Last updated: February 20, 2022
There is a verb in Hans Wehr, the famous dictionary of Modern Standard Arabic, that you will hardly ever encounter in the Arab world.
Adolf Hitler and Hans Wehr Hide
The weird Arabic verb tahatlara
|تَهَتْلَرَ||“tahatlara”||to behave like Adolf Hitler. To imitate Adolf Hitler|
Remark: In the present tense, it is: يَتَهَتْلَرُ (“yatahatlaru”).
To be honest, I never came across this weird verb in daily talks.
I also have never encountered it in newspapers or books. I quickly checked with my Arabic-Arabic dictionaries and couldn’t find it. So don’t ask me why the editors of Hans Wehr’s dictionary have included it. I don’t even want to imagine what “to behave like Hitler” should express.
This “root”, which of course is not an Arabic root, is found in the enlarged 5th edition of the German edition (1,452 pages) of Hans Wehr:
It is also included in the enlarged 4th edition of the English version (page 1194) of Hans Wehr:
Nevertheless, there is something interesting about it – the morphology of the verb. The verb تَهُتْلَرَ is the second form of a quadriliteral root derived from the name Hitler, in Arabic: هِتْلِر.
The verb balshafa – to Bolshevize
Quadriliteral roots – which by the way means consisting of 4 root letters – are occasionally used for foreign names or things.
For example another weird verb found in Hans Wehr: “balshafa” (بَلْشَف) – to Bolshevize – which also forms the II-form “tabalshafa” (تَبَلْشَفَ) – to be Bolshevized.
This verb is certainly not common in English nowadays. For all readers who are not sure what it means – Colin’s dictionary explains the verb as follows: to bring into line with Communist ideology.
The nature of Arabic quadriliteral verbs
FORM I (فَعْلَلَ) quadriliteral verbs follow the conjugation of form II triliteral verbs (فَعَّلَ).
The only difference: You have two different radicals in the quadriliteral verb at the position where you would have two identical radicals (with شَدّة) in a triliteral verb.
One of the most common quadriliteral roots is تَرْجَمَ (to translate). Let’s use this root and compare it to a triliteral II-verb:
|number of root letters||meaning||past tense||present|
|4 root letters||I translate||تَرْجَمْتُ||أُتَرْجِم|
|3 root letters||I teach||دَرَّسْتُ||أُدَرِّسُ|
Two more important patterns of 4-roots
- The مَصْدَر of a quadriliteral root follows the pattern فَعْلَلَةٌ; occasionally also فِعْلالٌ is used. Thus, a translation is called تَرْجَمة in Arabic.
- The active participle (اِسْم فاعِل) follows the pattern مُفَعْلِلٌ, thus a translator is a مُتَرْجِم.
What does form I of an Arabic 4-root-verb express?
- A few form I quadriliteral “roots” are derived from famous expressions in Arabic:
- the verb بَسْمَلَ conveys: to say “in the name of Allah” (بِسْمِ اللهِ). From this root, the مَصْدَر is an important word for Muslims: the Basmala (بَسْمَلة).
- Furthermore, you can use two letters and duplicate them to express a certain sound: to cough (كَحْكَح), to roar (جَعْجَع), to gargle (غَرْغَرَ)
- And there are many words of foreign origin which were Arabized by deriving a quadriliteral root.
So far, so good. But why do we use form II (تَفَعْلَلَ) of a quadriliteral root to express that one behaves like Adolf Hitler?
FORM II verbs of a quadriliteral root have an initial ت. The conjugation of a form-II quadriliteral root corresponds to that of a strong, triliteral form-V-verb which follows in the past tense the pattern تَفَعَّلَ and in the present tense يَتَفَعَّلُ. In our example:
|present tense||past tense|
|I imitate Hitler.||I imitated Hitler.|
Form II of quadriliteral verbs have a reflexive meaning, sometimes also a passive meaning. That is the reason why for “actions” like this, the II-form of a quadriliteral root is used. So much for the grammar.
Some remarks on Hitler in the Arab world
When I first came to Egypt, which was more than ten years ago, I was confused because I could have bought Hitler’s book Mein Kampf (كِفاحِي) at every newspaper kiosk. In Germany and Austria, Mein Kampf was banned back then.
(Remark: After Hitler’s death, the copyright of Mein Kampf passed to the state government of Bavaria; Bavaria refused to allow any copying or printing of the book in Germany. This ban was lifted in 2016, following the expiry of the copyright after 70 years.)
Mein Kampf was published by Adolf Hitler in 1925/1926. Around ten years later, when Hitler started to drag the world into an apocalyptic misery, the entire Arab world was in a different shape than today: France and Great Britain shared it out.
Prof. Stefan Wild, a German Arabist, writes that in the time before World War II, shops in Syria would frequently show posters with Arabic slogans praising Hitler.
Furthermore, the news that Hitler had started a war reached the streets of Aleppo (حَلَب) and Damascus (دِمَشْق), where one could hear a popular verse in the local dialect which said: “No Monsieur, no Mister – Allah in heaven, on earth Hitler!” (ﻻ ﻣِﺴْﻴُﻮ، ﻻ ﻣِﺴْﺘِﺮ – الله ﺑِﺎﻟﺴَّﻤﺎ وَﻋَﻠَﻰ الْأَرْض ﻫِﺘْﻠِﺮ!)
The same happened in Iraq. According to an account of Prof. Shmuel Moreh (سامي موريه), an Iraqi Jew, walls were painted with ٍSwastikas and sayings such as: “Hitler, the protector of the Arabs!” (هِتْلِر حامِي الْعَرَب).
With national movements emerging in the Arab world, Hitler was praised for being an enemy to France and Great Britain.
Translations of Mein Kampf into Arabic
In the 1930s, parts of Mein Kampf were translated into Arabic by journalists who published some excerpts in Arabic newspapers. The German Nazis wanted to translate Mein Kampf officially into Arabic. This was, however, a difficult task.
The Nazi ideology was based on the supremacy of the white Aryan race (جِنْس آري). The Nazis disparaged Egyptians, for example, as “decadent people composed of cripples”. Furthermore, they had to change several expressions which would have otherwise targeted the Arabs as well, for example: anti-Semitic to anti-Jewish.
Despite several attempts before and during World War II, an official translation of Mein Kampf by the Nazis was never published.
Louis al-Hajj (لويس الْحاج), a translator and writer from Lebanon, who later became the editor in chief of the newspaper al-Nahar (النَّهار) in Beirut, translated parts of Mein Kampf from French into Arabic in 1963.
Al-Hajj’s translation contains only fragments of Hitler’s 800 pages pamphlet.
Nevertheless, Louis al-Hajj’s translation is still the most popular edition of Mein Kampf in the Arab world.
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