Section of Dune Encyclopedia cover illustration. Used without permission.

The Meaning and Source of “Inama Nushif”

One of the highlights of the soundtrack of the 2003 Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune Sci Fi Channel mini-series is the haunting song “Inama Nushif”, composed by Brian Tyler and sung by Azam Ali. In the soundtrack CD liner notes and on the soundtrack page on Tyler’s website — both of which also include the lyrics and their translation — Director Greg Yaitanes writes

“Inama Nushif” is sung in Fremen the native language of the people of Dune. Unreal. Brian actually searched through Herbert’s books and deciphered enough of the fictional Fremen language to write this powerful song.

That would be really impressive and cool if it were true. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

An actual search of the texts of the six Dune books turns up, at most, only one or two of the words appearing in Tyler’s “Fremen” lyrics. So how could Tyler have found them there?

Simply put, he couldn’t have.

What he did do was appropriate a passage of text from a published source other than Frank Herbert’s books, change a few of the words, leave out a few others, and add a few words of apparent gibberish to fill in some gaps and better fit the words to his music. Then he created an imaginative but completely unrelated English “translation” for the result and passed the whole thing off as his own work. So what was the other published source?

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Back in the early 1980s when Dr. Willis McNelly was compiling The Dune Encyclopedia, he asked colleague and Arabic specialist Dr. Alan Kaye if he could contribute something to the book. Kaye agreed and he and his then student John Quijada, who was more familiar with the Dune books, set to work on what eventually became the article “FREMEN LANGUAGE. Atreidean Form” (pp.234-238 of the 1984 Berkley Books trade paperback edition of the Encyclopedia). Within the article, Kaye & Quijada provided an example of Atreidean Fremen by translating most of the epigraph from Ch.47 of Dune (the parts in white)...

And Muad’Dib stood before them, and he said: “Though we deem the captive dead, yet does she live. For her seed is my seed and her voice is my voice. And she sees unto the farthest reaches of possibility. Yea, unto the vale of the unknowable does she see because of me.”
—from “Arrakis Awakening” by the Princess Irulan

...into a slighly modified form of Egyptian Arabic (p.237):

innama nishuf al-asir mayyit. u hiy ayish. liana zaratha zarati. u gawlha gawli. u tishuf hatt al-hudud alman albaid. aywa libarr adam al-malum tishuf liani.

A close comparison of Kaye & Quijada’s translation with Tyler’s lyrics is extremely instructive. Blue font indicates where Tyler’s lyrics are identical to the Kaye & Quijada translation (or some part of it); red indicates where text was changed, deleted, or added; and orange, repetition of previous text.

Brian Tyler’s “Inama Nushif”Dune Encyclopedia Passage
Tylerized FremenTyler “Translation”Kaye/Quijada FremenDune epigraph (Ch.47)
Inama nushifShe is eternalInnama nishufThough we deem
Al asir hiy ayishNo malice can touchal-asir mayyit. u hiy ayish.the captive dead, yet does she live.
Lia-anniSingular and agelessLianaFor
Zaratha zaratiPerpetually boundzaratha zarati.her seed is my seed
  U gawlha gawli.and her voice is my voice.
Hatt al-hudadThrough the tempestU tishuf hatt al-hududAnd she sees unto the reaches
Al-maahn al-baiidbe it deluge or sandalman albaid.of possibility / the farthest.
Ay-yah idareA singular voiceAywa libarrYea, unto the vale
Adamm malumspeaks through the torrentadam almalumof the unknowable
  tishuf liani.does she see because of me.
Hatt al-hudadThrough the tempest
Al-maahn al-baiidbe it deluge or sand
Ay-yah idareA singular voice
Adamm malumspeaks through the torrent
Inama nishuf al a sadarrForever her voice sings
Eann zaratha zaratithrough the ages eternally bound
Kali bakka a tishuf ahattSacrifice is her gift
Al hudad alman dalione that cannot be equaled
Inama nishuf al a sadarrForever her voice sings
Eann zaratha zaratithrough the ages eternally bound
Kali bakka a tishuf ahattSacrifice is her gift
Al hudad alman dali Aliathat Alia will one day equal
Inama nushifShe is eternal
Al asir hiy ayishNo malice can touch
Lia-anniSingular and ageless
Zaratha zaratiPerpetually bound

Does that leave any room for doubt about exactly what happened? Other than some gibberish added to pad out the Fremen text, the only original things about this song created by Brian Tyler were the music and the English “translated” lyrics.

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The original version of this page documents some of my attempts to contact both Brian Tyler and Director Yaitanes for comment on this.

At the end of October, I finally heard back from Brian Tyler in response to a message sent on Facebook:

Brian Tyler (October 27 at 11:06 am):
It is a bit hard to remember the details since it was about 8 years ago when I wrote that piece but I will do my best. I wanted to use every source possible since the only real Fremen that existed was from the original books and the Dune Encyclopedia which of course had most of its roots in Arabic. And as a fan of the original Dune books I wanted to “keep it real” as much as possible so I found as many applicable words and phrases that I could from the books and the Dune Encyclopedia and filled in some gaps myself to make it sound musical.

Interesting. But not very satisfying, ultimately. I wrote back the following day but have yet to receive any further response (as of January 8, 2011). I suppose this is the best we can hope for.

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