Sharjah makes history with Sultan Al Qasimi unveiling the first 8 volumes of The Historical Corpus of the Arabic Language

  • The most comprehensive historical corpus that chronicles 17 centuries of the language
  • First 8 volumes are dedicated to the first two Arabic letters: the hamzah (ء) and the ba (ب)
  • The corpus traces the usage of Arabic vocabulary in five distinct time periods: Pre-Islamic period, Islamic era, Abbasid Caliphate, development of nation states, and modern day
  • The corpus is based on a large database that includes the original root of every Arabic word
  • The project will also see the development of a massive digital library that will host thousands of titles, extracts and documents
  • Experts from 10 Arabic language academies across the Arab world are working on the project under the supervision the Union of Arab Scientific Language Academies, based in Cairo

Sharjah, November 5, 2020

His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, has led yet another momentous achievement for the culturally passionate emirate, with the release of the first eight volumes of the Historical Corpus of the Arabic Language – the first-of-its kind project to chronicle 17 centuries of development in the Arabic language, spanning five distinct time periods.

With this historical achievement, enabled by the close personal involvement and direct supervision of the Sharjah Ruler in the project, Sharjah becomes the first city in the world to realise and bring to fruition more than 80 years’ worth of interrupted and incomplete efforts in the direction.

Known attempts in the region to record the development of the Arabic language date back to 1936, when the Union of Arab Scientific Language Academies in Cairo, led by a member of the Union – a German orientalist and Arabist named Fisher – began. 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, scholars in various intellectual, scientific, and literary fields, and the Arab world, HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan Al Qasimi 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,” His Highness added.

“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.” 

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, 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

Emphasising on the need for concerted efforts, collaboration and adequate financial support to realise a project as monumental as  this one, His Highness continued: “Praise be to Allah, we were able to successfully overcome all the hurdles and challenges this project faced. 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.”

“On this blessed day, I would like to tell the united Arab and Muslim nation: Congratulations! The corpus’s first eight volumes covering the first two letters of the alphabet, are published. And 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,” His Highness concluded.

Dr. Mohamed Safi Al Mosteghanemi, Secretary-General of the Arabic Language Academy in Sharjah gave an overview of the corpus, highlighting key development stages leading up to the completion of the eight released volumes, including an overview of the number of meetings held, the team’s working methods, technical preparations involved in the editing of the volumes, and the teams and project committees who participated from various Arabic Language academies in the region.

Dr. Mamoun Wajeeh, Scientific Manager of the project, said that the preparatory period for the development of the corpus took over two years, explaining it was characterised by “sound scientific planning, in accordance with the scientific standards of historical linguistic corpora. Next, the project structure and governance mechanisms were agreed upon, followed by training for all editors and experts on lexical work involved in this monumental project.”

Dr. Hassan El Shafei, Chairman of Union of Arab Scientific Language Academies said, in a recorded video shown during the ceremony: “Having a comprehensive historical corpus of the Arabic language has been a long-cherished aspiration that is finally in the process of being realised under the leadership and guidance of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Al Qasimi. The corpus will be one of Sharjah Ruler’s landmark projects promoting knowledge and science across both the Arab and Islamic Worlds.

First eight volumes document the journey of hamzah & ba over 17 centuries

The newly-revealed 8 volumes document the original root of words starting with letters ‘hamzah’ (ء) and the ba (ب) and outline their evolution throughout five distinct time periods in history: Pre-Islamic period, the Islamic era from 1 AH to 132 AH, the Abbasid Caliphate from 133 AH to 656 AH, the development of nation states from 657 AH – 1213 AH, 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. 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, the team is working to finish the entire corpus within an estimated timeframe of six years.

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.