Tuesday, December 26, 2023

"The Sound of Music" across three languages

You may well be familiar with The Sound of Music, an American musical from the 1950s loosely based on the von Trapp family's memoirs. It features a neat little song for teaching musical notes, "Do, a Deer", which has been translated into a number of languages. Let's contrast three versions - English, Japanese, and Arabic - and see what they suggest.

Do, a deer, a female deer, ドはドーナツのド
Do is for "donut" (dōnatsu),
دو دروب ومعاني
Do is "paths" (durūb) and meanings,
Re, a drop of golden sun; レはレモンのレ
Re is for "lemon" (remon);
ري ربيع الأغنيات
Re is a "spring" (rabīʕ) of songs;
Mi, a name I call myself,ミはみんなのミ
Mi is for "everyone" (minna);
مي مـوسيقى وأغاني
Mi, "music" (mūsīqā) and songs;
Fa, a long long way to run; ファはファイトのファ
Fa is for "fight" (faito);
فا فـجر الذكريات
Fa, a "dawn" (fajr) of memories;
So, a needle pulling thread;ソは青い空
So is blue "sky" (sora);
صوتنا ملء الفضاء
Our "sound" (ṣawt) is a filling up of space;
La, a note to follow So; ラはラッパのラ
Ra is for "trumpet" (rappa);
لم يزل فينا الوفاء
In us is "still" (lam tazal) loyalty;
Ti, a drink with jam and bread; シは幸せよ
Si is "happiness" (shiawase)
سوف تبقى يا غناء
You, O song, "shall" (sawfa) remain;
That will bring us back to Do! さぁ歌いましょう
So let us sing!
لنغنّي نغنّي.. لحن الحياة
Let us sing, sing... the tune of life!

As should be obvious, the Arabic version is derived from the Japanese one (via a popular anime of the 1990s) rather than directly from the English one. However, it contrasts sharply with both in the choice of note-mnemonics. In English, each note name (well, except "la") is mapped directly to a near-homophonous monosyllabic word, taking advantage of English's relatively short minimal word length; most of these are widely familiar, high-frequency items. In Japanese, the word choices are necessarily longer and perhaps more obscure (the syllable fa is found only in relatively recent loanwords anyway), but in each case the note is mapped perfectly to the first syllable of a single word, usually referring to something readily visualisable. In Arabic, the note is again mapped (increasingly approximatively) to the first syllable, not of a word, but of a 2-4 word phrase; not a single one of these phrases refers to anything concrete enough to visualise. High-flown slogans replace the original's homely whimsy.

I have no way of proving it, but I believe this is symptomatic - certainly of the Arabic dubbing in the cartoons I used to watch in the early 1990s, and plausibly of Modern Standard Arabic discourse in general: an imagination based on recitation rather than visualization, preferring stirring abstractions to concrete details. After all, concrete details travel poorly in this diglossic context.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Latin authors from Algeria

The modern borders of Algeria had no existence or meaning in the Roman era, but for any potential Algerian classicists, it may be interesting to consider which of the Latin texts that have come down to us were written by people born in Algeria. So far, I've found the following:

  • Suetonius, born in Hippo Regius (modern Annaba), ca. 70 AD; historian
  • Fronto, born in Cirta (modern Constantine), ca. 100 AD; grammarian
  • Apuleius, born in Madaura (modern M'daourouch), ca. 124 AD; author of Metamorphoses, a comic-mystical proto-novel, along with various philosophical and rhetorical works.
  • Lactantius, born perhaps in Cirta, ca. 250 AD; a Christian apologist
  • Nonius Marcellus, born in Thubursicum (modern Teboursouk), perhaps late 200s AD; a lexicographer
  • Augustine, born in Thagaste (modern Souk Ahras), ca. 354 AD; a Christian saint notable especially for his autobiographical Confessions
  • Martianus Capella, born in Madaura, late 300s AD; author of a formerly influential allegorical curriculum of the liberal arts, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii
  • Cassius Felix, born in Cirta, late 300s AD; author of a medical handbook
  • Priscian, born in Caesarea (modern Cherchell), late 400s AD; Latin grammarian

Conspicuously, all but one of them were born in the east, in what was then Numidia, and all but three date to the late Roman Empire, after Roman citizenship had been extended to all free men under Roman rule but before the Vandals' arrival. It is no doubt misleading to treat such authors separately from their (probably more numerous) counterparts born just across the modern border in Tunisia.

Literary works, of course, are just a small subset of what was written in Latin. For a wider selection of much shorter texts written in Algeria, the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum covers the area in Volume VIII. Even the Albertini Tablets, a set of legal documents found near Tebessa and mostly dating to 493-496 AD, are online now.

No doubt I'm missing a few authors; who else belongs on the list above?