Glottal stops and definite articles: The real secret of Hizbullah
In a recent post, Mr. Anymore has discussed the pronunciation of the name of the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizbullah. I would like to discuss its morphology.
The name means "Party of God" and is made up of two parts: "Hizb", meaning "party", and "Allah", meaning "God". These two can be put together to make a compound: "Hizb-Allah", which is how the name is spelled on aljazeera.net.
But the word "Allah" begins with a special sound known as hamzat ul-waSl, or a droppable glottal stop. When a word beginning with a droppable glottal stop is preceded by another word, the glottal stop along with its following vowel are both dropped. In such a case, "Allah" would become "-llah". In addition, the word "hizb" can have an extra "u" tacked on, as, I think, the sign of the Nominative, making the whole thing "Hizb ullah", or "Hizbullah". The word is even sometimes spelled with a "-" or an apostrophe between "hizb" and "ullah" to mark the divide between the two elements. (The vowel "u" is for some reason always stuck with the second part of such compounds.) But most of the time the newspapers have decided to write the whole thing as one word, although they have not agreed on what letters to use to represent the Arabic vowels: "Hezbollah" (New York Times), "Hizbollah" (Financial Times), "Hizbullah", or what?
The hamzat ul-waSl occurs in another common word, the definite article "al". The peculiar elision that occurs when the article follows another word can make transcription difficult. For example, should the name "Abdul Qader" be spelled like that, or like this: "Abd ul-Qader"?
The definite article, though, poses another special problem: if it precedes a consonant made with the tip of the tongue, then the "l" is assimilated to that consonant. (The consonants that provoke this assimilation are called the "sun letters" and are as follows: t, th, d, dh, r, z, s, sh, S, T, D, TH, l and n.) This assimilation can occur along with the aforementioned elision to make the definite article all but unrecognizable.
For example, the New York Times had a story today about a radical Islamic group in Britain called "Hizb ut-Tahrir". This "hizb" is the same, I think, as the "hizb" of "Hizbullah". "Ut" is none other than our definite article "al", with the glottal stop and the "a" elided by the preceding nominative marker "u", and the "l" assimilated to the following "t". It is a mystery whose clue is known only to the editors of the New York Times, why they chose to transcribe the two names according to two different principles, not only deciding to write a compound as two words in one case ("hizb ut-tahrir"), and as one in the other ("hezbollah"), but even transcribing the same word "hizb-u" with completely different vowels in the two different cases: "hezbo" in "hezbollah", but "hizbu" in "hizb ut-tahrir". Probably no one even noticed the discrepancy, or else "Hezbollah" was deliberately allowed an anomalous transcription in deference to common usage. Or perhaps there is in the disparity of transcriptions a hidden political message! Only time will tell.