“Hizballah or Hizbullah”

"Col. Lang,

You’ve recently noted that the correct transliteration of the Hizb… group is the noun-noun construct "Hizballah".

Prof Cole spells it "Hizbullah". I wrote Cole to ask why he uses a ‘u’ instead of an ‘a’ as you do, and here’s his reply:

"Hizbu’llah consists of Hizb plus the definite nominative marker "u" plus the second element of the construct state, Allah, the beginning hamza of which is elided by the preceding "u"."

Of course, he tosses an apostrophe in there as well. Are both transliterations correct, technically speaking?




Sibawayh20copy I had not looked at it from this close a grammatical perspective, but Juan’s point of the nominative marker "u" and the elision of the following Hamza-Fatha are well taken.  I don’t quite see what the apostrophe stands for but I am willing to learn.

Pat Lang

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21 Responses to “Hizballah or Hizbullah”

  1. davidS says:

    That’s a relief. I thought they were two seperate organizations.

  2. Patrick Kennedy says:

    I am still working on my english.

  3. Charles Cameron says:

    The apostrophe would presumably signal the elision, as with English “isn’t”.

  4. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Sibawayh, I believe, was Iranian.

  5. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I have always believed that he was a Persian mawla, but the Encyclopedia of Islam seem ambiguous about it.
    Do you have access to the EoI? pl

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    I do not have access to Encyclopedia of Islam.
    I would not be surprised if it is ambigous; I am rather used to attempts by our so-called Mulsim brothers and their governments & people (Arabs, Turks, Afghans, and others) to expunge Iran from the cultural history of the Muslim Civilization.
    I made the comment in a tongue-in-cheeck manner; Iran did not exist at the time and the modern Iran is a recent (Safavid) creation.

  7. TJ Snodgrass II says:

    Concerning the transliteration of Hizballah. Dr. Cole is absolutely correct in identifying the proper ending for “Hizb” as “u” – the nominative ending definite since it is the first part of an “Idafa” construction with “Allah”. However, if one desires to include grammatical endings in transliterations, then they should be complete and not merely attempt to replicate how a particular word is spoken rather than written – a common error in many transliterations. For example, such a full transliteration of “Party of God” would be “Hizbu Allahi” – two separate words including both the “u” at the end of “Hizb”, the “A” at the beginning of “Allah” and the “i” at the end of “Allah” which takes the genitive definite ending. Apostrophes in transliterating Arabic to English are normally used to denote the consonant “ayn”, not elisions. This particular way to transliterate is based on the method used by Hans Wehr and the – there are, of course, others who have their own systems. Of note, is that there is often a mixture of transliterating words from Arabic to English using a mixture of Arabic and Iranian transliteration techniques. For example, use of “e” for “i”, “z” for “w”, and “p” for “b” are normal transliterations for the Iranian language into English, not Arabic. My thanks to Mrs. Marguerite Lang for teaching me Arabic grammar many years ago – any mistakes in my understanding of Arabic grammar, however, are mine alone.

  8. Antiquated Tory says:

    But should we abbreviate it HB or HA?

  9. john says:

    Ahhh, to u or a or i?
    For examples: Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel attacked Hizballah in return. Many Arabs expressed their solidarity with Hizbillah.
    Nomitive, accusative, and genitive versions of the noun construct hizb + allah for those speakers of modern standard Arabic—not to be mistaken with dialects. As TJ correctly points out, in all three of the aforementioned examples the ending of allah, the final component of the noun construct, is genitive and, if fully verbalized, would sound like allahi—thus Hizbullahi, Hizballahi, and Hizbillahi. The apostrophe is used for the hamza in some transliteration systems and not in others (Wikipedia has a decent chart of various systems). I prefer Hizbullah (not of any importance). English versions of Arab and Israeli press use Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a transcription vice transliteration of the noun construct hizb + allah..
    As an aside, the discussion over how to spell Hizbullah reminds of our former favorite despot al-Qadhafi who, through the passage of time, became al-Gaddafi. The former is a transliteration of the written Arabic and the latter is a transcription of the spoken Arabic. Being familiar with Arabic I tend to go for transliterated spellings—I know how the word is pronounced in most cases. However, transcription is more effective for non-speakers. As an example the transliteration al-Nahar does not indicate the correct pronunciation for the Lebanese paper’s name as the transcription an-Nahar does.
    Warning: I am grammatically challenged in both English and Arabic. So feel free to correct me.

  10. To add further to useless detial, the Gaddafi translit is accurate for Libyan dialect. Other dialects would render it differently, sometimes very much so.
    On style grounds I don’t like the ‘ added in.

  11. john says:

    I believe you are confusing transliteration with transcription. “Gaddafi” is an accurate transcription for Libyan dialect. The leader’s name is spelled in Arabic script the same in Libyan as it is in modern standard Arabic (proper name). Writing is transliterated, and sounds are transcribed. Gaddafi is a transcription and is not the transcription that Mo uses on his website at http://www.algathafi.org/. So yes, the speakers of other dialects or even the same dialect or you and I might transcribe the spelling differently based on sound and target language (English, French, etc). However, the transliteration of a written word in Arabic script would be consistent within the same transliteration system.
    What I attempted to illustrate was that both Dr. Cole and Col. Lang used essentially the same transliteration for the noun construct hizb + allah but in nominative and accusative forms respectively. Indeed, Col. Lang indicates this at the beginning of the thread. His question concerned the use of the apostrophe for the hamza as in Dr. Cole’s example of Hizbu’llah. The hamza al-wasl (the joining hamza, for example the first letter of the definite article al) usually is not transcribed. But elision was pretty well covered before my post.

  12. Ferdinand says:

    A perfectly good case can be made for the spelling “Hizballah.” I am not contending that “Hizballah” is necessarily more accurate than “Hizbullah”; I am simply pointing out that the one is not definitely correct while the other is definitively wrong.
    The u, as someone has already explained, is a one-letter suffix attached to a noun. In Arabic, this u suffix serves to indicate that that noun (a) is definite and (b) is functioning in the sentence as a SUBJECT (rather than a direct object or indirect object).
    From a certain point of view, it is problematic to include the u suffix (known to grammar lovers as a “case ending”) inside of the phrase “Hizbullah.” We use “Hizbullah” in English prose as a frozen phrase and pay absolutely no attention to its role in the sentence (subject, DO, IO). The case-neutral “Hizballah” form is, from this perspective, more accurate, because it does not seek to indicate ANYTHING about grammtical case.
    As someone perceptively pointed out, the ultra-correct option would be “Hizbu Allahi.” This would be an almost absolutely correct rendering of the Arabic orthography. However, somewhere along the way I think it is legitimate and important to make concessions to how things are actually pronounced, instead of getting too caught up in a web of ultra-correct literary/grammatical arguments (as fun as that may sometimes be).

  13. Ahem
    I believe you are confusing transliteration with transcription. “Gaddafi” is an accurate transcription for Libyan dialect. …. However, the transliteration of a written word in Arabic script would be consistent within the same transliteration system.
    I’m not bloody confusing anything, I’m simply not making an overly precious distinction like yours.
    You may choose to transliterate the Arabic characters with a vareity of sound values. A Maghrebine reader often gives those characters, even in using standard Arabic, different values than an Eastern user.
    Now, if you want to presume that the Arabic characters only carry their classical or modern standard normative sound values, feel free. I personally don’t make that assumption.
    Transcribing, if you wish to make that distinction may or may not involve the underlying spelling. Transcribing their usage may reflect pronunciation that has no tie to the written form (eliding out or even in the Maghreb reversing some characters).
    No confusion then mate, just a different approach. Spare the overly precious distinction in the future.
    As to the rather excessive detial in re transcribing according to hyper correct formal Arabic grammar, I frankly don’t see the point, as even average educated Arabs rarely use such forms.
    In the end, given there will be no single “right” way to do it (although some ways seem wrong to me, e.g. using KH for Qaf in writing The Guide’s name), it’s best merely to find something pleasing, clear, and above all consistent.

  14. Ferdinand says:

    A further point, which may or may not be interesting to people, concerns the apostrophe in Dr. Cole’s spelling: Hizbu’llah. Actually, I believe the apostrophe here is NOT representing a hamza (= a sign used in Arabic writing to indicate a glottal stop or “catch” in the throat).
    As odd as this may sound, the apostrophe in “Hizbu’llah” is acting as a drop of glue: It does not stand for a sound but rather denotes that the two elements have been “stuck” together (after having jettisoned the ‘A at the beginning of “Allah”).
    A viable alternative to “Hizbu’llah” would be the use of a hyphen
    (“Hizbu-llah”). In both these cases, the apostrophe or hyphen signifies a “missing” or elided glottal stop (hamza) plus short “a” vowel (fatha).
    I think that a useful way of explaining this phenomenon is to say that the hamza & fatha were *gobbled up* by the voracious u-suffix on hizbu.
    To conclude this post, my recommendations would be Hizbullah or Hizbu-llah. The insertion of an apostrophe to stand for elided material is slightly confusing: By convention, the apostrophe’s main duty is to stand for the glottal stop and, in my mind, should be confined to that only.

  15. W. Patrick Lang says:

    This has been a fun dialog. One of the commenters was my wife’s student. What could be better than that?
    As a new subject – What about the name of the long dead, elegant and Agatha Christie character-like Arab prince Abdulillah, who was regent of Iraq for Faisal II.
    What was that all about (linguistically)?
    And what is “Aita” in “Aita as-Sha’ab?” pl

  16. That’s a Lebanese village, yes?
    No idea without seeing the Arabic.
    I will note just for the trivia value that a similar form, Ait, in the Maghreb means “Banu” or roughly tribe. Shows up in lots of names.
    However, as it is Berber derived, not a chance it makes sense in Leb Land. So I’ve now blithered on pointlessly.

  17. Ferdinand says:

    On the “Aita” of the place-name Aita ash-Sha’b, I for one have absolutely no idea. This may not even be a word in Standard Arabic; it could be an item of vocab specific to the area’s dialect. It would be delightful if someone could enlighten us here.
    On the name `Abdu l-ilah, this is of course one of the many Arab names of the form `Abd + al- + noun, rendered in English as “Slave of the _____.”
    It is worth noting that there is a strange propensity to soften the force of English “slave” by substituting “servant.” Servant strikes me as a polite euphemism. An `abd really is a slave; that’s what the term means and therefore it should be rendered as such, in most contexts.
    The ilah is the interesting part (interesting for those who tend to be interested in such things!). An ilah is a deity or god; al-ilah is THE deity / god, i.e. [by extension] God with capital G.
    Naturally, this guy’s name is totally distinct from the far more common `Abdullah (= Slave of God). I like “Slave of the Deity” as a nice resounding translation of `Abdu l-ilah.
    It’s been speculated-and I suppose generally accepted-that Allah (which in a sense is a proper noun) is simply the result of collapsing al-ilah.
    A worthwhile extra point to mention is that the l sound in the name Allah is what linguists call velarized, i.e. it is a heavier consonant, whereas the l-sound in all other Arabic contexts (such as ilah) is a light l (similar to the light l of French and Spanish).

  18. john says:

    Please excuse my apparently excessive exuberance for Arabic grammar, transliteration, and transcription–20 years of same had their effect. I did not intend to question the bonifides of anyone participating in this thread explicitly or implicitly.

  19. john says:

    Aita may be Assyrian and it means church.

  20. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Aramaic maybe? or some similar semitic language of the Levant? pl

  21. W. Patrick Lang says:

    John tells me that it is Syriac. pl

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