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Koran vs Qur’an
Posted: 09 July 2008 11:06 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Apologies in advance if this is somewhat off-topic.

I noticed that Wikipedian editors have imposed Qur’an as the default spelling of Koran. I am pretty puzzled that a word with an apostrophe in the middle (I am not aware of such an English-language grammatical form!) is employed instead of the generally-accepted English form, Koran. It would be as if English-language venues suddenly were to start using Nippon instead of Japan or Biblos instead of Bible. Please take a look at a brief discussion I had on this issue at the Wikipedia article on Qur’an (Talk Section) under Why Qur’an and not Koran? I tried to hotlink it here, but the the apostrophe in Qur’an somehow messes the direct link.

I would really appreciate your feedback on this particular issue, as well as on its underlying implications!

[ Edited: 09 July 2008 11:27 PM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 09 July 2008 11:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Isn’t this the same debate as to whether you call Koln Cologne or Firenze Florence or even London Londres, if you’re French?

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Posted: 10 July 2008 01:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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as well as on its underlying implications!

Your use of the exclamation mark suggests controversy, possibly outside the scope of this forum.  Perhaps you would elucidate what type of implications you had in mind.

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Posted: 10 July 2008 01:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Let us assume a given word that is pretty much established and universally accepted in any given language; such a word may, through natural linguistic selection, either fall from grace of acquire new meanings that all but replace the original one. An example that comes to mind is gay. This is not the issue I am referring to.

What I had in mind is the situation when a particular group of people—be it a country, a community, a religious group, a group of scholars, journalists, etc—decide that the default spelling or stipulation of that word should be altered to reflect their point of view. I can think of the case of Beijing, which—at the behest of the PRC—all but replaced Peking in the USA. This however was not the case in the UK, where the Chinese city it is still referred to as Peking. Pressure groups have failed to gain public acceptance of words such as womyn .

The case of Koran is quite interesting, as a somewhat forced transition to Quran is underway. There is no general consensus yet: the New York Times, the Economist, and the OED employ Koran; the BBC now used both forms, whereas the Associated Press recently adopted Quran. Some venues, (such as Wikipedia), have even gone as far as using the completely non-English form Qur’an as a default spelling.

It will be quite interesting to see what the outcome of this issue will be within a few years.

[ Edited: 10 July 2008 01:59 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 10 July 2008 01:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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astal - 10 July 2008 01:16 AM

as well as on its underlying implications!

Your use of the exclamation mark suggests controversy, possibly outside the scope of this forum. Perhaps you would elucidate what type of implications you had in mind.

My use of exclamation only reflects the fact that I am Greek and hence culturally more prone to ebullient grammar than my more composed Anglo-Saxon friends :) I beg your patience and understanding, and will try to contain myself.

I am not in the least bit interested in religious controversy, if that was what you are alluding to. I just happened to choose Koran vs Qur’an, as opposed to, say, Nippon vs Japan, which is not even an issue since the Japanese scholars lobbying for a change are well below the radar screen. By underlying implications, I strictly refer to the conditions under which any new linguistic stipulation may replace the generally accpeted one in a non-spontaneous manner.

[ Edited: 10 July 2008 01:41 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 10 July 2008 02:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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There is nothing to get excited about here.  Qur’an is a more accurate transliteration from the Arabic (the apostrophe represents the Arabic hamza or glottal stop), and it is replacing the older Koran in the same way as Muhammad is replacing Mohammed (which replaced the earlier Mahound).  There is no conspiracy.

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Posted: 10 July 2008 03:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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languagehat - 10 July 2008 02:55 AM

There is nothing to get excited about here.  Qur’an is a more accurate transliteration from the Arabic (the apostrophe represents the Arabic hamza or glottal stop), and it is replacing the older Koran in the same way as Muhammad is replacing Mohammed (which replaced the earlier Mahound).  There is no conspiracy.

Gwenhwyfar is a far more accurate transliteration of Jennifer from Welsh, so by this reasoning, it would be “linguistically correct,” if not inevitable, to discard the long-established English spelling.

Where does the quest for transliteration purism begin and where does it end?

[ Edited: 10 July 2008 03:53 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 10 July 2008 06:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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But the woman doesn’t call herself Gwenhwyfar. Her name is Jennifer. The Welsh spelling of the name is immaterial; what she calls herself is the relevant factor. Some girls are Cathleen, others are Caitlyn.  You don’t call a girl named Cathleen “Caitlyn.” They are not the same name in English.

In the case of Qur’an or Beijing the change is not to reflect a “point of view.” The change is an attempt to more accurately transliterate the name. The same principle in Gwenhwyfar/Jennifer is at work; the change is being made to bring the English spelling in line with what the natives call it. I think it’s just a matter of simple politeness and spelling and pronouncing the name in a way that the native speakers would recognize it.

You object to the use of the apostrophe, but this is a pretty standard English method of representing a glottal stop. It appears all the time in transliterations of Native American names. And even one of the US states, Hawai’i, is often spelled with one.

If you don’t like it, you can keep on writing Koran. No one is stopping you. But be aware that if you write for publication, including venues like Wikipedia, the publisher’s style rules will trump your personal preference.

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Posted: 10 July 2008 06:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I don’t know why Pavlos says that the form ‘Peking’ is used in the UK. Not even rags like the Mail refuse to print ‘Beijing’.

He seems to think that style guides are dictated by conspiracies of foreigners or loony PC types. They’re not.

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Posted: 10 July 2008 07:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Pavlos - 10 July 2008 03:31 AM

Gwenhwyfar is a far more accurate transliteration of Jennifer from Welsh, so by this reasoning, it would be “linguistically correct,” if not inevitable, to discard the long-established English spelling.

Where does the quest for transliteration purism begin and where does it end?

To follow up on Dave’s reply, you have made an argument for using “Gwenhwyfar” when translating Welsh literature.  And indeed, I would be surprised to see “Jennifer” in this context.  If, on the other hand, one is translating a medieval French work, a reasonable decision might be to use a French form, which is (I am guessing) where “Guinevere” comes from I can imagine a modern work of fiction having Art and Jennifer, but this would be for effect.  In practice, were a girl so unfortunate as to be named “Guinevere”, it would be regarded as a distinct name from “Jennifer”. 

And, as Dave points out, this line of argument is off point to the main discussion.

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Posted: 10 July 2008 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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kurwamac - 10 July 2008 06:49 AM

He seems to think that style guides are dictated by conspiracies of foreigners or loony PC types. They’re not.

Though the “loony” part is arguable, when one see things like prohibitions on restrictive “which” included.  But even there, the problem is as much ignorance as it is lunacy.

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Posted: 10 July 2008 07:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Pavlos - 10 July 2008 07:05 AM

Dave Wilton - 10 July 2008 06:16 AM
But the woman doesn’t call herself Gwenhwyfar. Her name is Jennifer. The Welsh spelling of the name is immaterial; what she calls herself is the relevant factor. Some girls are Cathleen, others are Caitlyn.  You don’t call a girl named Cathleen “Caitlyn.” They are not the same name in English.

In the case of Qur’an or Beijing the change is not to reflect a “point of view.” The change is an attempt to more accurately transliterate the name. The same principle in Gwenhwyfar/Jennifer is at work; the change is being made to bring the English spelling in line with what the natives call it. I think it’s just a matter of simple politeness and spelling and pronouncing the name in a way that the native speakers would recognize it.

You object to the use of the apostrophe, but this is a pretty standard English method of representing a glottal stop. It appears all the time in transliterations of Native American names. And even one of the US states, Hawai’i, is often spelled with one.

If you don’t like it, you can keep on writing Koran. No one is stopping you. But be aware that if you write for publication, including venues like Wikipedia, the publisher’s style rules will trump your personal preference.

Thanks David for taking the time to answer.

I was not aware that the use of an apostrophe in English is the equivalent of an umlaut. Fair enough.

It also goes without saying that one should respect the publisher’s style when writing in a particular venue. I learned my English in the USA, and the English style of my company is UK English - so I am constantly struggling to avoid gaol by abiding.

However, and with all due respect, I feel politeness to native peopleis neither a necessary not a sufficient condition for such changes.

As people have become (and hopefully will continue to do so) more tolerant, certain offensive expressions will inevitably fall to total oblivion— such as the N-word. By why would adopting Muhammed over Mohammed be considered polite, and to which native people? Certainly not to natives of an English-speaking country who bear the name Mohammed (Mohammed Ali comes to mind). To which natives , if any, are all Turks called Mehmet (instead of Muhammad) being uncivil to? Should the English spelling Christ be the transliterated to Christόs, and Bible to Biblos to be more polite to Greek-speakers? I think not.

Again, where do we draw the line with this type of politeness? This is really a rhetorical question, and I do not expect an answer :)

[ Edited: 10 July 2008 07:37 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 10 July 2008 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Richard Hershberger - 10 July 2008 07:01 AM

To follow up on Dave’s reply, you have made an argument for using “Gwenhwyfar” when translating Welsh literature.  And indeed, I would be surprised to see “Jennifer” in this context.

At some point in time, and after several iterations, the Wesh name Gwenhwyfar became an English name, Jeniffer.

In a similar way, the Arab name محمّد became the English name Mohammed.

What I am saying is that going back from the English spelling of Mohammed to an English transliteration of محمّد would be tantamount to going back from Jeniffer to Gwenhwyfar. I think the analogy is flawless.

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Posted: 10 July 2008 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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By why would adopting Muhammed over Mohammed be considered polite, and to which native people? Certainly not to natives of an English-speaking country who bear the name Mohammed (Mohammed Ali comes to mind).

To your mind.  The boxer, however, spells it Muhammad, as did Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam ("Black Muslims") at the time Ali (born Cassius Clay) adopted that religion and took a new name.

So I think your example of people who wouldn’t consider the Muhammad spelling more polite is strikingly ill-informed.

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Posted: 10 July 2008 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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kurwamac - 10 July 2008 06:49 AM

He seems to think that style guides are dictated by conspiracies of foreigners or loony PC types. They’re not.

Please do not put things in other peoples’ minds.

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Posted: 10 July 2008 07:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Dr. Techie - 10 July 2008 07:25 AM

So I think your example of people who wouldn’t consider the Muhammad spelling more polite is strikingly ill-informed.

Mea culpa! Sorry for that bit of disinformation.

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