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The Municipality isn't wrong, reality is

by michael July 25 2008
Municipal newsCity planning
Bad English.
The transliteration isn't inconsistent, you are
Jerusalem is divided into so many neighborhoods - neighborhoods whose names, boundaries and even existence often depend largely on point of view - that even veteran residents can become a bit geographically confused. And if veterans are confused, tourists are absolutely stymied, lost and hungry in "Ge'ulim" while trying to find Baka, so stricken with worry about the difference (if any) between "Ein Kerem" and "Ein Karem" that they, out of fear, never leave the comfortingly Anglophone environs of Ben Yehuda.

And so in keeping with its inimitable and time-honored tradition of sensing a problem and spending a lot of money to make it worse, the Jerusalem Municipality rode in with an armful of signs meant to clearly delineate neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the task of deciding what would actually appear on the signs was apparently delegated, in another inimitable and time-honored Municipality tradition, to morons.

...the English on the new signs is littered with misspellings and Hebrew transliterations which are likely to prove of dubious help to English speakers looking for the German Colony, rather than "HaMoshava HaGermanit," as one sign shows.

Even Israel's founding prime minister, it appears, gets short-changed, with a city sign reading "Ben Guryon Qtr."

The city's scenic Ein Kerem neighborhood, home to some of the nicest walking trails in the city and various churches, has been relegated to "En Kerem."

Some neighborhoods fared slightly better. The residential Beit Hakerem lost an "i" to become "Bet Hakerem," and the upscale Rehavia district gained a "y" to become "Rehavya."

In response, the city claimed that there were no errors in their signs, and the fault was that of guidebooks overlooking the rules established by the Academy of the Hebrew Language.

According to the Academy's rules for transliteration from Hebrew to English, the Hebrew letter, "yod," in Ein Kerem and Beit Hakerem is silent and so is not written in English as an "i," said Jerusalem Municipal spokesman Gidi Schmerling in a written statement Monday. The same argument was used to defend the misspelling of Ben-Gurion.
Jerusalemite's resident language geek smells a whole rotating spit of BS shawarma. Most English speakers would pronounce the vowel in the first syllable of "En Kerem" as an open-mid monophthong ("eh"), as opposed to the diphthong ("ey") implied by the normal spelling "Ein Kerem," which is somewhat closer to the Modern Hebrew pronunciation - although this apparently never occured to the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which is more concerned with creating official Hebrew words nobody uses or knows for concepts like "Internet" or "telenovela." And by tossing out sensible transliteration, the Academy also blurs the important distinction between the Hebrew vowels tzeire (the "ey" in "Ein") and segol (the "eh" in "Kerem"). And furthermore, were the Municipality really concerned with following extremely nitpicky rules of Hebrew transliteration or, uh, being at all consistent, "En" should be written with an apostrophe at the beginning to indicate the guttural pronunciation of the letter ayin (like in the new "Giv'at Ram" neighborhood sign) - but they're not. They are, however, lazy.

But Jerusalemite almost hesitates to criticize the Municipality any further. If it's pointed out to them that "HaMoshava HaGermanit" or "HaGiv'ah HaTsarfatit" make no sense to anyone who doesn't speak Hebrew (i.e. most tourists) and should be rendered as "German Colony" and "French Hill," they might decide with characteristic dimness to replace all transliterated-Hebrew neighborhood signs with literal English translations. "Machane Yehuda" would become "Judah's Camp," "Nachlaot" would become "Estates," "Ein Kerem" would become "Vineyard Spring" and
"Meah Shearim" would become "One Hundred Gates" - and it would all be Jerusalemite's fault.

Or maybe that's not such a relevant concern, because it's not as if the Municipality pays attention to complaints:
"If mistakes were made in tourism book guides, that is not the responsibility of the municipality, and it is fair to assume that in future years, the authors of these books will change the spellings in accordance with the signs which are transliterated correctly," the city's response concluded.

It is also fair to assume that up is down, and that in future years, the orientation of experiential reality will change in accordance to that fundamental truth.

Have a great weekend - but try not to get lost in the process!

Photo courtesy of josh.ev9 from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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