A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, August 29, 2011

A New Burst of Commentary on Qadhafi's Name

The reported discovery that the (now former) Libyan Brother Leader's passport spells his name "Kathafi" has provoked a new wave of postings on the perennial, and easily overdone, issue of the multiple transliterations of Qadhafi's name.  Kal at The Moor Next Door and Issandr El Amrani at The Arabist have both addressed the question. I commented a long time back on this and other issues of Arabic transliteration,  quoting T.E. Lawrence's inimitable exchange with his proofreaders.

I would like to make the point that both Kal and Issandr make. Editors and commenters should stop saying there's a lot of confusion over how to spell Qadhafi's name. There is no confusion about how to spell Qadhafi's name: it's spelled معمرالقذافي. The debate is how to transliterate this Arabic name into other languages and writing systems and it is complicated by the fact that some of the letters are pronoounced differently from dialect to dialect, even within Libya.  But there's no doubt about how to spell it, since it's an Arabic name and is spelled only one way in Arabic.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Thank you, Mike, for transliterating the name in the manner you do. As a young political officer and translator/interpreter at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli in September 1969, I decided on the "correct" transliteration. Doubling the dh consonant would have been more purist but really too fussy for the largely non-Arabist readers of US government reports. In those days, before more sophisticated word searches became possible, biographic files could be lost forever if they did not use a standard spelling. Pity the Arabists who obstinately tried to use a standard fusha transliteration from the written Arabic for Gamal Abdel Nasser or Habib Bourguiba.