Qatar launches first 'historical dictionary' of classical Arabic

Qatar launches first 'historical dictionary' of classical Arabic

2 min read
12 December, 2018
Qatar has launched the first historical dictionary of the Arabic language in a move that has been hailed by linguists as an important milestone.
Arabic is spoken by over 400 million people around the world [Getty]
Qatar has launched the first historical dictionary of the Arabic language in a move that has been hailed by linguists as an important milestone.

The project, which has been five years in the making, was unveiled in a ceremony in the Qatari capital Doha on Monday with the country's ruler in attendance, the state news agency reported.

Unlike a normal lexicon, the Doha Historical Dictionary of Arabic aims to document the development of the language citing the earliest sources including many pre-Islamic texts.

The ambitious project has been curated by experts at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, which is a part of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

"This is a major and unique achievement at the Arab and even international levels," project head Azmi Bishara said at a speech during the launch ceremony.

Bishara said that the dictionary currently contains 100,000 entries that have been sourced from a corpus spanning 700 years up until the Islamic year 200 (815 AD).

Executive director of the project Aze-Eddine Bouchikhi added that the online dictionary has been designed to be constantly updated and open for the public to recommend amendments.

Arabic lexicographer Hossam Abouzahr told The New Arab that the project was an amazing resource and a step in the right direction towards modernising Arabic-language resources.

He did, however, critique the project for failing to recognise the dynamic history of the language by promoting the popular narrative of the purity of Arabic, ignoring the many borrowings and loan words that have entered the language.

A separate project at the University of Oslo in Norway has been compiling an etymological dictionary of Arabic that aims to trace the ancient origins of Arabic words to its closest relatives such as Hebrew and Aramaic.

"Another issue is that it doesn't look at the dating system with a critical eye. Some old poetry, for instance, has been found to be edited to make it seem more 'classical' and then dated as older than it was," Abouzahr added.

Qatar has been at the forefront of promoting Arabic, passing a law in 2016 to push for wider use of the tongue in the country.

Arabic is spoken by over 400 million people around the world in its various dialects and is one of the six official languages at the United Nations.

It is also the liturgical language of the 1.8 billion Muslims, who pray and read the Quran in Arabic.