Active Vocabulary in MSA

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Andrew___

Senior Member
In your opinion, do you think that MSA has a larger active vocabulary than European languages such as English?

[I am not talking about the total vocabulary which exists in the Arabic language dating back to ancient times, I am talking about the active vocab that exists in MSA as it exists today.]

Specifically in the sphere of modern media, I personally don't think that MSA has a larger vocab than modern English newspapers/newsreadings.

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.
 
  • clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    In your opinion, do you think that MSA has a larger active vocabulary than European languages such as English?

    [I am not talking about the total vocabulary which exists in the Arabic language dating back to ancient times, I am talking about the active vocab that exists in MSA as it exists today.]

    Specifically in the sphere of modern media, I personally don't think that MSA has a larger vocab than modern English newspapers/newsreadings.

    I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.
    I'm have no idea, but I'd like to comment anyway. The Arabic lexicon is huge, although I don't know a number of entries. There are a couple of things to think about with this question:


    1) Remember that Arabic entries will be counted differently than English ones. For example, "converse" and "conversation" will appear as separate items to us in English, whereas in Arabic they will appear as forms of the verb تحدّث or depending on the dictionary even forms of just the root حدث. So deciding how to count is important.

    2) Although the Arabic lexicon is huge, certain things are not considered as فصيح anymore as they might have been in the past (you have addressed this in your original post). I recall old threads about أمام vs. قدام, where قدام seems "dialectal" nowadays although is well established in older literature. So the second thing that must be decided is exactly what subset of the Arabic lexicon is MSA. Do we count قدام or discard it? If you're speaking on news media specifically, then at least we can use that as a metric.
     

    Mahaodeh

    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    You also need to define "active vocabulary", does it include, as an example, modern poetry? Does it include newly borrowed words such as video? Does it include scientific expressions that are not used by the general public but nonethelss used extensively?

    If you are going to only include newpapers and magazines and general broadcasting on TV you will find that the English vocabulary is also much smaller than you think.

    I'm aware that there are a lot of words that are no longer used very much; but I doubt that they are as much as one would imagine even if you want to include only what is said on TV. It should be noted that even when a word is no longer used in one sense, that does not mean it is dropped altogether; since the word should not be counted twice if it has two meanings, that would mean the word is still counted - as an example: سيّارة

    You should also keep in mind that even if you don't want to include borrowings, many words were coined by deriving it out of original Arabic roots, as an example جمعيّة.

    In terms of comparing the lexicon with English, I don't even want to attempt to compare since both languages have huge vocabularies and I don't think that it is possible to make a wild guess that would be close to reality; well, at least I don't think that I can.
     

    Andrew___

    Senior Member
    Hi Maha,

    My concept of "active vocabulary" would be the vocab used in daily life situations for the majority of people. This would include in my mind newspapers, TV shows, films, radio, cartoons, newly borrowed words, novels, other forms of literature (excluding "high" literature such as poetry (modern or classical), or fields of technical expertise such as scientific works).
     

    Mahaodeh

    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    That article is very interesting; thanks for it Outsider. I guess I was sort of saying what he said more eloquently (than me of course :)); it's difficult to compare languages in this regards because there are different ways of counting words.

    It seems that linguists don't seem to believe it's easy to compare.
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    I think no matter how you slice it or dice it, Arabic has a decidedly smaller active vocabulary than English (don't know how it would compare to other languages but I imagine it's larger than average), but then again what language today can claim otherwise?

    As an aside, this thing we call "MSA" (or "Modern Newspaper Arabic" as I call it) is a very poor reflection of the richness of Arabic, whether Classical or vernacular.
     

    licinio

    Senior Member
    Italian
    I liked Wadi Hanifa's remark on MSA vocabulary. As we are talking about a common language that has stretched its scope and area of use to cover daily needs but in certain contexts only, I understand there may be certain shortages.
    In my experience, they are mostly felt in the (semi) technical field and as far as idiomatic expressions are concerned, when we would like a text to have a less stilted and formal cling. I remember the sentence that was proposed for translation some time ago in the forum: Australia is bigger than... became in some people's Arabic version a verbose The surface of Australia is larger than...
    When I was reading a passage by Shawqi Dhaif the other day, I was reminded of something that happened to me a few months ago as I was translating a firm presentation with a Palestinian friend. The passage spoke of a Carnival-like festival in Egypt with a display of local crafts and I read the words نول، لُحمة، سدى that respectively mean loom, warp and weft.
    The same words exactly were needed when we were tackling the translation text, but my friend discarded them, saying they would be out of the average reader's depth. I could possibly see a difficulty about warp and weft, although I doubt there could be a problem in English when adressing someone concerned with weaving... but I thought loom should be part of everybody's basic vocabulary.
    When I asked a Lebanese student if the word نول would be understood, he also said no. I realise نول is the sort of loom that was used in houses and not the industrial type, still the point was made not so much on the word being suitable for the translation, but rather on it being understandable at all.
     
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