Thursday, March 23, 2023

Aladdin's three elder brothers

One of my very young students told me this untranslatable Chinese joke today:

Q: 我問你,阿拉丁有幾個哥哥?
A: 三個:阿拉甲、阿拉乙、阿拉丙。

Q: Let me ask you, how many elder brothers does Aladdin have?
A: Three: Alajia, Alayi, and Alabing.
The joke is that Aladdin is transliterated as 阿拉丁 (ālādīng). Some of you might recognize that last character from my February 21 post "Tintin T. rex, Timey-wimey T. rex, . . . collect them all!":

Belgian comic-book character Tintin is called 丁丁 in Chinese.

Tin is not a possible syllable in Chinese, and Ting sounds like a girl's name, so the best they could do was Ding-ding. You know, like a bell. A tin bell. Like a tinker would make.

The character 丁 is the fourth Celestial Stem, and as such is used to translate the letter D when used in an ordinal sense -- that is, when A, B, C, and D are used in the sense of "one, two, three, four," as in an outline or on a multiple-choice test. For example, Serie D football is rendered 丁級 in Chinese. So if you wanted to go Backstroke of the West on poor Tintin and translate his Chinese translation back into English, he'd be called DD.

As you have probably guessed by now, the first three Celestial Stems are 甲 (jiǎ), 乙 (), and 丙 (bǐng) -- the final characters in the names of Aladdin's three elder brothers. By coincidence, the first part of Aladdin's Chinese name is 阿拉, which is also how the divine name Allah is transliterated. So Aladdin sounds like Allah-D in Chinese, and his three brothers are Allah-A, Allah-B, and Allah-C.

This calls to mind the Satanic Verses -- no, not the Salman Rushdie novel which occasioned the St. Valentine's Day fatwa, but the verses themselves: a false revelation given to Muhammad by Satan, in which it was implied that there were three divine beings in addition to Allah -- although in this case they would be sisters rather than brothers: the pre-Islamic Arabian goddesses al-Lat, al-'Uzza, and Manat.

Or: God-A, God-B, God-C, and God-D -- Allah, Brahman, Christ, and Zeus? God-B also makes me think of William S. Godbe (1833-1902), the Mormon schismatic who founded a Spiritualist-influenced sect and tried to make contact with Joseph Smith and others through séances.

Anyway, I mention the joke here because it syncs with my recent Tintin post -- both focusing on the use of 丁 both as the equivalent of D and as an element in transliterated foreign names. We'll see if the sync fairies decide to go anywhere with it.


Anonymous said...

Aladdin's cousin is Alacousam.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I hesitate to advertise my familiarity with ultra-lowbrow Jewish comedy, but sync is sync.

I can't find the clip, but there's a bit in Ali G Indahouse (2002) where he raps "Not Ali A, not Ali B, not Ali C, not Ali D, not Ali E, not Ali F, but Ali G!" And Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays Ali G, also played a character called Aladeen (i.e., Aladdin) in The Dictator (2012).

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Over my head, anon. Care to explain?

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Here it is:

ben said...

Ali G : Ali 7

and 'ali' is 22 in SEG

ben said...

'ali' is also 132 in EG

Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh as one

I was listening to an audio recording of the Book of Mormon, and when it got to the part where Nephi says they "did live upon raw meat ...