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Review of  A Dictionary of Syrian Arabic

Reviewer: Rebecca Molloy
Book Title: A Dictionary of Syrian Arabic
Book Author: Karl Stowasser Moukhtar Ani
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Arabic, North Levantine
Issue Number: 16.1870

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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.


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).

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1589011058
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 296
Prices: U.S. $ 32.50