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The Nijmegen Arabic/Dutch Dictionary Project

1.14.3 A book about the compilation of an Arabic dictionary


Title: the Compilation of an Arabic Dictionary for Speakers of Other Languages

صناعة المعجم العربي لغير الناطقين بالعربية

The book is the outcome of a workshop held from 31 march until 8 april 1981 in Rabat. The theme of the workshop was: The production of an Arabic dictionary for non-arabophones. (صناعة المعجم العربي للناطقين باللغات الأخرى)

The book contains several contributions of respected linguists.

The Bureau for the Coordination of Arabization organized this workshop (dawrah tadribiya) as a follow up of a workshop held in 1980 about "the principles of compiling Arabic lanugage textbooks for non-arabophones" .

Since the content of this book seemed important for the execution of our project, before starting the execution,  I read all contributions that seemed usefull, hoping I might benefit from the ideas and guidelines I would be able to extract from them.

However, after reading parts of the book I felt rather disappointed because the practical usefulness of the guidelines and recommendations appeared rather limited to my opinion.

Here I present:


a scan of the original table of contents  (in Arabic)
(I have added this since my transcription of some of the names of the contributors is not certain.)

     page 1     page 2


a scan of the original recommendations (in Arabic)

     page 1     page 2     page 3     page 4     page 5     page 6     page 7     page 8


a summary of the recommendations


summaries of a number of the contributions
See the underlined names in the list of contributions below. These are the contributions of which a summary in English can be read.

List of contributions:

Ali Al-Kasimi: Ordering of the Dictionary Entries

Yusuf Al-Khalifa Abu Bakr: Grammatical Information in a Bilingual Arabic Dictionary.

Peter Abboud: A study of Some Grammatical and Semantical Characteristics of Arabic and English Verbs and their Application in the Compilation of Bilingual Arabic Dictionaries

Khalil Ibrahim Al Hammash: The problem of Meaning in a Bilingual Dictionary

Ahmad Mokhtar Omar: Meaning in a Bilingual Dictionary

George Nuama Sa'ad: Problems of Nontranslatability between the English and Arabic Language

Abdulaziz Benabdullah: A Dictionary of Synonyms and analogy

Salih Jawad Altoma: The position of Scientific Terms in a Bilingual Arabic Dictionary

Izkawi?? Lelibre: the Content of a Scientific Dictionary and its Presentation

Ahmad Shafiq Al Khatib: an Attempt to Prepare a List of Scientific and Technical Terms in a Bilingual Arabic Dictionary for Non Native Speakers of Arabic.

Salih Jawad Altoma: Incorporation of Encyclopedic Information in a Bilingual Dictionary

Muhammad Abu Talib: the Treatment of Qur'anic Expressions in a Bilingual Arabic Dictionary

Marin Forstner: Issues and Problems with the Compilation of a Dictionary of Juridic Terms (Arabic/German)

David Cowan: the Use of the Dictionary in the Teaching of Arabic.

S. Doniach: Problems in the Compilation of the Arabic-English Dictionary.

Ali Al-Kasimi: the Arabic Dictionary for Speakers of Other Languages


Salih Jawad Altoma: Concluding Speech: the Necessity of using the Expertise of Scholars in other Languages.


The book contains several contributions of respected linguists, preceded by recommendations, that were formulated at the end of the workshop: توصيات الدورة: المبادئ الأساسية في تصنيف المعجم العربي

Since it is expected these recommendations were formulated after discussions and presentations about the requirements for modern Arabic dictionaries, I have read these recommendations with special interest. I expected to find some useful directions for compiling my own dictionary. Below I will summarize these recommendations.


The first group of recommendations concerns the introduction of a dictionary, which, according to these recommendations should contain: a summary about the history of the Arabic language, a contrastive study of the two languages involved, concentrating on the sound system, the conjugational system, the grammatical system and the graphic system.

Furthermore the introduction should contain an explanation about the way the entries in the dictionary are ordered, a list of symbols and abbreviations, directions on how to use the dictionary, a short description of the aim of the dictionary and finally a list of the contributors to the dictionary.


Secondly the recommendations concern the language variety the entries are taken from (Modern Standard Arabic, local varieties of Standard Arabic, neologisms and arabized new words).

Subsequently we read about the ordering of the entries: alphabetically or according to root. This recommendation is followed by recommendations concerning the pronunciation, grammatical and conjugational information and about the way of presenting semantic information. One of the topics delt with in this recommendation is collocational behaviour of a word, although it is nog mentioned as such. Since it is recommended that after an indication of the meaning of the word, expressions containing the keyword should follow, according to the following ordering: 1) examples illustrating the meanings of the word, 2) idiomatic expresions, 3) examples in context, 4) proverbs , 5) compounds. There is also a remark about words that cannot be translated literally. These should be treated by derivation or inflecional metaphor (?) (مجاز صرفي) or arabization or compounding, and if necessary by explanation or description.


The next set of recommendations deals with usage and style levels, and these are followed by directions concerning encyclopedic information.

Scientific terminology is the topic of the next paragraph in the recommendations.

The following paragraph is of particular interest to me, since it deals with illustrative examples.

The following recommendations are made about this topic: 1) examples should be used after every main entry or sub entry, 2) every meaning of an entry should be illustrated by at least one example, unless an example would not add relevant information, 3) basic vocabulary should be used in examples, 4) examples should be translated in the target language using natural language, not in literal translations 5) examples should be concise and useful to the user 6) examples need to reflect cultural and islamic aspects of the Arabic language.

Nothing is being mentioned here about collocations. About the content of the examples we only learn that they should be illustrative in a cultural and islamic way. There is no recommendation concerning the different types of examples for different parts of speech.

The next paragraph concerns drawings and pictures, which are so lavishly used in Arabic dictionaries from the Middle East.

The final recommendations concern the stage of compilation, of printing and the physical shape of the dictonary.

After reading these recommendations I was a bit disappointed about the practicality and apropirateness of the recommendations.

No concrete directions were given concerning the treatment of untranslatable words, about the content of illustrative examples or about the selection of the macro structure of a dictionary. So finally we had to find solutions to all these matters ourselves.

I have added a scan of the pages containing the recommendations as a pdf-file

         page 1     page 2     page 3     page 4     page 5     page 6     page 7     page 8

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last updated 26/10/2003 15:16 +0100
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