Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2005 12:12:02 -0400 From: Becky Molloy Subject: A Dictionary of Syrian Arabic: English-Arabic
EDITORS: Stowasser, Karl; Ani, Moukhtar TITLE: A Dictionary of Syrian Arabic SUBTITLE: English-Arabic SERIES: Georgetown Classics in Arabic Language and Linguistics PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press YEAR: 2004
Rebecca B. Molloy, unaffiliated
The Dictionary of Syrian Arabic (English-Arabic) is based on the dialect of Damascus, as spoken by educated Muslims. Arab informants were all native Damascenes with a college background. The dictionary defines the term "Syrian Arabic" as actually comprising a few distinct dialects and sub-dialects spoken by the sedentary population of present day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Arab population of Israel. The emphasis here on the sedentary population is note worthy because the nomadic population of the area has entirely different set of dialects that do not belong in this dialect group.
The Syrian Arabic dialect is the predominant if not exclusive means of oral communication in the region, and for this reason does not connote substandard and unrefined usage in the sense that perhaps a Western language speaker might ascribe to a dialect. In this respect Syrian Arabic constitutes the native language of a local person regardless of his or her environment and social position. In its description, the introduction outlines the sociolinguistic circumstances in Syria and neighboring countries, providing the reader with examples of phonology, morphology, syntax, grammar, and lexicon.
The dictionary's corpus of roughly 15,000 main and sub-entries represents an informal vocabulary that is intended for a rather broad range of conversational usage. Entries include examples, idioms and common phrases in order to contextualize lexical items and demonstrate their usage. By the editors' own admission the dictionary lacks an important thing that is sorely needed: its Syrian Arabic- English counterpart. The Syrian Arabic-English dictionary was planned as part of the larger Arabic language project, and the lion share of the research for that dictionary was indeed completed. Only the sudden death of Richard S. Harrell, who directed the project, prevented the completion of the Syrian Arabic-English dictionary, as well as other works in the project.
Arabic terms are presented in transcription. This format and the fact that the English entries are based to a considerable extent on the English-German dictionary by J. Alan Pfeffer probably explain the rationale behind the use of the English infinitive for classification of Arabic lexical entries. Arabic verbs however are quoted in the conventional third person singular masculine in the past tense. The format, the system of transcription and pronunciation are described in detail in the Introduction and are quite helpful. Included in the description of pronunciation are a number of paragraphs on velarization, long and short syllables, accentuation and assimilation.
The publisher of the series, Georgetown University Press, has been interested in making available seminal publications in the Arabic language and Arabic linguistics that have gone out of print. And with global awareness now squarely focused on the Arab world, the editors of the series were particularly interested in providing easy access to classic Arabic reference grammars and Arabic language teaching materials. Though republication of material that has gone out of print does not mean the data are out-dated, any reader will notice immediately that the font and page layout stand out as outmoded or archaic creating a dictionary that is not terribly user-friendly. The font and page layout unfortunately take away from the book as a language teaching material. Nonetheless, the dictionary will be useful for students of Arabic, people traveling to Syria and the region, as well as for scholars wishing to train in the Syrian dialect. Its usefulness stems to a large extent from the fact that the dictionary's format and presentation are geared entirely to the needs of the native speaker of American English.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Rebecca Molloy has a PhD in Arabic language and literature from NYU. Her doctoral thesis was on the term "transitivity" in medieval Arabic grammatical theory and Islamic legal reasoning. Her main interests include classical Arabic literary and grammatical texts, Islamic law, and Middle East history. She is currently working on an article on transitivity in Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence).