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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Story with Cupboards and Waterwheels

Ludwig Deutsch, The Scholars
oil on panel, 1901
(Washington Times, Orientalist art’s reversal of fortune)
no copyright infringement intended

(click here for the Romanian version)

All started from a painting by Ludwig Deutsch, showing three Arab scholars in front of an elegant built-in bookcase. A work from 1901, carying the title The Scholars. It impressed me, and it called in my mind the famous Three Philosopers of Giorgione (that I had seen about seventeen years ago, at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, in Viena - I had gone there having firstly in mind to see them, The Philosphers, as I had dreamed at them for years - I had read in my youth years a fascinating book on Giorgione, by Salvatore Settis).

But let's come back to the Scholars of Deutsch. I looked for information on the web and I found an extract from a Sotheby's Catalogue, with a detailed description (authored by Dr. Emily M. Weeks, an expert in Orientalism and also in the visual culture from the Victorian Era). Each piece of clothing was mentioned, and each piece of furniture as well. Also the Arabic name was each time given (in phonetic transliteration, otherwise few would have understood).

For the built-in wooden bookcase the Arabic name was dulab. I was surprised: this word was very much like the Romanian dulap, and had the same meaning.  I decided to make a more in-depth research.

My guess was that the word dulap had come in Romanian from the Turkish language:  long time ago I had read a book by Victor Eftimiu, (an author that I had the chance to meet once, in my childhood), and I had learned from there that the first bricklayers in the Romanian Countries had been Turks, this way many related Romanian words had come with them, from Turkish. Not all the words, of course: zid (wall) for instance came from Slavik (zidŭ), cărămida (brick) came from Neo-Greek (keremidi), while tavan (ceiling) is the same as the Turkish tavan, geam (glass, window) is in Turkish cam, as for dușumea (floor), the Turkish word is döșeme. Then chirpici (adobe) is in Turkish kerpiç, and there are many other.

So to trace the dulap, I went to Google Translator and looked for the word in Turkish: dolap. Just what I was thinking.

Encouraged this way, I tried a translation from Turkish to Arabic, using the same tool, Google Translator. I got خزانة. Well, there was a bit of work to do with this خزانة. There are web sites for Romanization (and not only for Socialization, that are known by everyone), only you need to know how to look for them. This way I got the phonetic transliteration for the Arabic equivalent of the Romanian dulap: it was khzanh. Not what I expected! It's true that Arabs don't note all vowels (only a, in seems, and that one in three or four ways, for open vowel, closed vowel, long vowel, short vowel, and the like), however, kzanh doesn't look at all like dulab, far from that.

I thought at synonyms: Arabic words had synonyms, like the words in any other language, while Google Translator mostly gave you only one version of the word. So I considered trying the translation for some other synonyms of the Romanian dulap. Here my wife was of great help, by reminding me that words had also homonyms! Let me explain. Dulap doesn't mean in Romanian only cupboard. Dulap also means board (especially of a certain thickness, length and width). And actually dulap has in Romanian some other meanings, too - here is some stuff from some Romanian dictionaries:

At the end of the day, the common denominator is that all these synonyms and homonyms are designating wooden made objects, better said, either boards, or objects and installations constructed from boards (be them wheels, swings, buckets, cupboards, and so on). Well, I tried the translation with all the variants, without getting dulab.

I came back to the description of the Scholars, and I decided to give a shot also with an English-Arab translation.  I tried built-in wooden bookcase: it didn't fit.

Then I tried wall cupboard, and I got الجدار دولاب - in phonetic transliteration aljdar dwlab ! Success was near, because w and u designate the same sound in transliteration, thus dwlab and dulab were the same.

The weird thing was that going in the reverse direction, what I got from  دولاب   (dwlab) was the Romanian roată, and the English wheel, trundle, gear. Which means that Google Translator gets sometimes confused among so many synonyms and homonyms. That's natural, for such subtleties one needs to go to  Academic dictionaries, not to onLine tools.

Now, if you go further and translate from Arabic to Persian, for dwlab you get چرخ , which is transliterated to cherkh, that looks amazingly like the Romanian cerc (circle). But after all circle and wheel are some kind of synonyms!

So far so good. However, a cupboard is a cupboard and a wheel is a wheel,  despite their wooden relationship. So I tried another way: I looked on the web for various contexts containing the word  dulab. This time I was lucky

I found it firstly in a book printed in London in 1916: Peeps at Many Lands: Egypt, authored by  Robert Talbot Kelly (this was an English artist who spent some time in North Africa, then in Burma). The book is now on the web (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18647/18647-h/18647-h.htm) and here is the fragment where dulab is used:

The walls are usually plain, and are only broken by the "dulab," or wall cupboard, in which pipes and other articles are kept  (it's a description of an Egyptian home).

I concluded that in Egyptian Arabic dulab meant built-in cupboard.

I found then another book on the web, published in Wiesbaden in 1990 - Arabic Loanwords in Ethiopian Semitic, by  Wolf Lenslau (an authoritative specialist in Semitic languages spoken in Ethiopia):

dulab (D.T) wardrobe', Ar. (Egypt) dulab 'cupboard', Yemenite dawlab, from Persian dulab

So Romanian - Turkish - Arabic - Persian. Most probably I could have gone even further, but I considered it enough.

I wanted though to check also the Persian word. This time I need to do some reverse engineering: taking each letter from the phonetic notation, replacing it with the corresponding Persian letter, arranging the sequence of Persian letters from right to left. I got دولآب (the same as the Arabic دولاب, no wonder, they share the alphabet). I went then to the Google Translator and I got waterwheel. The translation in Romanian came as roată (wheel), however, taking each syllable independently  I arrived also in Romanian at something like wooden object used in water. Which could be roată (de moară), ciutură (waterwheel, bucket), and so on, and so on.

It's enough, I say. As you can see, in Romanian as in Arabic as in Persian dulab means many, many things, in many, many ways. So it goes.

(A Life in Books)


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