Monday, September 3, 2012

Geography and Journalism

Late risers on this Labor Day, spreading the morning newspapers over their laps  and nibbling gingerly at the hot steam rising from the strong cup of coffee they had brewed to refresh the tissues (from dark-roasted whole beans,  preferably from the Red Sea town of Mocha, and ground just so)  were confronted with such information as this:

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that Khaled Batis, wanted in connection with the attack on the Limburg off the coast of Yemen that killed one person, was among five militants riding a vehicle struck by a drone Friday in the southern city of Hadramawt.
[Credit: AP]

An identical snippet occurs  on the CBS news site and dozens of others, likewise credited to AP, and in the Huffington Post, but uncredited.

Since Hadramaut is in southern Yemen, and since the Brits used to rule southern Yemen from Aden (nominally; they really only concerned themselves with the port of Aden),  I thought there might be further particulars in the British press, but a search on Google-News/U.K.  produced nothing.

Since the Limburg was in fact a French ship, I figured this would be bigger news in France than here (the American ship hit in Aden was the U.S.S. Cole).  A Wiki-News/France search produced virtually nothing but this -- not a translation or paraphrase of the AP piece, and containing a new detail that the perp was himself at the wheel, but omitting all geographical specificity:

Vendredi, huit membres présumés d'Al-Qaïda avaient été tués dans un raid mené, selon un responsable local, par un drone américain dans cette province. Parmi eux figurait Khaled Batis, un chef local d'Al-Qaïda, qui conduisait la voiture visée par le raid, selon sa famille.

Perhaps those diligent Germans will have dug something up?  Nope-- Just translations of the AP piece, though giving triple credit as though the piece were a synthesis from experts around the world:

Nach Angaben des Verteidigungsministeriums in Sanaa war Khaled Batis einer von fünf Extremisten, deren Fahrzeug von einer Drohne am Freitag in der südlichen Stadt Hadramut getroffen wurde.
[Credit: Von Apa/dpa/ag]

The only problem is -- Hadramaut (var. Hadramawt, Hadhramawt, etc.)   is not a town, but a broad region.  This is like saying:  “the village of California” or “the town of France”.

Wikipedia accurately identifies Hadramaut as an extensive area (historically of indefinite boundaries) rather than a town;  but its uncharacteristically brain-dead map  does not show the current legal boundaries thereof, nor its size relative to the other Yemeni governorates, but simply an overly specific red dot, like a nose on a clown, which could easily mislead the skimmer into imagining the Hadramaut is a town.

So -- does anybody get it right?  They do; but you have to hunt a bit:

قالت مصادر في حضرموت أن القيادي في تنظيم القاعدة  خالد مسلم باتيس لقي مصرعه إثر القصف بطائرة دون طيار أمريكية أمس، وهو القصف الذي أستهدف  ثمانية من أعضاء تنظيم القاعدة  بين منظقة الوهد والصافق غرب الخشعة بوادي حضرموت.
ونقل موقع (حضرموت برس) عن مصادره أن الشاب (خالد) كان يقود السيارة  أثناء عملية القصف  وبعد سماع عدد من اقاربه بخبر وفاته تحركوا إلى مستشفى سيئون  لمعاينة الجثث في ثلاجة الموتى  ولم يجدوه ، لكنهم تحركوا الى موقع الحادث  فعثروا  على جثته متفحمه وقاموا بنقلها الى مدينة القطن حيث جرى دفنه هناك.
وذكر المصدر أن الشاب خالد باتيس سبق وتلقت الأسرة خبر وفاته ثلاث مرات.
وكثفت الطائرات الامريكية من استهدافها لعناصر القاعدة في حضرموت وشبوة وأبين ومأرب والبيضاء وقتلت منهم الكثير لكن ذلك لم يحد من الهجمات التي ينفذها التنظيم في أكثير من مكان وأهمها مدينة عدن حاضرة الجنوب.
[Credit:  Hadhramaut Press]

Here no town is named, but rather an area:  “between the localities al-Wahd and al-Safiq west of al-Khashi`ah in Wadi-Hadramaut.”  We also learn that the name of the deceased was Khâlid Muslim Bâtîs, with both vowels long in the surname.   This would be an unusual pattern in standard Arabic;  no doubt the Bâ- is the well-known southern-Yemeni form of Abu-, while the rest, which is printed without the tashkîl diacritics, is for Tays, literally ‘goat’.  Thus, our late adventurer was Abu-Tays;  and here is what he looked like:

Hi ma !!  (... bye ma ... )

*     *     *
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For our book-length semantic investigation,
in Arabic and the European languages,
click here

We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

*     *     *

Paleographers pursue the art of stemmatology -- tracing the ancestry of successive manuscripts of a given work, down the centuries.   Highly useful in discerning separate traditions of who-copied-from-whom  is any error that cropped up at some point, at the nib of a slumbrous scribe, and was thereafter passed down like a bad gene.    The take-home here is that the surface wild-variety of information on the Internet  conceals a relatively few feeder-sources.

[Postscript:  Much more Arabic funstuff available here. ]

Linguistic footnote:
As for the word Hadramaut, I have no idea where it comes from;  various etymologies are proposed here:

As for the pronunciation in English:  had-ra-MOUT.

As for the transcription:  
(1) The -au- vs. -aw- are insignificantly different ways of transcribing the same diphthong.
(2) The -d- vs. -dh- is more substantive.   
The consonant in question here is the celebrated  dâd -- sort of in the ‘emphatic’ roster, but not quite, and originally  apparently  a lateral.   Apart from the unambiguous special character, subscript-dotted d,  , there is no good way to transcribe the bugger in the regular alphabet:  either d, in which case it falls together with the entirely different letter dâl; or dh, in which case it falls together with dhâl.

For a considerably more important  phono-morphological observation, consult the learnèd Comment of Dr Massey, below.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice work (your article I mean).

    The -ut/awt nouns suffix is what's behind the varying translations of the phrase "valley of the shadow of death" versus "valley of deep darkness." The word tsalmawt (צַלְמָוֶת) in Ps 23 was interpreted early on as a construct of tsal/צַלְ (shadow) and mawt/מָוֶת (death), but Ugaritic tablets discovered in the early part of the last century later informed biblical scholarship of a root Zlm which means darkness. And if more Hebraists studied Arabic they wouldn't have had to wait that long. (cf. darkness, ظلمة)