A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, January 30, 2012

Collecting Colloquial Emirati

This blog has frequently talked about issues relating to diglossia, and to the importance of learning and studying the spoken colloquial Arabic dialects, not merely formal literary Arabic, which is a learned language everywhere. This article in Abu Dhabi's The National, "Emirati Slang Revived with iPhone App," fits in that category. Though the article refers to "slang," many Arabs, when speaking in English, use that term for the local vernaculars, and the context suggests that is what is what is intended here, though slang, of course, is embraced with the colloquials.

What also struck me, though, was the implication that if this effort were not being made, the spoken vernacular of the pre-oil Emirates would be lost. That struck me as odd since for more than 30 years I've had a 686-page hardcover dictionary of the colloquial dialect of the Emirates sitting on my shelf. This is Mu‘jam al-alfaz al-‘ammiyya fi Dawlat al-Imarat al-‘Arabiyya al-Mutahhida (Dictionary of Colloquial Expressions of the UAE; معجم الألفاظ العامية في دولة الإمارة العربية المتحدة).

I was confident how long I'd had it because I got it at the very first, founding summit of the GCC back in 1981, when the Gulf States, faced with the then still new Iran-Iraq war, first set up their organization. It was published by the Cultural Department of the UAE Ministry of Education and Culture, written by Falih Hanzal and edited by Ghassan al-Hasan, and while the cover page has no date of publication, the Editor's forward is dated 1978, which fits with my date of acquisition in 1981.

Since the book is pretty substantial I had almost persuaded myself I might have a rare book, since The National article made no mention of it. Searching for references to it, I quickly discovered this is not the case: in fact the complete text is available online.

For anyone with an interest in colloquial Arabic, especially in the Gulf, that's useful to know.


David Mack said...

During my time in the UAE (1986-1989) Emirati colloquial dialects were widely spoken by men (I seldom spoke to women!) above 50 years of age but were becoming increasingly rare among younger men. I put that up to the higher levels of literacy in modern standard Arabic. It was also the case that more English words were gradually seeping into the spoken Arabic of younger Emiratis. Your dictionary, Michael, is probably becoming obsolete, despite being available on line!

Michael Collins Dunn said...


Which is why it deserves to be preserved; it's an artifact of the pre-oil era.

shfranke said...


Thank you for your interesting post about that reference.

Some bad news is that the hyperlink to the URL to enable download of that cited file no longer works: < www.alamuae.com > seems defunct and "dead in the water."

If someone would kindly send a copy of that reference to me at < shfranke@hotmail.com >, I would be most appreciative and thankful.

FYI of other Arabic dialectologists, en edition of the UAE newpaper "The National" just carried an article about a new (April 2015) dictionary of Emirati slang, compiled and published by the local Al Ramsa Institute.

Today is Saturday, April 11, 2015.


Stephen H. Franke
San Pedro (Los Angeles Waterfront Area), California

Michael Collins Dunn said...

It has disappeared and I didn't keep a copy.