A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Meeting a Need Too Long Unmet: "The Doha Historical Dictionary of the Arabic Language"

Anyone who studies and works with Arabic is well aware that there are some major lacunae in the field of lexicography: despite the richness of the Arabic language and the great tradition of lexicography dating back to the Mamluk period, there is no decent, scholarly dictionary of Arabic etymology or, even more importantly, a comprehensive dictionary on historical lines comparable to The Oxford English Dictionary in English.

Though I'd missed it until now, late last month an ambitious project was announced in Qatar:
The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies announced the official launch of the Doha Historical Dictionary of the Arabic Language, on May 25, 2013, following two years of extensive preparation by a select group of linguistic experts, lexicographers, and computational scientists from a variety of Arab countries . . . 
The new dictionary, which will chronicle the history of Arabic terms over 2,000 years, is projected to take 15 years until completion, with achievement highlights being presented every three years.  The dictionary hopes to make possible the facilitation of research on Arab intellectual legacy through the work it uncovers. As a comprehensive electronic corpus, the dictionary will be able to assist a number of projects related to machine language in Arabic, including machine translation and automated spelling and grammar checkers. A number of specialist lexicons will also be published as auxiliaries to the main project, including dedicated works on scientific terms, terms related to the study of civilization, a complete dictionary of contemporary Arabic, and educational dictionaries.
They also announced a temporary website for the project (in Arabic).

They have recruited Arabic linguistic experts from several parts of the Arab world, and they have something else going for them:
The project itself is sponsored by His Highness the Heir Apparent of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani.
Who, of course, as of this morning is the new Ruler.

A word of caution. That 15-year estimate may be optimistic. The Oxford English Dictionary began compilation in 1857, published its first fascicle in 1884, and was completed in 1928, with Supplements appearing soon thereafter. Of course they didn't have computers in those days.

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