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London: What is common between the words alcohol and “kohl”?

If we trace their origin, the word alcohol is derived from the Arabic “Al Kuhl”.

This and many more treasure trove of the Arabic words would soon be available in a first online Arabic etymological dictionary — providing new knowledge about Arab identity and cultural history.

“There has been a lot of etymological research on Arabic words but it has not been collected anywhere,” said Stephan Guth, professor of Arabic at University of Oslo, Norway, who has taken the initiative to pursue this research project.

The plan is to establish an electronic database called EtymArab.

In the first phase the website would be based on words and concepts from Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) — the standard and written form of Arabic used and understood throughout the Arab world.

“The history of their language helps us understand who the Arabs are — and were,” added Guth.

The database would also present the narratives that emerge when a word is traced back in time, the researchers added.

Although Arabic is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages — with an estimated 250-300 million native speakers — there is still no Arabic etymological dictionary.

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins and how their form and meaning have changed over time.

The first step, informed Guth, is a prototype that would contain approximately 1,000 words and concepts.

The fact that the Arabs have not produced an etymological dictionary so far is probably due to the sacred status of the Arabic language, said the press release issued by University of Oslo.

“We have contacts with scholars in Qatar. A group of Arab researchers is also helping us on realising this project that addresses rich Arabic language history,” Guth pointed out.