February 14, 2005

Abu Ghraib is not about ravens after all (?)...

Back in May, I quoted an authoritative-looking web page to the effect that "Abu Ghurayb ('the preferred NIMA transliteration' of Abu Ghraib)" means "father of the raven". But a few days ago, Tim Buckwalter (whom I trust when it comes to Arabic lexicography) mentioned that "ghuraib (as in abu ghuraib, or abu ghreib), is the diminutive of ghariib". The context was a complicated pun involving the words gharb "west" and ghariib "strange". So I wrote back with the ghurayb=raven link, and I asked Tim whether the Arabic words for west, strange and raven are all related.

His answer:

Hmm, that looks like a mistake: ghuraab is crow/raven, even in Iraqi
I wouldn't be surprised if there is an etymological connection
between "west" and "weird," kind of like left/sinister?
Apparently, theire is an Abu Ghurab in Iraq:
Good place to start for more Iraqi cities:

So Abu Ghraib is "father of the oddling", not "father of the raven".

And Arabic gharb "west" and ghariib "strange" are probably related, but ghuraab "crow/raven" probably isn't. Unfortunately there is no Arabic equivalent of the OED. If I find out more, I'll add it.

[Update: Pekka Karjalainen wrote in with a link to a posting on sci.lang:

> >  *gh*urayb may be a diminutive of *gh*ura:b "crow". 'abu: literally means 
> > "father of" ("father" in the construct state), here inthe meaning of " 
> > place abundant in". so it probably indicates "a place abundant in small 
> > crows"
> It's of some possible interest that the meaning is not dissimilar to
> Kosovo Pole(field of blackbirds).  Yes, I know that a crow is just a

incidentally "Kosovo" underwent a change in turkish (adopted by
Albanians) to Kosova through false etymology, << ova >> means "plain"
in turkish.

> black bird, not a blackbird ...

which also points to an eggcorn phase in the history of the Albanian name Kosova.]

[Update #2: I asked Tim what the rules are for forming dimunitives in Arabic. He answered as follows:

Good question! Here are the rules for generating the diminutive:

CvC(v)C  --> CuCayC(a)    
gharb --> ghurayb
Hasan --> Husayn  (Hussein)
baHr  --> buHayra ("sea" --> "lake")

CvCvvC --> CuCayyiC
ghuraab --> ghurayyib
kitaab  --> kutayyib  ("book","booklet")

CvCCvvC --> CuCayCaaC
salmaan --> sulaymaan  (Salman, Suleiman)

Early on in my work with Ken Beesley (1989-91) we discussed whether we
could automatically recognize diminutes not explicitly entered in the
lexicon. We didn't have the time to investigate that, and I'd love to
revisit it someday. Since our application was primarily for MT, we also
needed to investigate whether all diminutives could reliably be glossed
as "small of X."

So the dimunitive of ghuraab "crow" ought to be ghurayyib, suggesting that those who offered the "small crow" analysis for Abu Ghurayb (or Abu Ghraib, etc.) must be mistaken. ]


Posted by Mark Liberman at February 14, 2005 03:16 PM