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Arabterm: An Online Technical Dictionary

An online technical dictionary, Arabterm translates technical terms between Arabic and German, English and French. The dictionary is partly a response to Arab technicians and engineers borrowing words from other languages instead of creating proper Arabic equivalents. When a French word for an automotive part is used in Algeria and the English term in the United Arab Emirates, automotive engineers cannot easily communicate between those countries. A shared Arabic term is the best solution, Arabterm’s founders believe.

Keeping pace with the global industrial and technological developments is a challenge in the Arab region, said Guido Zebisch, the director of Arabterm at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Access to professional, accurate and standardized translation will help Arabs cope faster and actively participate in international developments in the technical fields, he added. According to the 2003 Arab Human Development Report, such an exchange of knowledge can’t occur when academic and vocational students do not possess a strong command of accurate technical terminology. In 2008, Arab and German organizations began to develop Arabterm as a communication tool for all Arab students, engineers and academics.

Through easy access to standardized terminology, it becomes more convenient for technical professionals and academics to share expertise and knowledge, which opens the door for more regional and international cooperation. “The consistent use of standardized reference terminology in technical disciplines is a condition for the internationalization of more sustainable economic development,” said Zebisch.

Arabterm has already produced four volumes; automotive engineering, electrical engineering, renewable energy and water engineering. Each of these volumes carries a searchable database of relevant terms that users can access, free of charge, to find translations in the four languages. The databases are searchable and offer different suggestions for words searched to overcome the issue of different Arabic dialects, said Zebisch. Users can also use the Yamli service, allowing them to type in an Arabic keyword using Latin letters for easier use. Plans for this year include adding the subjects of textiles and transport.

The project is interactive: Users are encouraged to actively contribute to the dictionary through a discussion forum where they can share experiences, make suggestions or pose questions with other users.

Easing linguistic shortages

When it comes to the language of modern business and technology, the Arabic language is falling behind. According to Zebisch, many technical terms are translated into the Arabic language through transliteration and without a clear methodology to follow. “[Such] practices makes it challenging to find standards for technical terms commonly used in English,” said Zebisch.

Localizing from a language like English with an abundant technical vocabulary into Arabic involves cultural adaptation of content and scientific concepts and overcoming the disparity between each language’s technological developments. “In

this way, Arabterm will contribute, on the long run, to the conversion to a so-called Arab knowledge society,” Zebisch said.

To ensure accuracy in overcoming these shortages, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (Alesco) governs the standardization measures. The organization holds general conferences on Arabization that are attended by language academics and officials from Arab education ministries to discuss the process and make relevant decisions. Arabterm is led by nine professional translators, two editors and an expert for each discipline to regularly moderate the entries and update the database.

The project is a joint publication of Alesco, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and is carried out by GIZ in collaboration with Alesco’s division in Rabat, the Arabization Coordination Bureau .

Many experts have found Arabterm useful. “The technical sector is the least documented lexicographical area,” said Lorenz Kropfitsch, Arabic lecturer at the University of Mainz in Germersheim and author of the Langenscheidt Arabic-German dictionaries. “I very much welcome the fact that this gap is now being filled by a targeted initiative.”

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