Sheikh Sultan unveils 17 centuries of Arabic language in 8 history books

Afkar Abdullah /Sharjah Filed on November 5, 2020

His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, during the release of the Historical Corpus of the Arabic Language today. (Photo by M. Sajjad / Khaleej Times)

The first eight volumes of the Historical Corpus of the Arabic Language (Photo by M. Sajjad / Khaleej Times)

The project is close to the Sharjah Ruler’s heart.

His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, has unveiled the first eight volumes of the Historical Corpus of the Arabic Language — the first-of-its-kind project that chronicled the evolution of the Arabic language in over 17 centuries.

It was another momentous achievement for the culturally passionate emirate. With this historic project — which Sheikh Sultan had personally supervised — Sharjah becomes the first city in the world to bring to fruition more than 80 years of hard work.

Known attempts in the region to record the development of the Arabic language date back to 1936, starting with efforts of the Union of Arab Scientific Language Academies in Cairo — led by a member of the Union, a German orientalist and Arabist named Fisher. The process was stalled shortly after the completion of some of the entries of the first letter (hamzah).

Addressing the global community of Arabic speakers, Arab researchers and scholars, Sheikh Dr Sultan said: “It is a great pleasure to welcome you to your second home, an ardent champion of the Arabic language. I would like to sincerely thank every single person part of the Historical Corpus of the Arabic Language project, particularly Dr Hassan El Shafei, Chairman of Union of Arab Scientific Language Academies, and all other linguists and scholars at the union.

“I thank the chairpersons of every Arabic language academy for enabling the success of this phenomenal project. Thank you, all members of the Scientific Council, and my sons and daughters — editors, linguists and experts — working in the Arabic Language Academy’s Executive Committee. May Allah grant you the best reward.”

The Historical Corpus of the Arabic Language is a project close to the Sharjah Ruler’s heart.

“This project has been on my mind for a long time, and my keenness to support it increased when I learnt that the previous attempts could not see success for various reasons. To succeed in our efforts was what I asked for in my prayers to Allah, and I am still praying, seeking divine guidance for the successful completion of this enormous project,” Sheikh Dr Sultan said.

Wealth of information

Describing the publication of the first eight volumes of the corpus as a “truly joyful occasion”, the Sharjah Ruler noted that the wealth of information in these volumes will enable Arab nations, the academia and Arabic language enthusiasts to make the most of its lexical and semantic connotations, as well as its vibrant examples steeped in both historical and modern-day contexts.

The corpus’ first eight volumes covered the first two letters of the alphabet. “We promise you that, in the next few years, we will be publishing dozens of volumes that will enable Arabic language learners, enthusiasts and scholars enjoy the largest linguistic repository ever developed,” Sheikh Dr Sultan said.

“What was a dream, a wish, 80 years ago has become a global reality, thanks to the generosity of Allah and the undeterred perseverance of sincere scholars who worked on the project.”

Get to know the evolution of hamzah and ba

The eight volumes of the corpus document the original root of words starting with letters ‘hamzah’ and ‘ba’. Their evolution was outlined throughout five distinct time periods in history: Pre-Islamic period, the Islamic era from 1AH to 132AH, the Abbasid Caliphate from 133AH to 656AH, the development of nation states from 657AH to 1213AH, and the modern-day era from 1214 AH to date.

Hundreds of senior researchers and linguists, editors, and experts from 10 Arabic language academies across the Arab world have collaborated on the project.

The team is working to finish the entire corpus in six years, under the supervision of the Union of Arab Scientific Language Academies in Cairo, Egypt, and with the Arabic Language Academy in Sharjah managing the project’s executive committee.

How it was all documented

The Historical Corpus of the Arabic Language uses a specific reference methodology which has been developed for the project and relies on a database of sources collected and digitised over the last three years. Apart from printed volumes, the project is also digitising nearly 20,000 Arabic books, manuscripts, sources, and historical documents, including old inscriptions and archaeological finds, dating back to the third century before Islam.

The corpus will provide a detailed documentation of word roots, derivatives and phonetic variations. The history of every derivative word will be traced back to first known usage since the pre-Islamic times until present day. What makes the corpus unique is its focus on the use of living language, and cites usages in quotes from the Holy Quran, the Hadith as well as from poems, speeches, letters and other sources.

The volumes trace the development of Arabic words used through the centuries, documents the entry of new words into the lexicon, and also lists words no longer in use explaining the reasons for it. It also details semantic changes – be it semantic shift, progression, development, or drift, whether through Arabic speakers or speakers of other Semitic languages such as Hebrew, Akkadian, Syriac, Abyssinian, and others, that have influenced the Arabic language across all five time periods under the corpus’s purview.

Afkar Abdullah

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