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Review of  A Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic

Reviewer: Mary B. Shapiro
Book Title: A Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic
Book Author: Richard S. Harrell Harvey Sobelman
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Lexicography
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Moroccan
Issue Number: 16.1105

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Date: Tue, 05 Apr 2005 14:37:20 -0500
From: Mary Shapiro
Subject: A Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic

EDITORS: Harrell, Richard S.; Sobelman, Harvey
TITLE: A Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic
SUBTITLE: Moroccan-English/English-Moroccan
SERIES: Georgetown Classics in Arabic Language and Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press
YEAR: 2004

Mary Shapiro, Truman State University

Despite the unified title, this publication is actually a reprint of two
separate dictionaries, Moroccan-Arabic-English (edited by Richard S.
Harrell, originally published 1966) and English-Moroccan Arabic (edited by
Harvey Sobelman, originally published 1963) -– both otherwise out of print.

The book contains preliminary materials before each of the original
dictionaries. Before the 268-page Moroccan Arabic-English (henceforth MA-
E) dictionary may be found a Foreword to the new edition, a note on Arabic
Research at Georgetown University, the original Introduction to the MA-E
dictionary (including what information entries contain and how entries are
structured, as well as notes on the transcription of MA), an explanation
of MA pronunciation, and a list of abbreviations and symbols. The second
section contains an almost identical note on Arabic Research at
Georgetown, a preface, and a one-page note on "technical data," including
abbreviations used, before the 228-page English-Moroccan Arabic
(henceforth E-MA) dictionary.

The new (2004) Foreword boasts that the MA-E dictionary has "remained a
standard reference work for scholars and students of Moroccan Arabic, as
well as for students of other varieties of Arabic spoken in North Africa."
It also notes that the dictionary was not intended to stand alone, an
important caveat for readers not otherwise extremely familiar with MA.
(For these, the Foreword recommends Harrell's Basic Course in Moroccan
Arabic (1965, reissued 2003), and his Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan
Arabic (1962, reissued 2004).) There can be no doubt that this was an
important addition to studies in Arabic dialectology; Harrell notes in the
Introduction to the MA-E section that, although a variety of reference
works were consulted [...], the material presented is wholly primary."
This was a tremendous undertaking, and it is perhaps churlish of me to
wish that this work had continued in the 40 years since its original
publication. A very minimal investment of time and money would have
allowed Georgetown University Press to align the two dictionaries so that
they agreed in their transcriptions and their word-lists. As it is, there
are glaring discrepancies that separate the two parts of this reference
work and cannot fail to annoy the reader who seeks to refer back and forth
between the two sections.

The section on "pronunciation" takes the reader through a consonant chart
and a description of sounds which does not crucially rely on a previous
knowledge of linguistic terminology. Discussion is divided
into "consonants similar to English," "vowel sounds with familiar
consonants," "emphatic consonants," "emphatic vowels," and particular,
detailed descriptions of other non-English sounds, including "double
consonants" and particular sequences and clusters. Unfortunately, the
transcription used in the two sections varies, and could confuse the
casual reader. The transcription used in the E-MA section "is that
explained in [Harrell's 1962] A Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan
Arabic" -- the explanation is, alas, not given here! -- while the MA-E
section uses a slightly different system, distinguishing e and short a,
and adding a symbol for short i. The transcription is mostly phonetic,
with the Arabic letters Hah and Ain used for the pharyngeal fricatives.
The Hah is described in the MA-English as "somewhat similar to an
English 'h' pronounced in a loud stage whisper," which does not greatly
distinguish it from the description of the "emphatic consonants"; the same
sound is written as h with a subscript dot (parallel to the
other 'emphatic consonants') in the E-MA section. (Thus, the entry
for "bath" is given in the E-MA section as h-subscript-dot+emmam, but as
Hah+a-breve+mmam in the MA-E section.)

Moroccan Arabic is a traditionally unwritten and unstandardized language.
A note in the Introduction explains that "[B]ecause of the limited and
variable role they play in word formation, the glottal stop and the
variable vowels a-breve, e, i-breve, and o have been disregarded in the
alphabetization.[...] The secondary emphatic consonants b, l, m, r, and z
have likewise been disregarded for purposes of alphabetization, for
similar reasons." Although this may be grammatically motivated, it makes
the alphabetization somewhat problematic for the average user: "dlil"
comes before "dlek," which is before "dell," etc. Emphatic d, g, s, t have
their own sections, but words beginning with emphatic b, l, m, r, and z
are mixed in with words beginning with the nonemphatic counterparts.

Oddly, the two dictionaries started from different word lists, yielding
very different information in the two sections of this book. To determine
the entries for the MA-E dictionary, "the word list of Ferré's Lexique
Marocain-Français was taken as a point of departure. Entries not directly
familiar to our Moroccan staff members were deleted and various additions
were made from their own knowledge." Entries for the E-MA section,
however, are "based on the English-German section of the bilingual German
and English Dictionary of Everyday Usage." So entries contained in one
part of the dictionary are not necessarily mirrored in the other. This
does not just apply to culturally-specific lexical items, but to a vast
array of vocabulary. One might pick any page at random to illustrate this
point: There are no MA-E entries for Damascus, damn, dandelion, to dare
(all entries in the E-MA section), nor the national nouns Russia(n),
Britain(ish), German(y), etc.; no E-MA entries for talkative, dominoes,
anus, inaugurate/open (an admittedly odd series, taken from just one
column of the MA-E dictionary, all MA entries starting with d-). As noted
above, the MA-E section is 40 pages longer than the E-MA, reflecting the
discrepancy in the selected wordlists.

Harrell's (1964) Introduction warns that the dictionary "presupposes a
familiarity with the basic grammatical structure of Moroccan Arabic," and
that "no attempt has been made to cover dialect variations or specialized
vocabularies." Certainly, it would be beyond the call of this dictionary
to cover those topics, but it seems odd to write a dictionary of MA
without a single word (even in the Introduction or Foreword) about the
prevalence of code-switching among Moroccans, or the preference for French
and Classical or Modern Standard Arabic terms and phrases in certain
particular settings or discourse situations. Even common, everyday MA
expressions seem to be missing. While the ubiquitous "insha'llah" can be
found in the E-MA dictionary (as an expression under "God" and represented
quite differently in the dictionary's transcription system), there is no
indication that this is used with every future tense statement, and it
cannot be found in the MA–E section at all. The E-MA section gives the
expression "baraka llahu fik" for "many thanks" (under "thanks"), but the
MA-E section does not give this extremely common expression under "baraka"
or "llah."

While I am sure that those who work in Arabic linguistics and dialectology
will be delighted to see this work back in print, the dictionary in its
current state falls rather short of Harrell's hope that it would "serve
the practical needs of Americans whose lives bring them into contact with
Morocco and Moroccans." More than anything, the reprint of these
dictionaries shows the desperate need for a revival of the original Arabic
Research Program and the continuation of the work begun here.


Mary Shapiro is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at Truman State
University (Kirksville, MO). She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco in
the mid-1980s.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1589011031
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 536
Prices: U.S. $ 39.95