NYU Abu Dhabi has launched Maknuune, an expansive and free-to-use resource dedicated to documenting the Palestinian Arabic dialect.
Through the institution’s research centre, the Computational Approaches to Modeling Language Lab, more commonly known as Camel Lab, Maknuune was created as an online database containing more than 36,000 entries.
Entries include phrases from standard Arabic in line with the Palestinian Arabic dialect, as well as insights into pronunciation, grammar, usage, synonyms, cultural references and English translations.
Shahd Dibas, a PhD student of linguistics at the University of Oxford, founded Makunne, then led it with Nizard Habash, NYU Abu Dhabi’s computer science programme head and director of Camel Lab. The lab focuses on artificial intelligence, language, linguistics, and data science.
“I am grateful to the Camel Lab for providing their linguistics and computational expertise and adopting this effort,” says Dibas.
“Maknuune has already received global praise from internationally acclaimed scholars, authors and linguists. We are very excited to be sharing this more broadly with everyone, particularly in light of the upcoming International Mother Language Day [on February 21].”
All entries include the conventional Arabic spelling of phrases and a phonetic transcription to help users say the words out loud, along with an English translation.
Some entries include information about words or phrases in plural or feminine forms, their roots, other associations, notes about grammar or the location of where the entry was added.
While Maknuune is an open-source and downloadable resource, users are also encouraged to contribute by suggesting new entries, adding more nuanced or accurate meanings to existing entries and helping to translate illustrative examples.
The word “maknuune” refers to the common practice of Palestinian farmers collecting eggs their hens lay but leaving one to give other hens a point of reference for where to lay theirs.
The name was chosen based on the same idea, to be an open resource, like the one egg left behind, to encourage other people to come and lay their own linguistic knowledge next to it.
“In designing Maknuune, we wanted to create a resource that can be used by a wide range of scholars and language enthusiasts,” Habash adds.
“From computational linguists who want to develop tools for Arabic language processing, to language educators who want to use it to educate non-native speakers about the rich linguistic heritage of the Arab world, as well as linguists interested in studying Arabic generally and the Palestinian dialect specifically.”
The long-term goal of Maknuune is to have an expansive and growing collection of words and expressions from varying dialects and sub-dialects of Palestine in an effort to connect Palestinians around the world.