The Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies is moving forward with its project to create an etymological lexicon of the Arabic language, and the specialists working on the project will hold their third meeting on March 10, 2013. Participants will complete the planning of the project's administrative structures and outline its implementation, as well as present practical examples of the project's applications.

 first meeting of experts associated with the project (November 10 and 11, 2012),
The second meeting of experts (January 6 and 7, 2013)
 Discussions during the second meeting of experts

The first such meeting of experts associated with the project was held on November 10 and 11, 2012, and was attended by a select group of Arab linguists and computer scientists. Other participants included representatives of relevant regional organizations and academic and research bodies.

During that meeting, specialists examined the project plan as well as specific linguistic codes. They also discussed the best possible ways to use modern technologies and software to achieve the project's aims. Participating institutions discussed their resources and the ways in which they might best contribute to the project.

ACRPS then hosted the second meeting of experts on January 6 and 7, 2013. The goal of this second gathering was to determine the material to be included in the lexicon, as well as the metadata to be used for its electronic indexing and the coordination of the efforts of computer programmers and linguists.

The project will benefit from previous successful and unsuccessful attempts at developing an etymological lexicon, whether these were applied to the Arabic language or others. It will also make use of published studies and research as well as relevant papers given at conferences and symposia on the topic.

The Concept of a Historical Lexicon, and the Importance of an Arabic Historical Lexicon

Generally speaking, language dictionaries are divided into general use dictionaries on one hand, which capture the meanings of words at a specific point in time; and on the other, etymological dictionaries which include information on how the meanings of words have changed over time. The Etymological Lexicon of the Arabic Language is intended to include the "memory" belonging to each of the words of the Arabic language. To the greatest possible extent, the lexicon will register the date of indicative and seminal transformations of each term, and locate the first use of each word, with the aid of available data. It will explain the history of the evolution of each term and document this memory with citations from texts, giving evidence of its authenticity.

Despite the vast lexicographical wealth inherited from the work of classical linguists as well as the great efforts invested by modern ones, the Arabic language, in its contemporary form, suffers from a significant lexicographical shortfall when compared to other living languages. The lack of an exhaustive etymological lexicon is one of the most visible signs of this deficit. In addition to finally bringing all of the Arabic language terms into a single definitive linguistic code, completing such a lexicon will fill this gap. It will also allow for all interested readers to follow the development of Arabic etymology. Finally, it will bring Arabic into the same league as other living world languages, which have evolving etymological lexicons of their own, such as English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and others.

The Value of an Etymological Lexicon of the Arabic Language

The benefits of an Etymological Lexicon are many. Firstly, the lexicon will provide the Arab nation with the opportunity to understand its own language, through the lens of that language's semiotic development over the course of the past eighteen centuries. By placing the meaning of each phrase in its true historical context, it will facilitate understanding of Arabic's intellectual, scientific and civilizational legacy. The present and past history of the Arabic language will be brought together, linguistically, intellectually and academically.

Secondly, it will also provide a number of specialized sub-lexicons, for which the Arabic world is in need. It will include a comprehensive dictionary of civilization (giving terms that derive from industry, architecture and technical professions), as well as various scientific dictionaries (including lexicons of medical, physical, astronomical, mathematical, geographical, philosophical, legal and grammatical terms). It will also comprise a comprehensive dictionary of contemporary Arabic, as well as educational and other dictionaries.

Finally, this project aims to allow researchers to conduct research related to the Arab nation's intellectual and scientific heritage, making use of the new possibilities emerging from the presence of the Etymological Lexicon. Researchers will be able to utilize the computer software and algorithms which will serve the project, including tools for electronic indexing, grammar analysis, semiotic analysis, morphological analysis, and electronic vowelization. All of these are intended to serve the purpose of expanding the amenability of the Arabic language to electronic resources.

Guiding Principles of the Project

The researchers working on this project are acutely aware of the challenges which stand in the path of its completion. From this awareness have derived some of the founding principles of the project, which include the following:

a.    The fact that the production of a specialized etymological dictionary for the Arabic language has been so long in coming, shall not be considered an excuse for the planned lexicon not to achieve the same level of quality as found in the etymological dictionaries of other world languages. Haste, especially at the project planning stage, would hinder the success of the project.

b.    A close examination of etymological dictionaries of other world languages points clearly to a diversity of methodological choices used in their preparation. The choice of a specific methodology in one instance does not suggest that other methodologies are invalid.

c.    The choice of a given methodology over others must be based exclusively on two factors: its methodological appropriateness and the extent to which it helps serve the particular aims of the Etymological Lexicon of the Arabic Language. In this regard, appropriateness means a method's ability to create the lexicon to the optimal specifications of etymological dictionaries in the most efficient possible use of effort, time and money.

d.    The adoption of a given methodology to complete the Etymological Lexicon of the Arabic Language does not remove the right for other parties to complete other, similar lexicons of the Arabic Language in accordance with other methodological choices. Multiple lexicons exist for other world languages, including French, German and Russian. Such pluralism would benefit not only the Arabic language, but also the project behind the lexicon itself.

e.    The Etymological Lexicon of the Arabic Language belongs to the entire Arab nation, and intends to benefit from all of that nation's human potential and academic resources.