Lost in translation? The Arabic of Gaddafi

 A short post on some of my thoughts about the recent speeches of Gaddafi, a good break for me away from my never-ending work!  Usually in a revolution people write about how a people want change and about their hopes and fears but here I write about the language used by Gaddafi since the uprisings in his country. What was of particular interest to me was his choice of language, the way he used it, and the style he employed- I think I paid attention to the content later. His was not the first of speeches to be made by a leader feeling the pressure from his people, but his speeches struck me in a way that Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s did not.

He chose to use a mixture of both Standard and spoken (Libyan) Arabic and spoke in his heavy bedouin accent, which for many people was incoherent, misplaced at times and made no sense. His words and at times sentences rhymed and his use of high pitch and tonality, well unfit for someone trying to convey a message of strength and definace- but as they say he is the king of kings so it’s his rules!  The bedouin in him came through in his speech harsh, defiant, proud and shocked that his people would  have the audacity to challenge his rule and that can lead one to be removed from reality.  One cannot ignore the grand style he employed when describing how he will call on all in Libya to support him – in English it translates as: “I will call upon millions from desert to desert. We will march to purge Libya inch by inch, house by house, alley by alley.”  Those words have now become so popular that they have been made into a song titled ‘Zenga Zenga’ which means ‘street by street’ (or alley by alley). Hence my title- lost in translation  (the fact that the minute it is translated it’s loses its original allure if it did have any to begin with!) in Arabic it is almost musical but in English it is comical since leaders these days do not address their nations in such rhetoric or grandeur or for that length of time.

The speeches generally are very long or extremely short (30 seconds) they begin without warning and end sometimes in mid-topic or sentence, all we hear is the phone being put down and then the line goes dead. The news presenters then have to quickly compose themselves and try to summarise to the audience a speech that to them was perhaps not so complete not so whole. Lost in translation because to the outside world these speeches ar of a ranting, unrealistic and defeated man who has no control over his emotions. But with the closer look one sees that there are some stylistics to his speech though the content of the speeches is another story entirely perhaps best left to the political bloggers. Thought I’d share a glimpse of the linguistic side of his speeches….

To see the popular video click here: creative zenga zenga – comments welcome on anything here…. thanks for reading