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Opaque words: Arabic importations at the limits of translation

Mazen Naous, University of Massachusetts Amherst


My dissertation examines moments of Arabic linguistic and formal importation and cultural translation in colonial and postcolonial texts and offers ways of engaging these often misunderstood or overlooked moments. Sparse and seemingly ineffective, importations do indeed play a significant dialogic role between Arabic and the texts in English. Implicit within the term importation are the issues of exchange and value. Manifesting predominantly in transliteration, importation wears an English letter-form but yields an opaque Arabic content. The rubbing of form and content within an importation produces many possibilities concerning that importation and its role within an English linguistic sphere. The dissertation's principal goal, then, is to demonstrate how Arabic and Islam participate in these texts' discourses and how these texts represent and participate in cross-cultural and cross-religious moments of importation. I engage four main issues of importation and translation: (1) importation, where transliterated Arabic or Qur'anic phrases find their way into these texts without being translated; (2) contextually defined importation, where the transliterated words or phrases are interpreted intratextually; (3) formal importation, where imported Arabic forms (poetic meters and rhetorical devices) become the underlying cause of opaque content; (4) cultural translation, which shows the often painful identity and physical negotiations between languages and the cultures they carry across rigid divides. I examine nineteenth-century works including George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Locksley Hall. I also engage twentieth-century and twenty-first century works including Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, and Diana Abu-Jaber's Arabian Jazz and Crescent. These seemingly disparate texts across time and space all participate in importations of Arabic and Qur'anic words and forms. The idea of the oriental other, specifically the Arabic and Muslim other, is interwoven deeply into the texture of these works in English. The ways these texts engage representations of the Arab/Muslim reveal much about the cultures within which they operate.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Naous, Mazen, "Opaque words: Arabic importations at the limits of translation" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3275747.