February 18, 2005

Abu what again?

Tim Buckwalter forwarded to me his email exchange with Omar Johnstone on further subtleties of the etymology of Abu Ghurayb/Ghraib/Ghreib (see here for the backstory). The bottom line, for me at least, is that three native speakers of Arabic, asked by Tim, "all agreed that it [i.e. 'ghurayb/ghreib'] means "small gharb (small something relating to the west or place where the sun sets", and not "small ghuraab" (small crow). None of them were Iraqis, however, and one held out the possibility that things might be different in Iraqi Arabic.

Below the jump, Omar and Tim discuss the matter in spectacularly philological detail.

First Omar Johnstone:

You say "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."

Wright, in his extensive discussion of the diminutive which begins on i 166 B gives numerous examples that would appear to contradict your case. Of particular interest is Sadiiq / Sudayyiq (i 166 D) [ghariib] and ghulaam / ghulayyim (i 167 A)[ghuraab]. While Wright does not transliterate his examples, they do in both cases indicate a shaddah over the yeh following the second radical. The absence of a shaddah for the first exmaple would confirm your contention that the diminutive of /gharib/ ought to be /ghuraib/ rather than /ghurayyib/. However, if Wright is correct, the diminutives of ghariib and ghuraab are identical in spelling.

Dozy, in his Supplement aux Dictionnaries Arabes (Librarie du Liban, 1881, 1991) offers /ghuraib aS-SaHrah/ with a sukkun over the yeh. He glosses this as pyrrhocorax graculus, or alpine raven and cites a Western source as his authority. To this he adds, "Peut-etre la forme correct et-elle /ghurayyib/ [shaddah over the yeh], dimin. de /ghuraab/". Here, he seems to agree with Wright on the correct spelling of diminutive forms. Dozy's incorrect spelling may reflect the pronunciation of diminutives in Arabic. I live in Riyadh, and throughout the Abu Ghuraib business, I do not recall ever hearing this name pronounced /ghurayyib/, nor, indeed, have I ever noticed the diminutive ending /-ayyib/ in any other word; granted, dininutives are not commonly heard. This complex vowel coming at the end of a word would only be distinct if the stress were to fall on it - and even then, this may only result in a lengthening of the vowel rather than the introduction of another.

Islamists and other linguistic purists often do stress the final syallable of derived masculine adjective forms, saying things like /islamii'(ii)/ and /Bayhaqii'(ii)/. This sounds slightly ridiculous. I suppose it is a literary conceit deliberately contrived to convince us of their authority in all things or as a shibboleth for mutual recognition amongst the rigidly righteous, but I do not recall hearing /Abu ghurayyib/, even from them.

Tim Buckwalter's response:

Thanks for all the citations and examples from Wright and Dozy. In my second e-mail to Mark I mentioned that words with the pattern CvCvvC take the CuCayyiC diminutive pattern, so this explains why "ghuraab" and "ghariib" map to the same diminutive form, "ghurayyib." Yesterday I asked three native informants (two North African, one Sudanese, all women) for the meaning of "ghurayyib" and they immediately responded "small ghariib." I asked them what they thought about "small ghuraab" and they immediately changed their first opinion! After much discussion they concluded that "ghurayyib" is not used (maybe because of the ambiguity?). As for "ghurayb/ghreib" they all agreed that it means "small gharb (small something relating to the west or place where the sun sets?)" although one of them said that perhaps Iraqi Arabic follows a different derivational rule for diminutives.

The spelling of CuCayyiC words without diacritics can lead to misreadings such as ghurayb for ghurayyib (both spelled gh-r-y-b), as you found in Dozy's work. Other homographs have known to cause problems even for native speakers. I first heard of Abu Ghreib from the western media, so when I first saw the name in the Arabic media I knew it was ghurayb and not ghurayyib. For what it's worth, the MSA lexicon doesn't have many CuCayyiC words. I found only these:

  `uqayyib  = small eagle (dim. of `uqaab)
  kutayyib = booklet  (dim. of kitaab)
  'uwayyil = proton (dim. of 'awwal, which is CaCCaC)
  Huwayyin = small animal (dim. of Hayawaan, which also does not follow the CvCvvC pattern!)

And from the dialects:

   kuwayyis = good, nice
   sughayyar (possibly a modification of sughayyir?) = small 

Also, if I understood you correctly, your argument is that Abu Ghreib is very likely Abu Ghurayyib in Iraqi pronunciation? I'm familiar with the /'islaamii/ vs. /'islaamiyy/ issue you mentioned, but I think that's a reflection of the pausal form pronunciation of case ending (i.e., in formal situations you can change word final -ii to -iyy to signal that your using case endings, albeit in pausal form. I'll check the Clive Holes book to see if he says anything about that...


Posted by Mark Liberman at February 18, 2005 09:34 PM