The story of “the Algerian language dictionary” should be tracked and told in English somewhere, and while we wait for someone to do it in a rightful manner, we might as well make a start here. This beginning will need to be oriented (by you, if you feel like it), amended (by me, when I feel like it) and added to (by us when info springs to light).
And so, a long, long, long, long time ago…
After the French invaded Algeria, their linguists began to compile bi-lingual (Algerian-French) lexica, dictionaries and glossaries of the Algerian language, then referred to as “Algerian Arabic”, or the tongue-twister “Algerian-Arabic-dialect”. If you’re confused about what the difference is between a lexicon, a dictionary and a glossary, I am too. You could get further confused by reading this or you could just hang on to the only strength to be found in language studies: etymology. Lexicon, of Greek origin, means a word-book; a dictionary, of Latin origin, means a collection of words and phrases; and glossary, of Latin origin, references a collection of rarer words, foreign words or words no longer in use.
Where this division applies for what has been published on and in Derja isn’t clear, but the production of word-books starts early after the French invasion. As early as 1834 in fact.
That year, Delaporte publishes in Algiers the Principes de l’idiome arabe en usage à Alger (the principles of the Arabic language in use in Algiers). In 1868, Auguste Cherbonneau publishes his observations on the Arabic dialect of Algeria (“Obvervation sur le dialecte arabe de l’algérie”) in the Revue Africaine.
In 1878, a fully-fledged dictionary of Derja comes out. Marcelin Beaussier produces his Dictionnaire pratique arabe-français contenant tous les mots employés dans l’arabe parlé en Algérie et Tunisie (Bouyer ed., Algiers) which purports to do just what the title says: to record all the words used in the spoken Arabic of Algeria and Tunisia. You’ve got to love 19th century scholarship. This dictionary contains over 30,000 words according to reviews with, in addition, locutions and expressions to explain the terms it records. To put this number into perspective, but not to belittle Beaussier, the French Larousse pocket dictionary contains 68,000 definitions and the Lisan al-3arab by the great North African lexicographer Ibn Mandhur contains 80,000 roots (and under each root related nouns and verbs with their derivations are given).
More dictionaries of Derja follow. In 1910, Roland de Bussy publishes the Petit dictionnaire français-arabe et arabe-français de la langue parlée en Algérie (the little dictionary of French-Arabic and Arabic-French of the spoken language in Algeria). Louis-Jacques Bresnier, in 1915 (date of the second edition) produces a practical course on the Arabic language that includes a treatise on the different Arabic dialects in Algeria.
Then Mohamed Bencheneb’s work comes. A great Algerian scholar and linguist, Bencheneb goes back to Beaussier’s dictionary, revises it and adds plenty of new material to it. Bencheneb’s edition was published in 1931 (ed. Jules Carbonel), and in 1958. His version can still be found all be it in an updated form, as the scholar Jérôme Lentin revised it, the result of which has been published in 2006, Ibis Press (extract here).
From the onset and up to today, dictionaries have sought to record Derja either understood in its largest sense as the language of Algeria, or to record one of its varieties (Jewish Algerian), that of specific cities (Tlemcen, Jijel, Wahran, Constantine, Algiers), or of a specific region (the Ouest for example).
What gets published after 1958? Well, there’s a gap. Then there’s 2013. Ok, not really.
The space between the Gap and 2013 I’ll have to fill in as I research, there must be at least one scholar who has compiled a Derja word-book in English. In the meantime, I am a little dumbfounded to not have found one single dictionary of the Algerian language produced in the Algerian language. I do hope this might turn out to be false, and that a proper Derja dictionary is around somewhere, but so far I’ve heard of none. Perhaps if you have you could let me know. It would also appear that few bi-lingual Derja dictionaries (whether Fr/Alg or Ar/Alg) have been published in Algeria in recent decades but I'm working on ascertaining that.
I have come across two in 2013, a year that welcomed the bilingual Algerian-French dictionary Le dictionnaire des locutions de l’Arabe dialectal algérien [the dictionary of locutions in the Algerian-Arabic dialect] by Mohamed Nazim Aziri (ANEP ed.)
and the bilingual Algerian-Modern Arabic dictionary by Mehdi Bourashed
معجم العامية الدزيرية بلسان جزائري مبين
(the dictionary of the Algerian dialect produced in a clear Algerian language) (Viscera ed.).
Let us have a look at each Aziri's and Bourashed's and rejoice about all this in subsequent blog posts, .
Pssst: can someone find me a Tamazight-Derja dictionary, or a Kabyle-Derja dictionary, or even a Chaouia-Derja or Tumzabt-Derja dictionary, or you could also write it.