I am Jolly!
Actually, my name is Jill and most people, children and adults alike, know me as Grannie. Some call me other things too, but we won’t go there. My new name, though, is Jolly, and definitely not because I am always chuckling, rolling around like a bowlful of jello with a twinkle in my eye. I am now Jolly because my Syrian/Iraqi neighbor, Maha, deemed it so! Try as I might to help her pronounce either “Jill” or “Grannie”, it just wasn’t happening and finally one day she declared, “I shall call you Jolly”. End of debate, and I am forever to be known as Jolly.
As far as my pronunciation of their names, I got 80% lucky. The mother is Maha and the father is Ali … both easy enough, right? Then there are the three boys … Yousef, the youngest (this kid has the most infectious giggle I have ever heard!), and Ibrahim, the middle son. I can do both of those, having studied the Middle East and come across both of these names often enough. The oldest son, however, threw me for a loop. His name, written in the English alphabet, is Tholfakar. Once I saw it written this way, it got easier, but for the first several months I knew this family, I had only heard the name and I butchered it so badly that he finally said “you can just call me Tuny”. Okay, Tuny I can do. But still, I thought it would be more respectful to try to learn the correct pronunciation, so I persevered. Eventually I thought I had it … Dumcar! Maha looked at Ali, Ali looked at Tholfakar, who nodded, and I think they decided that was as close as the deaf old lady was going to get, so it was all good and for a few months I called him Dumcar. Eventually, they gave me a card for one of the holidays and on it were all their names. Suffice it to say that the “Th” is not pronounced quite like we would pronounce it in, say, the word “that” or “thought”, but it has a sound all its own that involves the tongue and the back of the upper teeth and comes out as sort of a hybrid between our “d” and “th”. And the “O” has a long U-sound. Makes sense. Since then, I try to visualize the written name when I say his name and I do fairly well. More recently, however, I found that when his Mom or Dad want to call him, they call him “Fakar” for short … now why the heck couldn’t they have just told me that in the beginning???
My granddaughter and I have been trying to help Maha with her English, as they hope to stay in this country indefinitely. Ali works, so he is exposed to English all day, and the boys all go to school, so they are learning quite well, but since Maha has almost no interaction with anybody outside her family and ours, she is coming along much more slowly. When she wanted to borrow a bowl one day, she brought one out and said “I need one of these. What name?” I said, “bowl”. Well, guess what? That “wl” sound that we take for granted is not natural to an Arabic-speaker. Only 4 letters, such a simple word, but we spent 10 minutes on the pronunciation and to this day we both still laugh when we see a bowl.
Being semi bi-lingual (Spanish/English), I’ve always thought that English was a complex language. I mean, in Spanish every letter (a few exceptions and qualifications, but the rule generally applies more often than not) has one pronunciation and only one. Certain letters in the English alphabet, on the other hand, may have not just one or even two, but multiple pronunciations. There are rules, such as “I before E except after C”, but more often than not, the exception is more frequent than the rule. Just looking at an “A”, for example … it may be pronounced as in “fast” or “shark” or “late”, to name a few. In most cases, rather than rely on a rulebook, you simply need to know the word and how it is pronounced. So yes, English is more complex than Spanish. But … ARABIC???? A whole ‘nother ball game!!! Depending on what source you view, there are 11 or more varieties of Arabic, not to mention regional dialects, and learning Arabic for an ancient, deaf American can only be done through audio or phonetic spelling, since the Arabic alphabet الأبجدية العربية does not even resemble the English. So, this ol’ Jolly will not likely be learning Arabic in this lifetime, though frankly if I were younger and could hear better, I would certainly try! Meanwhile, you may call me … Jolly!!!