Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Yalla Bye

Word has come down to us co-conspirators ;-) to stop all anti-government actions for the holidays, so here's something completely different. Why do so many Lebanese say "Yalla bye!" when taking theire leave? I mean, "Hi, keefak, ca va" on a T-shirt is good for a chuckle, but "Yalla bye" is actually really heard pretty much everywhere. It finally occurred to me why.

Our native tongue, Arabic, recognizes many distinctions that other languages do not. For insatance the distinction between a singular noun, a plural noun and a dual noun. The only example of a triple distinction in English is for comparative and superlative adjectives (good, better, best). The Arabic-language distintion that bears on "Yalla bye" is the distinction between leave-taking and god-speeding. To take our leave from assembled company or from a household, in Lebanon we might say "Bi Khatirkon" (= don't forget to think about me/us) and in Egypt they might say "astaathen ana ba'a" (= I beg to [to take leave] now.) To wish godspeed to a person deprating from assembled company or from a household, in most Arab countries we say "ma3 el salameh" (= travel safe) with the appropriate vowels for our dialect, except in the in the Arabian Gulf, where they say "fi aman Allah" (= in God's care).

Now professional linguists are known to search for (and make whole lifetime careers out of) patterns that guide our use of a language without being consciously known to the speakers of the language. I think the following is one of them, and if someone can help me find the right keywords I would be glad to do a scholar.google search and figure out if it is an original observation or not. Arabic speakers cannot stand the confusion of the two types of goodbye. Even when we use the hugely popular, shorter, European-derived "bye", it jars the mind to use the same word in two contexts. Hence "Yalla bye" if you want to leave present company, and the equally powerful "OK bye" in order to give leave to someone who is leaving. Take notice next time you catch yourself following this convention and let me know if I am wrong.

Further proof: some smart-alec, some time between Napoleon's Egypt campaign and World War 2, thought it would be a good thing to translate the French "au revoire" into "ila alliqaa". Of course "until we meet again" does not carry the distinction between the leave-taker and the leave-giver. Result? Whenever you hear "ila alliqaa" or "ilalliqaa" you can be sure you are listening to a Mexican soap opera or a Japanese cartoon that has been dubbed into Arabic. It seems that the same little studio somewhere with the same voice talent does all the dubbing, and their resident linguist is probably the only person in the world who thinks real Arabic ever sounded like that.


  • At 22/12/06 1:32 PM, Anonymous lalebanessa said…


    Merry Christmas , Eid Mubarak and a Happy New Year (t-lete b-wahad !)
    Just remember, as long as we keep talking, there's always hope, however much we disagree.

  • At 22/12/06 6:45 PM, Blogger Walid said…


    I second all you said, and add
    "kil il 7a22 3al 2amerkein"

    (For any non-arab-speakers, this does not translate to "Kill all Americans" but to "it's all the fault of the Americans")

  • At 24/12/06 8:10 AM, Anonymous Lalebanessa said…

    Walid, that statement had its second half missing so I'll add " ..wa il 7a22 3ala Iran kaman".
    Now the sentence is complete!

    ho ho ho :)

  • At 24/12/06 3:44 PM, Blogger Walid said…

    You know the original Lebanism is "kill el 7a22 3al tilyen" (= blame it on the Italians), which is eqivalent to "tell it to the Marines" in the US. The point is that the real meaning is "anyone but me."

    Ho Ho Ho to yo utoo :).


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