Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Indonesian, Malay, slang and Arabic names

Greater Indonesia or in the Malay language, In...

Most languages and dialects have slang, and much is playful, but Indonesians seem to take language play to a higher level. The linguistic heritage of the archipelago gives the perfect ingredients for wordplay.

The official language Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is derived from ‘market Malay‘ (bahasa pasar, the language of the bazaar), which served as lingua franca throughout the region. Although the official, standardised languages of Malaysia and Indonesia are both Malay languages with mutual intelligibility of around 80%, Malaysia‘s places far more weight on court Malay (bahasa istana, particularly the Classical Malay of the Malaccan Sultanate), while Indonesia’s emphasizes the language of the market. This can be illustrated with the faux amis budak, which means ‘child’ in Malaysia, ‘slave’ in Indonesia, and percuma which means ‘free of charge’ in Malaysia, ‘worthless’ in Indonesia. The colonial influence of English and Dutch in Malaysia and Indonesia respectively is illustrated by the word pair polis and polisi: in Malaysia they mean ‘police’ and ‘policy’, but in Indonesia they mean ‘policy’ and ‘police’ (from Dutch polis and politie).

Only around 10% of the around 240 million inhabitants of Indonesia speak the official language as their mother tongue. Most of these first-language speakers are city dwellers who have relegated their regional language in the melting pot of the city. The Malays of Sumatra, Riau and Moluccas (Maluku) speak a regional language that is close enough to the standard language for them to be considered first-language speakers too. The 90% of Indonesia’s population speak over 700 closely related regional languages, the top three are Javanese (basa Jawa), Sundanese (basa Sunda) and Madurese (basa Madhura). The influence of English in the creation of neologisms, especially in technology, is strong in both Malaysia and Indonesia. Only the older generations in Indonesia can remember much Dutch; younger generations are taught English.

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Risking your daily bread

Rather late, I came across this article by a lexicographer researching the etymology of the word ‘risk’. Most dictionaries state that the word comes to English  from Italian risco via French risque. The Oxford English Dictionary attests to it from 1621 in English (as ‘risques’). Its first attestation in Middle French is in 1578, where it is a feminine noun, quickly becoming a masculine noun to mark its testosterone-fuelled approach to life. The Italian rischio is attested in the 13th century, before simply becoming risco.

Although there have been a number of suggestions whence this Italian word came, many are unsatisfactory. The etymology is not certain, but it seems to come from the Middle Persian word rōzīg <lwcyk>, meaning ‘daily bread’ or ‘sustenance’, the ancestor of the Modern Persian word روزى ruzi, and a derivative of the noun rōz <YWM lwc>, meaning ‘day’ (as in nōg-rōz, now spelt نوروز nowruz, Persian New Year).

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How Arab learning laid the foundations for the European Renaissance

Alcázares Reales, Seville

Alcázares Reales, Seville.

I’ve just spent a restful evening on my sofa watching the last of Bettany Hughes‘s somewhat epic series of documentaries The Ancient World with Bettany Hughes: When the Moors Ruled in Europe. It’s always tempting to criticize this kind of documentary (as I have done in the past; mea maxima culpa!) on what it simplifies or leaves out. However, Bettany Hughes has been helped by having a two-hour time slot on More4 (or Mo-Fo as I’ve heard it called) for each episode.

Never explicitly mentioned, When the Moors Ruled in Europe is clearly set against the 21st-century backdrop of the War on Terror. Aired on the evening before the general election in which two parties — UKIP and the BNP — have anti-Islamic policies in their manifestos, this episode serves as a corrective to the unthinking assumptions of white/European/Christendom superiority. For here we glide endlessly through the mesmerising earthly paradises of Al-Andalus, through Granada’s Alhambra and Córdoba’s Grand Mosque (and not to forget Al-Karaouine University, Fez, Morocco), all set against a backdrop of golden mountains. Here we have liberal, tolerant and highly educated Muslims teaching ignorant Christians about ancient Greek learning before finally falling to the Talibanesque Spanish Inquisition. Although this was a little overwrought in places, there are plenty of moments in the documentary in which the complexities of Christian and Muslim relations and politics are explored, especially setting the Reconquista in the context of stability and cooperation among the northern kingdoms and the reliance of the southern kingdoms on mercenary soldiers.

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Syriac numerals

Recently, I found that some people working with Syriac had little idea of how numerals are written in the language, so I wrote a little PDF manual to describe what is only briefly touched upon in the standard grammars.

The manual covers the various forms of numerals used in Syriac: the alphabetic numerals and the various systems of marking higher alphabetic numerals, Eastern Arabic numerals and Aramaic sign–value numerals.

The PDF can be downloaded from http://www.garzo.co.uk/documents/syriac-numerals.pdf.

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The birth of Jesus according to the Qur’an

In Islam, Jesus (‘Isa عيسى) is an honoured prophet. Qur’an 19 — Suratu Maryam سورة مريم, the Chapter of Mary — begins with the story of Zechariah (Zakariyya زكريا) being promised that he and his barren wife will have a son, to be called John (Yahya يحيى), and he is struck dumb for three nights as a sign of the promise. Although Zechariah is not described as a Jewish priest, it said that he comes out of the sanctuary (mihrab محراب) after his prayer.Mary (Maryam مريم) is introduced in verse 16, where we are told nothing of her apart from that she leaves her family and goes to an ‘eastern place’ away from them. God sends an angel to her, popularly understood to be Gabriel (Jibra’il جبرائيل), although the Qur’an describes him simply as ‘Our Spirit’ (Ruhana روحنا). Mary is a virgin, and the Qur’an agrees with the Gospels that she conceived miraculously by the power of God. The child she is to bear is fortold to be a sign for humanity and a mercy from God (ayatun lin-nasi wa-rahmatun minna اية للناس ورحمة منا).When Mary went into labour she went out into a remote place, and clung to the trunk of a palm tree (an-nakhlah النخلة). The Qur’an records her as crying out in pain that she would rather had died and been forgotten at that moment, giving birth all alone. Then God, out of mercy, made a spring to bubble up beside her and urged her to shake the dates from the tree so that she could be refreshed by them. Continue reading