First Arabic etymological dictionary to go online
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Last Updated: Monday, January 27, 2014, 19:41
  
London: Are the terms alcohol and kohl related? If we trace their origins, the word alcohol is derived from the Arabic 'al-kuhl'.

A treasure trove of such words could soon be available in a first-of-its-kind online Arabic etymological dictionary to provide knowledge about Arab identity and cultural history.

Arabic is one of the world's most widely spoken languages, with an estimated 250 to 300 million native speakers, researchers said.

Despite this fact, there is still no Arabic etymological dictionary. However, the dictionary is on its way after Stephan Guth, Professor of Arabic at the University of Oslo, has taken the initiative to pursue this research project.

"There has been a lot of etymological research, but it has not been collected anywhere," the professor said.

The plan is to establish an electronic database, EtymArab.

In an upstart phase, the website will be based on words and concepts from Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) only, but these are also chosen to shed light on roots and concepts that have a special importance in Arab intellectual and cultural history, from ancient times until the present day. "The history of their language helps us understand who the Arabs are - and were," Guth said.

He points out that the database will also present the narratives that emerge when a word is traced back in time. As such, EtymArab will be more than a standard etymological dictionary.

"Alcohol is a word that you will not find in dictionaries of Classical Arabic. In the final analysis, however, this word is of Arabic origin. It is derived from the Arabic al-kuhl, which means 'kohl'," Guth said.

He said when Europeans became familiar with this substance in Andalusia, which was also used for medical purposes, they referred to it and gradually all other fine powders, and subsequently all kinds of volatile essences, as alcohol.

"In the meaning 'essence of wine, spirit', the word later returned to the Arabs and became al-kuhul," Guth said.

"Today, we thus have two Arabic words: The one that started this development, ie al-kuhl, which still means 'kohl', and the loan word al-kuhul, which means 'alcohol'," Guth said.

The research project, launched in 2012, builds upon the many studies undertaken so far in the West and in Arab countries.

The first step is a prototype that will contain approximately 1,000 words and concepts, Guth said.

"Gradually, we wish to open the database to the entire world, according to the Wikipedia model," said Guth.

PTI

First Published: Monday, January 27, 2014, 19:41


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