Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East

By Bernard Lewis | Go to book overview

26
On Modern Arabic
Political Terms

During the past hundred years the Arabs, like many other peoples in Asia and Africa, have had to find new words for a series of political concepts and institutions alien to their own traditions and imposed or imported from outside. Drawn from European history and expressed in terms of European thought, the new political language was strange and difficult and remained so even when the structures themselves began to change. Arab history offered no precedents for the new facts and ideas; the wealth of the Arabic language seemed to lack words to denote or even adequately to describe them.

In devising its vocabulary of modern politics, Arabic has resorted to four main methods—borrowing, neologism, semantic rejuvenation, and loan-translation.

Of these, borrowing is the least important. In contrast to other languages such as Turkish and even colloquial Arabic, modern literary Arabic has accepted very few loanwords, and even these, while remaining lexically foreign, have usually been grammatically assimilated. Political loanwords came in the main with identifiably foreign referents. These may be institutions, like barlamān, parliament, presumably via French; functions, like qunul, consul (with qunuliyya, consulate); political movements or ideologies, like balshafī, Bolshevik, and fāsb[isî]ī, fascist. The former is now of rare occurrence; the latter is very extensively used, usually in a standardized collocation with nāzī, as a non-specific term of abuse for political and national opponents. Two loanwords of more general application are diktātūrī (also dīktītūrī), dictatorial, and dīmūqrāī, democratic, each with its corresponding abstract noun ending in iyya. Diktãtūrt, a pejorative term for authoritarian government, is of

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