A Dictionary of Nahḍa Arabic (DiNA)

DiNA’s overarching aim is the large-scale, systematic exploration of the lexicon of the Nahḍa, the so-called “Arab Renaissance” (19th – mid-20th century), that is, the language of the formative period in the history of Arab modernity. DiNA has 3 primary objectives: 1) create a broad variegated corpus of Nahḍa Arabic texts; 2) create a multifunctional dictionary of Nahḍa Arabic; 3) break ground for a thorough, bottom-up reconstruction of the Nahḍa “mind map” (ontology, semantic network). DiNA is also meant to provide the much-desired “missing link” that documents the transition from Classical to Modern Standard Arabic.

About the Project

DiNA aims to develop a novel research tool that documents, and makes possible study—in synchronic and diachronic depth—the vocabulary of the so-called “Arab Renaissance”, the Nahḍa (19th–mid-20th c). The need for such a tool arises from a) the importance of the Nahḍa as the formative period in the history of Arab modernity; b) recently renewed scholarly interest, with Nahḍa Studies emerging as a field in its own right, seeking a reappraisal of the period; and c) the deplorable lack of a reference tool with which to access and explore Nahḍa Arabic, a rapidly changing language with a lexicon of notoriously fluctuating semantics, not covered sufficiently by any extant dictionary.

DiNA is currently under evaluation for funding from RCN.

Methodology and objectives

DiNA’s ultimate objective is to lay the foundation for a novel description of the period's “mindset”. It will initiate a remapping of this “world” of nascent modernity as it speaks from the texts themselves and in this way outline a new “ontology”, sketching the Nahḍa's semantic network as it will emerge from a close investigation of the hierarchies among the many semantic fields to be mapped, and the relationships within them. Particular attention will be paid to hitherto neglected/ignored aspects, esp. the “little Nahḍas” of lived, day-to-day performance. The pioneering tool, accessible online, will be based on a large and variegated corpus of representative texts, including unexploited, although easily available material (fiction, periodicals, translations into/from Arabic), processed in accordance with the latest standards of computational lexicography.


DiNA will not only provide the needed missing link between dictionaries of Classical and Modern Standard Arabic, but also serve as a bridge between philology, history, anthropology and cultural studies in general.
The application of a tetrangulating lexicographical approach will yield results of unprecedented precision and reliability, offering a model for future research to build on.


Selected publications

Project-related publications on the vocabulary of nascent Arab modernity and conceptual history of the Nahḍa in general
  • Abdel-Malek, A. 1969. Idéologie et renaissance nationale: l’Égypte moderne. Paris: Anthropos.
  • Abu-ʿUksa, W. 2019. »Imagining modernity: the language and genealogy of modernity in nineteenth-century Arabic.« Middle Eastern Studies, online.
  • Ayalon, D. 1987. Language and Change in the Arab Middle East: the Evolution of Modern Political Discourse. New York: Oxford UP.
  • El-Ariss, T. (ed.). 2017. The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda. New York: MLA Book Series.
  • Hallaq, B., and H. Toelle, eds. 2013. Histoire de la littérature arabe moderne. II: 1800-1945: Anthologie bilingue. Paris: Sindbad / Actes Sud.
  • Hanssen, J., and M. Weiß, eds. 2016. Arabic Thought Beyond the Liberal Age: Towards an Intellectual History of the Nahda. Cambridge UP.
  • Hill, P. 2020. Utopia and Civilisation in the Arab Nahda. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. [< PhD thesis, U Oxford, 2015.]
  • Hourani, A. 1962. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939. Oxford: Oxford UP.
  • Lewis, B. 1988. The Political Language of Islam. Chicago (Ill.) & London: U Chicago Press.
  • Monteil, V. 1960. L’Arabe moderne. Thèse principale présentée pour le doctorat [...]. Paris: Klinksieck.
  • Rebhan, H. 1986. Geschichte und Funktion einiger politischer Termini im Arabischen des 19. Jahrhunderts (1798-1882). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Sheehi, S. 2004. Foundations of Modern Arab Identity. Gainesville, FL: UP of Florida.
  • Versteegh, K. [1997]. The Arabic Language. 2nd ed., Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2001.
Project-related publications by S Guth
  • »ʿĪsà ʿUbayd’s Programmatic Preface to “Miss Ihsan”, a Manifesto of Early adab qawmī – Introduction and Translation«. In Qamariyyāt: oltre ogni frontiera tra letteratura e traduzione, Studi in onore di Isabella Camera d’Afflitto, ed. Maria Avino, Ada Barbaro, Monica Ruocco, Roma: Istituto per l’Oriente C.A. Nallino, 2020: 293-315.
  • Entries in EtymArab on key terminology of the Nahḍa, see e.g., tamaddun, taqaddum, taraqqī, ...
  • »Adab as the Art to Make the Right Choice between Local Tradition and Euromania: A comparative analysis of Khalīl al-Khūrī’s Way, idhan lastu bi-Ifranjī! (1859) and Aḥmed Midḥat’s Felāṭūn Beğ ile Rāḳım Efendī (1875), or: On the threshold of inventing national Middle Eastern cultures«. In: Adab and Modernity: A ‘Civilising Process’? (Sixteenth – Twenty-First Century), ed. by C. Mayeur-Jaouen, Leiden: Brill, 2019: 311-345.
  • »Concepts that Changed the World: “waṭan” as one of Ḥusayn al-Marṣafī’s “Eight Words”«. In: Representations and Visions of Homeland in Modern Arabic Literature, ed. S. Günther & S. Milich, Hildesheim: Olms, 2016: 75-88.
  • »From Water-Carrying Camels to Modern Story-Tellers, or How riwāya came to mean “novel”: A history of an encounter of concepts.« In: Borders and Beyond: Crossings and Transitions in Modern Arabic Literature, ed. K. Eksell & S. Guth, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2011: 147-179.
  • »Politeness, Höflichkeit, ʾadab – A Comparative Conceptual-Cultural Perspective«. In: Verbal Festivity in Arabic and other Semitic Languages, ed. L. Edzard & S. Guth, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010: 9-30.
Published Sep. 12, 2020 8:04 AM - Last modified Apr. 7, 2021 10:24 AM


  • Stephan Guth
  • Dept. of Oriental Languages, U Prague
  • Dept. of Dept. of Linguistics, U Prague
Detailed list of participants