Saturday, June 10, 2006

"-gate" suffix reaches Arabic

Algerian football fans (that is to say, probably most of the population) are up in arms about not being able to watch the World Cup unless they subscribe to ART - a Saudi company which bought up the rights to World Cup footage for the MENA region and is selling it so expensively most terrestrial stations (including Algeria's) can't afford it. I don't particularly care myself, to be honest, but I was impressed to see the following headline in the newspaper Ech Chourouk:

الجزائر على أبواب فضيحة "آرتي-غايت"!


al-Jazaa'ir `alaa 'abwaab faḍiiħat "aartii-gaayt"!
(Algeria is on the verge of an ART-gate scandal!)

The development of "-gate" from a random morpheme at the end of a hotel name into a suffix indicating a political mess (Monicagate, Fostergate, etc.) is remarkable enough; that it should be borrowed into Arabic, even in the weird world of headline idiom, is incredible to me. I guess bound morphemes aren't necessarily as hard to borrow as one might think.

15 comments:

Antoine Cassar said...

How interesting! I didn't realise that modern Arabic was permeated by English to the point where clitic morphemes are imported. I judge from your post that this is indeed unusual, and that the headline was perhaps written with a deliberate touch of humour.

Incidentally I think I understand the words alaa 'abwaab... "at the door [of]"?

KNL said...

That's really funny. Heh. Do you think it will catch on?

rob said...

I am pretty sick of -gate being used for every political scandal in the United States. You have no idea how disappointed I am to hear that it has spread to Algeria

Lameen Souag said...

Antoine: Yes, or to be exact "at the doors of". I guess this would be għall-bibien in Maltese; in Algerian Arabic it would be `əl-biban. But the funny thing is this is really unusual; you could probably read Ech Chourouk for weeks without coming across an English loanword, but the one day they do come up with one it's something like this!

Nouri, Rob: One can but hope it won't catch on, but you never know...

rob said...

Thanks for the dialect information, Lameen.

bulbul said...

I guess bound morphemes aren't necessarily as hard to borrow as one might think.
I wouldn't go that far. The "-gate" suffix is a unique case - I have seen it in more than five languages, mostly describing local scandals. Even the overpuristic Hungarians could not resist :o)

IIRC the plural of Maltese "bieb" is "bwieb", which makes sense. I have never heard "biban" before and all of my books on the dialects of Maghrib are silent on the subject. Do you have any idea where it comes from?

Lameen Souag said...

The regular plural of nouns of the form CaC in Algerian and Moroccan Arabic (probably other Maghreb as well) is CiCan: bab "door" > biban, kas "cup" > kisan, jaṛ "neighbour" > jiran, faṛ "mouse" > firan, kaṛ "bus" (< French) > kiṛan, etc. This form is also occasionally used with other words, eg triq "road" > tərqan.

This presumably comes from an overgeneralization of the Classical form exemplified by جار < جيران, فأر < فئران possibly influenced by similar Berber plural forms like ass "day" > ussan, afus "hand" > ifassən, afud "knee" > ifaddən, aḍar "foot" > iḍarrən, iɣzər "river" > iɣəzran.

Lameen Souag said...

Wrong Berber illustration: I should have picked iɣəs "bone" > iɣsan, iləf "pig" > ilfan, iθri "star" > iθran, etc.

bulbul said...

Thank you very much for the exhaustive explanation, Lameen. I finally found a brief remark on the "-ān" plural in a rather obscure book, though it di not mention the CāC pattern and all and insisted these were irregular forms. Apparently, I need to update my library. Any recommendations as to the dialects of Maghrib?

Lameen Souag said...

Jeffrey Heath's Ablaut and Ambiguity is an excellent and insightful book (particularly on the subject of plurals), and surprisingly cheap these days. Dominique Caubet's grammar of Moroccan Arabic is rather extensive, and a good reference if you read French.

Antoine Cassar said...

Thanks, Lameen and Bulbul. The plural of bieb in Maltese is indeed bibien. We also have the plural form bwieb pointed out by Bulbul, although as far as I can tell it is used only in certain poetic and idiomatic expressions, e.g.:

infetħu bwieb is-sema
"it began raining cats and dogs", or "suddenly things got out of hand", depending on the context
(lit. the doors of the sky opened)

Nevertheless, the Maltese expression corresponding to the English adverbial phrase "on the verge of" would be f'xifer, e.g. wasal f'xifer il-mewt, f'xifer il-kollass, eċċ.

Nancy said...

That's the best fact I've come across today.

David Marjanović said...

Wow!!! I mean, it hasn't even reached German!

BTW, have you heard of Watergategate? That's a new scandal (just a few months old) that involves the Watergate building once more.

Panu said...

Wow!!! I mean, it hasn't even reached German!

It has. Have you never heard the delightful word Waterkantgate?

David Marjanović said...

In case anyone is still interested 2 years later, I probably hadn't heard of it. I think I've encountered it once, but northern Germany is another world for an Austrian like me.

(anne Waterkant is Low Saxon for "at the water's edge" = "the uttermost northern extremity of Germany", a fixed phrase that has been borrowed into (Standard) German for uses like "pond" for Atlantic.)