Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gemination Is No Trivial Matter

My Twitter followers have asked me why it's so important that I know whether the B in tabbouleh is doubled. I think some of them have unwittingly followed me without a full knowledge of how anal I can be when it comes to English transliteration (also referred to as Romanization) of foreign words. My condolences, but no apologies, go to them.

Also, it's a long story as to why I couldn't just pick up an Arabic-English lexicon and figure it out on my own without having to beg for help in public. But it's a long and very boring story. Let's just say that it wasn't possible at the time.

Since then, I have been informed by several reliable sources that the second radical of the tri-literal root of the form tabbouleh or تبولة, i.e. ﺏ or b as represented in English, is indeed doubled. Based on that, I believe the word should be transliterated in such a way that the gemination is shown. In other words, even though the doubling of the b isn't so audibly obvious, the gemination of the letter b, as in tabbouleh, serves as a reminder of the doubling in the original.

Gemination is important. Here's an example:

Although there's is no way حمّص and حماس can be confused with one another in Arabic, be it in the way they're spelled or pronounced, I have more than a few times heard non-Arabs walk into a Middle Eastern eatery and, according to the way they pronounce the name in English, end up asking for حماس instead of حمّص. The problem is - the former is a terrorist group and the latter is a delicious chickpea dip. The difference in vocalization aside, a little emphasis on the doubling of the M would help a great deal in preventing one from getting a blank stare from requesting something like this at a food place.

I'm telling you - the issue of gemination is no trivial matter.