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View Full Version : "Ra's al Ghul" - the Arabic, not the fiction


Acsenray
06-20-2005, 03:53 PM
(I'm posting in GQ because I want to know about the linguistics, not about the Batman adversary.)

Batman has an adversary called "Ra's al Ghul" (who is featured in the current movie but has been a character in the comics for decades). In the original stories he is depicted as an Arab and his name is translated as "head of the demon."

Is this a proper translation? Is it a proper transliteration? Tell me about the linguistics.

CalMeacham
06-20-2005, 04:27 PM
Not only is it a good translation, the writer who long ago came up with the name (I wasn't reading Batman at the time, so I don't know who -- but I'm sure it was in the comics long before the animated series) stole it from astronomy -- it's the name used for the constellation of Perseus and Medusa's Head used in arabic books, especially the translation of Ptolemy called The Almagest.

cckerberos
06-20-2005, 04:34 PM
Just in case it might be of significance in the transliteration question, I'll note that in early issues, Ra's al Ghul was spelled with macrons over the u and the first a.

(Ra's was created by Denny O'Neil)

cckerberos
06-20-2005, 05:17 PM
Here (http://jas.org.jo/cons.html#ara)'s a cite for what CalMeacham mentioned in his post.

drewbert
06-20-2005, 07:37 PM
In addition, one star in Perseus, called Algol, is a variable star which visibly changes brightness over time - hence the 'demonic' connection.

The word "ghoul" comes from this arabic phrase.

link (http://astro.uiuc.edu/~kaler/sow/algol.html)

Saranga
06-20-2005, 08:47 PM
How is it supposed to be pronounced?

Kamino Neko
06-20-2005, 08:54 PM
Raysh al (as in Bundy) gool (rhymes with pool).

CalMeacham
06-20-2005, 09:29 PM
In addition, one star in Perseus, called Algol, is a variable star which visibly changes brightness over time - hence the 'demonic' connection.

The word "ghoul" comes from this arabic phrase.

link


You know, I wrote a book about this once......

Thudlow Boink
06-20-2005, 10:27 PM
What's up with the apostrophe? I keep wanting to read it as, "Hi, I'm Ra, and this here's my al Ghul."

Kyla
06-21-2005, 12:17 AM
What's up with the apostrophe? I keep wanting to read it as, "Hi, I'm Ra, and this here's my al Ghul."

It's indicative of a glottal stop.

Acsenray
06-21-2005, 08:05 AM
Raysh al (as in Bundy) gool (rhymes with pool).

How is it pronounced in Arabic? This version seems awfully Anglicised to me.

Hey, It's That Guy!
06-21-2005, 08:15 AM
Interestingly, they called him "Raysh" in the animated series, but pronounced it "Roz" (like my Aunt Rozzie) in the new movie Batman Begins.

Bibliovore
06-21-2005, 08:36 AM
I'm Arabic, so I'll bite...

There really shouldn't be a glottal stop in the first word. It's pronounced "Rahss", to rhyme with "Glass". Long "a" sound sollowed by a soft, sibilant "s".

Johanna
06-21-2005, 09:52 AM
cckerberos and Bibliovore, the vowel /a/ in ras is short. It doesn't get a macron. (The /u/ in ghl is long, however, and properly gets a macron.)

The glottal stop (hamzah) represented by the right-handed apostrophe is a consonantal sound. The left-handed apostrophe To pronounce "ras", you have to get used to making the glottal stop with no vowel sound after it, followed by a vowelless /s/.

Originally, like all Arabic nouns, the word ended in a short final vowel, so you wouldn't need to negotiate a cluster of two consonants ending the word. Two syllables easier to pronounce: Ra-su. When followed by the definite article al-, the /a/ in al- is elided and the final short vowel from the end of the previous word plugs into the /l/. So the Classical Arabic pronunciation runs the two words together and they sound like one: ra-sul-ghl.

When we transliterate the definite article, the standard way is to write the al- in all positions, so that it reflects the Arabic orthography better than it does the pronunciation. This is why sometimes you see the name Abd Allah or Abdallah, and sometimes Abdullah. The final short vowel of a noun changes for different case endings when the word is grammatically inflected. Apart from an Arabic grammatical context, therefore, a word is cited in the nominative case, like Latin or Greek words. The Arabic nominative ends in -u, the accusative ends in -a, and the genitive ends in -i. Three vowels, three cases.

The word ghl starts with the sound of the letter ghayn (http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/showthread.php?t=311998), and we've already had a thread on that sound.

Johanna
06-21-2005, 10:11 AM
Sorry, I meant to type above: The left-handed apostrophe transliterates the letter ayn, which is a different sound from hamzah.

The pronunciation "raysh" for ras is ridiculous. There is no way to turn the s into sh. Sometimes, in some Arabic dialects, the hamzah is elided and changed to a [y] or [w] sound. Sometimes hamzah following the vowel /a/ can be elided to make the /a/ long while the hamzah disappears. In linguistics this is called "compensatory lengthening." (Hmm, insecure males are also known to do this...) For example, the original word tarkh, literally meaning 'to determine a date', became trkh (meaning 'chronology, history') even in Standard Arabic. So in that case, ras could be pronounced rs with a long vowel in some Arabic dialects. After I just got done telling you it isn't pronounced that way in Standard Arabic! A complicated subject, isn't it?

In Ethiopic, the cognate word ras is pronounced this way. Originally meaning 'head', it came to mean 'chieftain' or 'prince' in Ethiopia, thus Ras Tafari. In Russian, this Arabic word was borrowed to mean 'one' when counting. Ras, dva, tri.... Because the meaning 'beginning' can also be derived from 'head'. In Arabic too, ras can mean 'beginning' as well as 'leader'. Ras al-hikmah makhfat Allh is a saying that means 'The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God.'

The Arabic word for president or boat captain ras is derived from the same word as ras. It's easier to pronounce the glottal stop when it comes between two vowels like that. In Sicilian dialect, they still use the word raisi for a boat captain, a sign of the influence of Arabic upon Sicilian. Raisa Gorbachev's name likewise came from this same Arabic word, meaning 'a female leader/captain/president'.

As for ghl, in Arabian folklore it was a specific type of demon that inhabited the howling wastes of the wilderness, and preyed upon the unwary human. The star name Algol got that name from Arabic, al-Ghl, because as a variable that kept changing in magnitude it looked so weird.

Jason H
06-21-2005, 10:20 AM
I've heard it pronounced Roz and Rayz, Al and All, but ghul is usually pronounced gool.

I prefer to pronounce it Roz all gool.

Bibliovore
06-21-2005, 11:29 AM
Thanks, Johanna! That was really educational! Where did you learn so much about Arabic? :)

Bippy the Beardless
06-21-2005, 12:00 PM
Thanks, Johanna! That was really educational! Where did you learn so much about Arabic? :)

I beleive I have found his alma mata (http://miskatonic-university.org/) ;)

Acsenray
06-21-2005, 12:30 PM
Hmm ...

I wonder, if D.C. Comics originally put an erroneous macron over the first "a," maybe the people who did the animated series mistook the symbol for the American schoolroom a-macron (which signifies [eI]) and that's how they ended up with "ray" instead of "rah." I can't account for the "sh," however.

Johanna
06-21-2005, 01:13 PM
Ha ha, Bippy, you're so funny, yes, I have read Lovecraft too. But please use the feminine pronouns for me. She, her, hers. Thank you.

I figured out where the "raysh" pronunciation comes from. The 20th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, resh, is pronounced that way. It's a Semitic cognate of the Arabic word. Resh (the letter name) is a variant form of the Hebrew word for head, rosh. In both Hebrew words, the ancient Semitic glottal stop is still written, using the letter aleph, but its sound is gone, elided. Maybe someone substituted the more familiar, easier to pronounce Hebrew cognate because the Arabic word reminded them of it.

DC Comics? I remember in an issue back in the 1960s Lois Lane had to take a ritual bath in a "kvimah," which was just the Hebrew word for women's post-menstrual purificatory bath, mikvah, with the letters rearranged. So the association has been set up in my mind: DC Comics<-->Hebrew speakers.

From the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed., Appendix II, Semitic Roots:

r. Common Semitic noun *ra-, head, top. 1. RESH, from Hebrew re, resh, from Aramaic r or dialectal Phoenician *r, head, twentieth letter of the alphabet. 2. RHO, from Greek rh, from Phoenician *r, head, twentieth letter of the Phoenician alphabet. 3. ROSH HASHANAH, from Hebrew r ha-n, beginning of the year, from r, head, top, beginning. 4. RASTAFARIANISM, from Amharic ras, head, chief, prince.
Is it a proper transliteration?Yes, it is.

Jdogno1
08-12-2012, 10:08 PM
"DC Comics? I remember in an issue back in the 1960s Lois Lane had to take a ritual bath in a "kvimah," which was just the Hebrew word for women's post-menstrual purificatory bath, mikvah, with the letters rearranged. So the association has been set up in my mind: DC Comics<-->Hebrew speakers.": Sorry if this is off-topic or breaking any sort of rules in relation to discussion conduct. Johanna, you speak of an issue back in the 1960s where Lois Lane had to take a ritual bath in a"kvimah" i.e. a Mikvah. Why? What was the story about? What happened that required Lois to do so? For the record, (forgive me if this is going off topic) yes, it is used by Jewish women for ritual purity after menstruation, as well as childbirth. It is also used for other reasons: Ritual purity for Jewish men after sexual intercourse or wet dreams. It is used as part of the traditional procedure for the conversion process to Judaism. It is used for utensils used for food. It is used in the purification procedure for bodies before burial. During consecrations of Jewish priests. It was used by the Jewish high priest on Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement) after sending away one of the sacrificial goats into the wilderness (symbolically, the goat was sent to die for the sins of the Jewish people over the past year), as well as by the man who leads away the goat. It was also used by the Jewish priest who performed the Red Heifer (Red (Heifer-young cow who has not even had a single calf to date) ritual. This was done to purify those who came into contact with a dead body. The Red Heifer was ritually slaughtered, burnt and the ashes were sprinkled upon the one who came into contact with the body. It was also used by one who came into contact with a grave or corpse, in addition to having the ashes of the Red Heifer sprinkled upon them. Eating meat from an animal that died naturally i.e. carrion was another reason to use a Mikvah/Mikveh. It is also customary to go to a Mikvah/Mikveh before Jewish holy days.

The reasons are:
1. Ritual purity for Jewish women after menstruation or childbirth.
2. Ritual purity for Jewish men after sexual intercourse or wet dreams.
3. As part of the traditional procedure for the conversion process to Judaism.
4. For utensils used for food.
5. Purification procedure for bodies before burial.
6. During consecration of Jewish priests.
7. By the Jewish high priest on Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement), after sending away one of the sacrificial goats into the wilderness, as well as by the man who leads away the goat.
8. By the Jewish priest who performed the Red Heifer (Red young cow who has not even had a single calf to date) ritual. This was done to purify those who came into contact with a dead body. The Red Heifer was ritually slaughtered, burnt and the ashes were sprinkled upon the one who came into contact with the body.
9. After coming into contact with a corpse or grave, in addition to having the ashes of the Red Heifer sprinkled upon them
10. Eating meat from an animal that died naturally i.e. carrion.
11. It is also customary to go to a Mikvah before Jewish holy days.

Do I understand this correctly: you are saying that there are people working at DC Comics who are Hebrew speakers?

Once again: Sorry if this is off-topic or breaking any sort of rules in relation to discussion conduct.

Also for the record reasons 6-10 are no longer in effect due to the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. I have only given a basic summary of the reasons I have stated. There is more detail to them but I admittedly only know those basic details offhand. There are also other reasons but they were based on concepts which are not so easy to explain. Just saying, I don't know every reason for the use of a Mikvah/Mikveh or the details for the ones I have stated. Just being honest in that I don't know everything about what I'm saying but what I have stated is what I understand to be the truthful facts.

orcenio
08-12-2012, 10:27 PM
Hmmm....I thought "Ra's al Ghul" was an old, dead, then reanimated Indian.

Sister Vigilante
08-13-2012, 02:47 PM
If I had a penny for everyone who snarked on a zombie thread...

chrisk
08-13-2012, 03:14 PM
If I had a penny for everyone who snarked on a zombie thread...

...you'd be as rich as Bruce Wayne? :D

Dr. Drake
08-13-2012, 03:21 PM
In Russian, this Arabic word was borrowed to mean 'one' when counting. Ras, dva, tri.... Because the meaning 'beginning' can also be derived from 'head'.I know this is a zombie thread, but this is not right. The Russian "counting" word is раз [trans. raz, pron. /ras/], "time, occasion," which has a perfectly good separate Slavic etymology.

Attack from the 3rd dimension
08-13-2012, 04:06 PM
It's not a zombie thread, it's a thread that's been resurrected.

Johanna
09-05-2012, 11:39 PM
I know this is a zombie thread, but this is not right. The Russian "counting" word is раз [trans. raz, pron. /ras/], "time, occasion," which has a perfectly good separate Slavic etymology.I can get how "beginning"=1. I don't get how "time, occasion"=1.

Johanna, you speak of an issue back in the 1960s where Lois Lane had to take a ritual bath in a "kvimah" i.e. a Mikvah. Why? What was the story about? What happened that required Lois to do so?I don't rightly remember, it was so many years ago. I think she and Superman were visiting an alien planet and they were going to get married and in the alien culture she had to do that ritual bath first, or something vaguely like that.

Although when it comes to alien weddings, I guess I'd prefer the Betazoid version.

Dr. Drake
09-05-2012, 11:59 PM
I can get how "beginning"=1. I don't get how "time, occasion"=1.Think "[one] time, two [times], three [times]," basically "once, twice, thrice."

Johanna
09-06-2012, 04:10 AM
I looked up the reference (I don't know if the asker is still reading) Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #103 (1970) story: "The Devil's Bride! (http://comics101.com/comics101/?mode=project&action=view&project=Comics+101&chapter=257)". My memory was slightly garbled. Lois is set to marry a space alien who looks like Satan, and he apparently transforms her into a she-devil too. In his alien culture, she has to take the bath called "kvimha" before the wedding. I also remember the letter to the editor (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jewishcomics/message/328) that revealed the Hebrew etymology:
Dear Editor:
In issue 103, you show Lois bathing in the kvimha, the pre-marital bath
brides take on Nferino to purify themselves. Isn't it funny that if you
unscramble the letters of "kvimha" you get the word "mikvah" which is the
bath Jewish brides must take before they are married so that they may be
purifeid? You know, "kvimha" sounds more Jewish than "mikvah".
Steve Brown, Williston Park, N.Y.

Maybe... but to us, that guy Satdev never seemed completely kosher. -E.N.B.

Paul in Qatar
09-06-2012, 04:23 AM
Oddly, the "Ras" is "Ra's al Ghul" is also used to describe a bay, harbor or port. ("Headwater" I suppose is a related English term.) So "Ra's al Ghul" could be the "Bay of Devils."

Johanna
09-06-2012, 04:30 AM
Oddly, the "Ras" is "Ra's al Ghul" is also used to describe a bay, harbor or port. ("Headwater" I suppose is a related English term.) So "Ra's al Ghul" could be the "Bay of Devils."
Not headwater. Headland. It's used as the Arabic term for a geographical cape.

"Where are we? In the foothills of the headlands"

Nava
09-06-2012, 04:54 AM
Do I understand this correctly: you are saying that there are people working at DC Comics who are Hebrew speakers?

That there were Hebrew-speakers* in DC in the '60s ain't exactly news; what Johanna figured out (and she wasn't the only one who did, as per her quote) is that the invented name for that invented bath is likely to have been suggested by one of them, playing on mikvah.


* or at least, people who spoke enough Hebrew to know the word mikvah; they may not have been fluent in Hebrew.

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