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Koran vs Qur’an
Posted: 11 July 2008 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Dave Wilton - 11 July 2008 05:49 AM

Also, please be careful about citing the Compact OED. OUP very confusingly has two dictionaries with this name. One is the single-volume, micrographically printed version of the 2nd Edition of the OED. The second is a different dictionary, of which I’m not familiar so I can’t say what the exact differences are.

The Compact OED I have quoted is the online version of the 3rd edition available at http://www.askoxford.com

And an off-topic question, with profound apologies to Languagehat: I have not been able to use my trusty old OED CD’s since I “upgraded” to Windows Vista. If anyone knows of ways to tweak this, kindly PM me.

[ Edited: 11 July 2008 07:36 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 11 July 2008 07:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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As it happens, I agree with you about the definition, but this is a distraction from the point this thread was ostensibly about, the appropriateness of the spelling Qur’an.  It is a well-established practice that publications follow a consistent policy on such matters, developed and enforced by the publisher, editor, or editorial board. I wouldn’t say that it is always pointless and amateurish to argue against the house style guide, but one needs a powerful and compelling argument to have any hope of prevailing. In contrast, your position on Qur’an is IMHO nothing more than a personal crotchet; neither history nor current trends in usage support the notion that that spelling is “wrong”.  You might just as well get into an argument with an editor over whether the name of the tomato-based condiment Americans put on French fries should be spelled “catsup” or “ketchup”. The only wrong position is imagining that yours is the only right one.

[ Edited: 11 July 2008 07:51 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 11 July 2008 08:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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The use of an apostrophe to mark a glottal stop in some transliteration schemes seems to originate in the mark used in polytonic Greek, the smooth breathing (psilon pneuma, spiritus lenis) diacritic which contrasted with the rough breathing (dasu pneuma, spiritus asper) diacritic. In IPA, ʔ and h are used. Most of the time a straight apostrophe (or foot sign, ') is used, but otherwise a right single quote (’). Hawaiian has the ʻokina (which uses a left single quote ‘). The Ancient Greek alpahbet had already adopted the letter for glottal stop to be a vowel (aleph, alpha) and so had to invent a new one when they came to distinguish the two different consonant sounds ʔ and h.

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Posted: 11 July 2008 11:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Dr. Techie - 11 July 2008 07:47 AM

In contrast, your position on Qur’an is IMHO nothing more than a personal crotchet; neither history nor current trends in usage support the notion that that spelling is “wrong”. 

I am really not insisting that Koran is right and that Qur’an is wrong. I am just observing that one default spelling is giving its place to an other, before our very eyes, and I am trying to understand the mechanics. The fact that the OED adopted Qur’an as a default spelling only three months ago supports the validity and timeliness of this observation.

The main theme underlying my points—food for thought, IMHO—is that there are fascinating factors, which are not fully understood, that lead to the adoption of new default spellings over time, some spontaneously, some not, and some even for the sake of being polite towards the native speakers of a given word, as David pointed out.  Such linguistic phenomena certainly merit further observation and analysis.

FWIW, I enjoyed the constructive feedback, grinned and beared the 1 or 2 usual asshat comments, and certainly learned a lot from tis thread , including the facts that English may feature punctuation marks for glottal sounds, and that the word Qur’an has been referenced in English centuries ago—albeit as an Arab spelling of Koran (as per the COED).

[ Edited: 12 July 2008 01:37 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 11 July 2008 08:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Another round on Mohammed vs Muhammad boxing match.

According to the US Social Security census (http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/), Muhammad was the lowest-ranked spelling variation of the name for 2007 US births in terms of popularity:

Name Rank, by popularity (2007)
Mohamed 462th most popular name
Mohammad 627th most popular name
Mohammed 685th most popular name
Muhammad 702th most popular name

Surprisingly, alternative variations of the name (Mohamed and Mohammad) are ranked above Mohammed and Muhammad. This shows the futility of any linguistics police (not excluding myself!), sharia board or style committee to codify default spellings. Could the spelling of the Prophet’s name be going the way of he names Britney and Caitlyn?

[ Edited: 11 July 2008 08:40 PM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 12 July 2008 05:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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The fact that the OED adopted Qur’an as a default spelling only three months ago

You don’t seem to understand how the OED revision process works.  They got up to the end of the letter Q three months ago.  If the word had started with M, they’d have gotten to it years ago.  If it had started with Z, they wouldn’t get to it for years to come.  The spelling Qur’an has simply been waiting its turn in the revision queue.  I realize that you are not interested in facts that contradict your preconceptions, but I think it’s important to make the point for whoever might read the thread in future.

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Posted: 12 July 2008 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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languagehat - 12 July 2008 05:54 AM

They got up to the end of the letter Q three months ago.  If the word had started with M, they’d have gotten to it years ago.  If it had started with Z, they wouldn’t get to it for years to come. 

I had no idea. Thanks for that interesting bit of trivia.

languagehat - 12 July 2008 05:54 AM

I realize that you are not interested in facts that contradict your preconceptions…

What a horrible thing to say.

[ Edited: 12 July 2008 09:21 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 12 July 2008 03:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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languagehat - 11 July 2008 06:12 AM

Note to Pavlos: You seem more interested in making ideological points than in discussing words.  Next time you feel the need to preface a post with “Apologies in advance if this is somewhat off-topic,” you might want to reconsider whether it should be posted at all.

You are not very clear as to what your objection is, as you seem to be beating around the bush

That seemed pretty direct to me, not “beating around the bush at all.”

The ideological bent is explained in your second post:

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 .

You’re clearly approaching these questions from an ideological point of view, as opposed to an open, inquiring point of view. You are then bending or creating facts to support your preconceptions. That is what is irking people. Had you simply asked, “Why do some spell it Koran and some Qur’an? Which is correct? And if, as it seems to me, the standard spelling is changing, what is the reason for this?” we wouldn’t be going down this path.

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Posted: 12 July 2008 10:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Some background on the circumstances that led to the transition from Peking to Beijing:

For the better part of the 20th century, the English-speaking world employed the tranliteration standard for Mandarin developed in 1859 by Thomas Wade. When did all this change? On January 1st, 1979, the PRC officially adopted Hanyu Pinyin as the official romanization standard for names, places and trademarks. This system was first introduced in 1958, as a phonetic guide to teach Mandarin in school. This default transliteration was eventually adopted by several organizations, including the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). In 1997, the Library of Congress decided to switch to Pinyin for the romanization of Chinese in cataloging. Hanyu Pinyin is not universally adopted by all Chinese speakers: the ROC (Taiwan) employed the Wade Standard until very recently, and has now adopted its own Pinyin standard which is stll debated.

So, where is the ideology therefore in claiming that “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.”?

I posed my queries politely and in good faith. In some cases, my facts and interpretations were quite off (eg., my brainfart concerning Muhammad Ali, the notion that a glottal stop is not compatible to English gammar, and that Peking is still used in the UK).  I already acknowledged and thank those who corrected me of such misconceptions. But I certainly resent being stigmatized as an unyielding ideologue who fabricates facts to support his fixed preconceptions.  And I am deeply offended by languagehat’s poor sportsmanship (“I realize that you are not interested in facts that contradict your preconceptions”).

[ Edited: 13 July 2008 02:54 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 12 July 2008 10:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Thomas Wade

The Wade-Giles transliteration of 北京 is Peiching. The transliteration Peking originated with the French Jesuits in the 17th century before the sound change took place which lead to the initial phoneme of the second half of the word being palatalized. ([k] / _ i ⇒ [tɕ].) The Republic of China has used other Romanization schemes besides Wade-Giles, e.g., Gwoyeu Romatzyh.

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Posted: 13 July 2008 12:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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So, where is the ideology therefore in claiming that “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 is a forum about etymology, not ideology. 

DNFTT.

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Posted: 13 July 2008 01:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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I think you may have a problem with Rules, Pavlos. You are much preoccupied with them. This is apparent when you say something like ..."a particular group of people...decide that the default spelling or stipulation of that word should be altered to reflect their point of view"… I am not sure what you mean by “default spelling” (sounds like something out of a Microsoft rulebook). The thing is, in language, there aren’t any Rules --- only conventions, at best, which nobody is obligated to follow.  Some of the most interesting writing in the English language is highly unconventional, and against all “Rules”. Lots of people may dislike such writing, but that does not in any way invalidate it.
Microsoft’s spellchecker has default spellings of its own for most words; but you can always turn it off. In the same way, there are conventions of transliteration; the “New York Times” may have conventions of its own, but these are not binding on people who write for the “National Enquirer”. There is no authority in the world qualified to decide for everybody how a word should be spelt or transliterated (I assume that that is more or less what you mean by “default spelling"). The OED often notes various different ways of spelling words. Of course, lots of people will try hard to make you spell words, or write them, the way they want; many of them will be happy to kill you, to prove how right they are.
But the fact remains that the rules of language are in some ways like what we call “the laws of nature”. There are no hard-and-fast rules, only conventions, which are subject to change. We sometimes try to define “rules”, or “laws” --- approximately, at best, and only for convenience’s sake. This does not make them absolute. Stop worrying about Default Spellings. They’re local, ephemeral phenomena with no absolute validity. Look at jheem’s latest post.
The government of the PRC decides to call their capital Beijing --- well, why shouldn’t they? This does not stop you from calling it what you like, does it?  If you’re in China, it might be a good idea to do as you’re told --- but as long as you’re well out of their way, they can’t make you.

P.S. Erudition and urbanity do not necessarily go hand in hand. Contrariwise, as Humpty Dumpty said. Haven’t you heard stories of learned professors beating each other up and shouting vile abuse at each other? There are some very learned posters at this site. Appreciate the learning --- go past what you don’t like.

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Posted: 13 July 2008 01:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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lionello - 13 July 2008 01:22 AM

There is no authority in the world qualified to decide for everybody how a word should be spelt or transliterated .................

As the Académie française should learn. They contimually issue pompous rulings on the language only to be blithely ignored by the French people.

Wikipedia has a depressingly long list of language regulators by country, the only bright spot in it being the entry for English - ‘None official’. There was some talk in the early 18th century of forming an Academy for the ‘preservation and correction’ of the English language (I think Swift wrote a couple of tracts favouring such an institution). Thankfully nothing came of it. Only dead tongues can be set in aspic. Living languages, like Love, laugh at locksmiths who would regulate and clamp irons on them.

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Posted: 13 July 2008 05:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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I am deeply offended by languagehat’s poor sportsmanship (“I realize that you are not interested in facts that contradict your preconceptions”).

You are concerned with “sportsmanship,” I am concerned with facts.  You first showed up here promoting a website that purported to provide etymologies while in fact passing on medieval nonsense; when confronted with that fact, rather than accepting that you were wrong and adjusting your ideas accordingly, you dug in and attacked anyone who disagreed with you.  Here too you are promoting a simplistic and ideological point of view about a complicated linguistic situation.  I don’t care whether you think it’s nice or “sportsmanlike” to say you are not interested in facts that contradict your preconceptions—everything you’ve posted here supports it.

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Posted: 13 July 2008 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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lionello - 13 July 2008 01:22 AM

I think you may have a problem with Rules, Pavlos. You are much preoccupied with them. This is apparent when you say something like ..."a particular group of people...decide that the default spelling or stipulation of that word should be altered to reflect their point of view"…

Lionello, wou may have a point there. I grew up in Greece, where I learned certain rules of grammar and a certain script (Polytonic). In the 1980s, these rules were abolished overnight, grammar was replaced with one that is still a work in process, and all official documents are now written in monotonic. I personally refused to give up polytonic, but have to force myself to write in monotonic for official business. To come to aldiboronti ‘s elegant post, we are not all fortunate enough to live in linguistically laisser-faire countries as most English speakers do.

When I had previously noted the polytonic issue, languagehat mentioned that doing away with the polytonic script was a blessing, since Greek students would be less confused and have an easier time at school. On the other hand, he seems quite keen that English-language children should master the nuance between a “hard K” in Arab (transliterated as a Q) and a “soft K” (transliterated as a K), as well as learn to use a hamza to express a glottal stops. Go figure.

languagehat - 13 July 2008 05:01 AM

(…) you dug in and attacked anyone who disagreed with you.  ]

If I have one ideology I take pride in, it is not not attacking people online of offline. I will therefore stick to lionello’s wise advice:

lionello - 13 July 2008 01:22 AM

P.S. Erudition and urbanity do not necessarily go hand in hand (…) There are some very learned posters at this site. Appreciate the learning --- go past what you don’t like.

[ Edited: 13 July 2008 06:47 AM by Pavlos ]
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