A Note on Words and Spelling

In his letters home, Dad sprinkled his American Midwestern English with words and phrases from other linguistic traditions. Dutch was his second tongue, if not first, was often used in the family, especially with his grandparents, and was the language of his church in Pella when he was growing up. So it is not surprising that he threw in the occasional Dutch term or sentence. Some words, such as slokje (a shot or slug of coffee or something stronger), pas op (be careful), or vet en strop (bacon grease and syrup) were commonly used in our own family a generation later. I have provided translations of other less obvious words and sentences in the foot notes.

Dad was quick to adopt the missionary language of his colleagues. The general area of their endeavor was always referred to as the field and the specific locations as stations. Thus Dad often writes about Basrah Station or station meetings, where local decisions were made. The mission wide decisions concerning personnel assignments and the allotment of funds were made at Annual Meeting, not simply a scheduled business meeting but an occasion for the ingathering of co-workers, of fellowship and rejuvenation. General questions of policy, recruitment and the budget were the purview of the Board, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in America and the General Secretary, whose office in New York was referred to as the Board Rooms. Returning to the United States was usually going home. Thus, missionaries on home leave might stop at the Board Rooms before heading back to the field, where they might be assigned to Muscat station. Their primary interest there might be with inquirers, those Muslims who had expressed an interest in Christianity and might be taking further instruction, though very few in fact took the next step to become converts.

The concept of “going home” was part of the language of British India (and all the colonies), where home was always England. It implied an attitude of impermanence, shared by and large by the missionaries, that however long one might live abroad, eventually one would return to the home country. The British in Iraq influenced the way their language was taught and spoken. Dad noted of the use of terms such as motor car and petrol. Surprisingly, in these letters he also used Indian words common in British speech such as bazaar instead of the Arabic suq (market), which he would typically use later on.

The transliteration of Arabic words and names poses some problems. Dad himself was not consistent in his usage, even spelling the name of Basrah sometimes as Basra or Busrah. In the interest of clarity I have edited his spelling of place names, adopting as far as possible the modern usage of books and newspapers, though I insist that Basrah is spelled with an h. Similarly I have tried to bring some consistency to Dad’s spelling of Arabic names. I have not changed his rendering of the names of his students, but I have given a more standard spelling to the names of public figures. I have left his use of the name Abdul (Abdul Amir, Abdul Ahad, etc.) though I would prefer Abd el _____ (Abd el Amir) as being closer to the Arabic “servant of the _____”. I prefer shaikh to sheikh because, while either might be an acceptable transliteration, people tend to see ei as ee and mispronounce the word as sheek.

It is significant that though he must have known about the two major divisions of Islam, he never used the terms Sunni and Shi’i in his letters. While both Sunnis and Shi’is attended the school, along with Christians and Jews, he never felt the need to distinguish between them, at least when writing to his parents. I, however, have had to use these terms in my explanatory notes. The term Sunni is the generally accepted term for the majority form of Islam. Followers of this branch are called Sunnis or Sunni Muslims. The minority form of Islam has several spellings. I do not like the word Shiite, as sounding somewhat archaic. The term Shi’i corresponds to the term Sunni and describes the minority form of Islam as well as its adherents, who may also be called Shi’is or Shi’i Muslims. I prefer this spelling because the apostrophe represents the unheard (by non Arabic speakers) consonant between the two i’s.

Christians were known by various names, most of which are clear from the context of Dad’s letters. He uses three terms to refer to the Protestant or Evangelical Christians. Nasrani, or Nazarene, applies to all Christians in general. Mosulawi means “from Mosul” and may refer to the people of that city and region or more specifically, in Basrah during Dad’s time, to the Evangelical Christians who came from Turkey or Northern Iraq, in the vicinity of Mosul. They were also called Protestani.

And a word about our mother, Christina Scholten Gosselink: As a child, she was known to her family as Stijntje but took the American name Christina when she went to school. In college, and for most of her life, she was known as Christine or Chris. In his letters, Dad always called her Crissy. Finally in retirement she went back to the name she really preferred, Christina.

note.html;  09 July 2012