li maalikin naslan wa rijaalan buslan / yaa maalik Ɂal maniyyatu wa la d-daniyyah / wa l ʕitaabu qabla l ʕiqaab / wa t-tajalludu wa la t-taballud / wa ʕlam Ɂanna l qabra khayrun mina l faqr / wa sharra shaaribin il mushtaff wa Ɂaqbaђa Taaʕimin l muqtaff / wa ðahaabu l baSari khayrun min kaθiirin mina n-naZar / wa min karami l kariimi d-difaaʕu ʕan il ђariim / wa man qalla ðalla wa man Ɂamira qall / wa khayru l ghinaa l qanaaʕah / wa sharru l faqri D-Daraaʕah / wa d-dahru yawmaan fa yawmun laka wa yawmun ʕalayk / fa Ɂiðaa kaana laka fa laa tabTar wa Ɂiðaa kaana ؟alayka fa Sbir fa kilaahumaa sa yanђasir / fa Ɂinnama taʕuzzu man tara wa yuʕizzuka man la tara / wa law kaana l mawtu yushtara la salima minhu Ɂahlu d-dunyaa wa la kinna n-naasa fiihi mustawuun Ɂashshariifu l Ɂablaj wa l-laɁiimu l muʕalhaj / wa l mawtu l mufiit khayrun min Ɂan yuqaala laka habiit / wa kayfa bis-salaamah li man laysa lahu Ɂiqaamah / wa sharrun mina l muSiibati suuɁu l khalaf wa kullu majmuuʕun Ɂila talaf (Source: Luqmaan Magazine: An Anthology of Pre-Islamic Prose. Kitab fi Jarida Series, Nov. 2007, p. 5. Original text from: Al-Amaali or Dictations by Abu Ali AL-Qaali)

Appendix B.2

A man who leaves behind a son like Maalik upon his death is not really dead. If Al-Khazraj has got a large number of kids while Maalik has got none so far, it is very likely that He who causes palm trees to come out of small seeds and fire to come out of stones and rocks (through friction) will give Maalik posterity – brave, fearless men. My dear Maalik, you'd rather die than do something mean and you should always warn and make a case before inflicting your punishment upon someone. Be stoic and patient, but never cold-blooded or indifferent. Resting in a grave, you should know, is far better than living in poverty. The worst manner of drinking is to drink something to its bitter end; the ugliest habit of eating is to eat fast and hurriedly. In many cases going blind is better than being able to see – when you have to behold disagreeable things. A sure sign of being noble is to protect your female household, your seraglio. Once you lose your money, you lose your status as well and give in to humility and there is always a going down after you have reached a peak. The richest person is the one who is really content with what he has; the worst part of being poor is to beg and implore. Time is never the same with one person: one day you are up, one day you are down. Never behave arrogantly when you are up and never give up or lose patience when you are down. Both days will pass away, anyway. You hold dear only those whom you can behold, and you are held dear by those who cannot behold you. Had death been something to purchase or appropriate, human beings would have been able to stay away from it. When it comes to death, all humans – the very noble as well as the extremely mean - are equal; it is the great leveler. It is better to face death than to live too long to keep your senses – long enough for people to call you a fool. How come you ever feel safe at a place where you cannot stay forever? To leave behind an evil posterity is far worse than the predicament of death itself. Whatever you heap up and put together will be lost, eventually. 

[1] Paper presented at the 1st Int'l Conference on Translation/Interpretation and the Impact of Globalization, Nov. 18-20, 2008. UAE, UAE University, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Translation Studies.

[2] Assistant Professor, Department of Translation Studies, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, UAE University. Emails: and


Published - December 2009

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