Friday, April 19, 2013

why not jokhar?

while everyone else is transfixed by the real-life die hard movie unfolding this morning in boston, i am distracted by a transcription issue. AP has identified the bombing suspect who is still at large as "dzhokhar tsarnaev.".

wonder what the deal is with all those consonants are the beginning of his first name? it works like this: the russian language doesn't have a j-sound like the one we have in english. instead it has a "ж" (the "zhe") that stands for a sound that is like how french people pronounce the "j". the sound that letter makes is also like the "s" in the english word "treasure." when transcribing russian into english the ж-sound usually gets written as "zh".

meanwhile, russians have their own transliteration conventions. because they don't have an english-style "j" sound, they transcribe that sound by putting their letter that makes the d-sound, "д" (the "de") in front of the zhe. so when they spell a word with this combination: дж, they mean a j-sound like in english. chechen is apparently a language that has an english-style j-sound. so that is why dzhokhar tsarnaev's first name would be written "джохар" in cyrillic.

if you transcribe the name into english treating each letter separately, the "дж" would come out to be "dzh" (the "д" would be a "d" + "zh' for the  "ж"). but the only reason that "дж" was used in the first place is to signify the english j-sound. so instead of writing the clunky "dzh" why not just use a "j"?