A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

“Ya valad”: Lebanon in 1955

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 3, 2008

A treasure-trove of old Lebanese guidebooks and memoirs arrived in Saturday’s mail – another purchase made possible by Ebay. I don’t know where – or how – I would otherwise find all these wonderful old books.

One was a 1955 Hachette guidebook, published in English:

Hachette is a venerable French publishing house that still maintains its headquarters on the Boulevard St. Germain. A friend of mine had something published by Hachette two years ago, and I was quite green with envy. (The fact that he is French and writes in French, two factors likely to make him more appealing to a French publisher, did little to de-green me.)

One thing I always look carefully at in older guidebooks are the guides to travelers’ Arabic, which often include numbers, food terms, and hotel and transportation words and phrases. I like seeing how the language changes: what words are new to me, and what are the words still in use.

But this guidebook’s Arabic threw me for a total loop. For one thing, the word for “Where?” is given as “Fain?” I’ve heard “fain” used in Morocco, and I have been told that it is sometimes used in Egypt – but I have never heard it used in Lebanon, Syria, or Palestine. Have any of you heard it used? Was it more common 50 years ago?

What really struck me, though, was the use of “v”. Arabic has no “v” – but the list of Arabic terms is full of v’s.

Some examples:

Do you speak French? – Btahki Fransavi?

meal – Vaga

breakfast – Tarviqa

fruit – Favahkeh

Its not that the guidebook has no “w”‘s: the number 21 is translated as “wahed va ishrin”. So where did all these “v”‘s come from?

Maybe they thought we were really Turkish, H said, frowning.

But that doesn’t make sense to me, either. The French were known as great Arabic linguists from the mid-1800s. They may not have been the greatest of colonial rulers, but as grammarians and linguists, they were unmatched. So where does the “v” come from?

I tried hard to imagine the reaction of the waitstaff at my favorite Arabic restaurant in Beirut if I did what the guidebook suggested as the way to get their attention: call out, Ya valad.

Chances of success? Slim. Chances of being known as the Ugly American? Much more likely.

I enjoyed reading this guidebook, but the v’s remain a total mystery.

Iv any vone ov yov knovs anyving about vis, please let me knov :).


2 Responses to ““Ya valad”: Lebanon in 1955”

  1. The V must be a typo when it was printed.
    Fein is equivalent to Wein, and is still used, example: Fein m5abba l’ Kteb: Where are you hiding the book.

  2. I guess the picture on the cover was taken in Tripoli near the St-Gilles Castle and Nahr Abou Ali.

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