When things develop rapidly, the news media does not always know how to handle it. During the Vietnam war, South Viet Nam spelled the country's name with two words, North Vietnam with one. That spelling dispute was also settled on the battlefield. A couple of questions about English renderings in the present Iraq Crisis have arisen:
ISIS or ISIL?
الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام, al-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-‘Iraq wa'l-Sham, literally means "The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham," and that is how this blog has been translating it when we use the full form. "Al-Sham" is the traditional Arabic word for "Greater Syria," Syria/Lebanon/Palestine/Jordan, roughly equivalent to the French-English term "Levant." Some therefore translate as "The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant," while others gloss the explanation as "The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria." Since both the "al-Sham" and "Syria" versions yield "ISIS" as an acronym, while "Levant" yields "ISIL," both have been used by various media outlets in English. ISIS seems to be dominating at the moment (since it can stand for two of the three possible translations), but President Obama has used ISIL. I prefer ISIS because "al-Sham" is the actual place name used, and "ISIS" is easy to pronounce, sounding like the Egyptian goddess, while ISIL, at least to me, sounds like some kind of medicine. I opt for ISIS for this blog.
The Washington Post, commenting on this, notes, "In any case, neither ISIS nor ISIL are as accurate as 'DAIISH,' the
Arabic shorthand for the group that no one in the English-language press
seems to use." Technically true, but not gonna happen. Andrew Sullivan has also weighed in, and opted for ISIS for many of the reasons I do,
Peshmerga, peshmerga, Pesh Merga, or pesh merga?
This question is purely orthographic in English and thus not one of translation. The linguists at Language Log have raised the issue about the many ways of spelling (in English) the name of the Kurdish armed fighters, whose name everyone agrees means "those who confront death."
To some extent, it's a matter of preference. Like all languages written in versions of Arabic/Persian script, Kurdish has no capital letters. The Kurdish spelling is:
The peculiarities of Kurdish vowel marking make this look to an Arabic or Persian speaker like the division is Peshme Rga, but I'm sure that's not how Kurds see it. (I know no Kurdish.)
However, the Kurdistan Regional Government has a Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs:
and the KRG's English website always spells it Peshmerga. Henceforth, at least, that will the style I use here.
There may be other linguistic issues to emerge from current events. Already I am hearing the military acronym "Charlie Foxtrot" used more frequently. (Hint: it does not stand for "Coalition Forces.")