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The Emergence of Modern Standard Arabic

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Kees Versteegh

From The Arabic Language
© 1997 Kees Versteegh
Used by permission of the Edinburgh University Press.


The classic work on the period of the Nahda and the new ideas about the Arab nation that were developed in this period is Hourani (1970). Information about the linguistic question in the Ottoman empire is in Prätor (1993: 67f., 164-72, 217f.). For the development of modern Arabic lexicography and its historical roots, see Gätje (1985); in his history of Arabic lexicography, Haywood (1965) also deals with the activities of as-Sidyaq and al-Bustani; see also Sawaie (1987, 1990). The role of the academies is discussed by Hamzaoui (1965, 1975) and Khafaifi (1985); Ali (1987) discusses the various methods of word-formation and contains (pp. 146-8) a list of approved patterns of lexical creation. A large amount of material on the methods and activities of the academies may be found in the journals which they publish regularly, Magalla Magma' al-Luga al-'Arabiyya bi-Dimasq (Damascus, since 1921), Magalla Magma' al-Luga al'Arabiyya (Cairo, since 1935), Magalla al-Magma' al-‘Ilmi al-'Iraqi (Baghdad, since 1950).

On the development of Arabic vocabulary, see the studies of Monteil (1960) and Stetkevych (1970); a comparison with the translations from Greek in the Classical period is in Bielawski (1956). The examples of the emerging political terminology in the nineteenth century in this chapter have been taken from Rebhan (1986), Ayalon (1987) and Lewis (1988). The examples of football terminology are derived from 'Abd al-Gawad (1977); for linguistic terminology in Modern Arabic, see Shraybom-Shivtiel (1993) and Darir (1993), as well as the dictionaries of linguistic terms by Mseddi (1984) and R. Baalbaki (1990).

For the linguistic tendencies in the language of the media, Ashtiany's (1993) course of Media Arabic contains many interesting examples. The examples of French influence on Modern Standard Arabic in North Africa in this chapter were taken from Kropfitsch (1977, 1980) and Chaabani (1984).

Proposals for the simplification of grammar and/or language are discussed by Diem (1974: 129-36) and in Sawqi Dayf's introduction to his edition of Ibn Mada’ (1982). The classic article on language choice in the teaching of Arabic as a second language is Ferguson (1962). A recent collection of articles on the problem of setting up a curriculum in Western departments of Arabic is Agiừs (1990). A report on an essential vocabulary selected by Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian linguists is given by Mahmoud (1982). Specifically on the subject of the language of Iftah ya Simsim, see Abu Absi (1990).

On the possibility of composing transfer grammars of Arabic, see Kouloughli (1979). Ryding (1990) may be cited as a practical attempt at a mixed grammar; her solutions include the introduction of frequent lexical items from the colloquial ( rah, gab, lazim ), the elimination of case and mood inflection, and the use of function words from colloquial speech ( lissa, su, mis, and so on); cf. also Alosh (1994). Another approach is that of Woidich and Heinen-Nasr (1995), who aim at an integration of the two language varieties by starting with the colloquial language, but introducing from the beginning lexical items from the standard language, and gradually mixing the two varieties, so that at the end of the first year the student has spoken skills in colloquial Arabic and written skills in Standard Arabic.

Within the range of strictly standard grammars and manuals for Arabic, a number of courses may be mentioned: Ziadeh and Winder (1957); Krahl and Reuschel (1980, 1981), a comprehensive course, covering not only grammar but also stylistics, aiming at the training of interpreters of Arabic, Eastern European style, but available now in a revised non-socialist version; Fischer and Jastrow (1977), Fischer (1986) and Woidich (1985), intended for traditional departments of Arabic in Europe; Abboud and McCarus (1983; first published 1968), an audio-lingual approach with a large number of drills, intended for departments of Arabic in the USA.

Curiously enough, there are almost no reference grammars of Modern Standard Arabic; the largest is Cantarino (19745), which is based on a predominantly literary corpus. Smaller surveys of the structure of the language are Beeston (1968), Pellat (1985) and Kouloughli (1994); a sketch of the modern language is given by Wild (1982). A comprehensive handbook on all aspects of Modern Standard Arabic is by Holes (1995a); although it is not a grammar in the strictest sense of the word, its systematic treatment of the structure of the language with extensive references to the existing literature makes this a very useful introduction to Modern Standard Arabic.

As regards dictionaries of Modern Standard Arabic: the Arabic-Arabic dictionaries, most of which were published in Lebanon, lean heavily on the Arabic lexicographical tradition. Butrus al-Bustani's Muhit al-muhit, which was compiled in the nineteenth century, is still available in modern printings (e.g. Beirut, 1987); under the auspices of ALECSO, 'Ali al-Qasimi edited al-Mu'gam al-'arabi al-'asasi (Beirut: Larousse, 1989). Bilingual dictionaries were also published in Lebanon: English-Arabic (M. Baalbaki 1991); Arabic-English (Rohi Baalbaki 1988); French-Arabic (Hajjar 1983); Arabic-French (Mungid 1990). The number of Western dictionaries of Arabic is considerable, the best-known being Wehr's (1952, 1959) Arabic-German dictionary, which was based on a corpus of literary and journalistic texts. Wehr's dictionary was translated into English and expanded by Cowan (1961; approximately 28,000 items; the fourth edition of 1979 contains more than 40,000 items). The fifth edition of the original Arabic-German dictionary appeared in 1985 in a thoroughly revised version, containing approximately 50,000 items. Dictionaries with Arabic as target language include: German-Arabic: Schregle (1974; 45,000 items; also Arabic-German 1981-); French-Arabic: Reig (1987; also Arabic-French); English-Arabic: Doniach (1972).

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