Lebanon – The first bilingual French-Lebanese dictionary

(ILouban.info, May 2010)

It’s a premiere. Publishing and translation company “Milelli” has lately published a French-Lebanese Lebanese-French dictionary, the first dictionary in the Middle East to join both language and dialect through an educational approach, proposing a phonetical transcription of Lebanese dialect. Authors Jean-Pierre Milelli and Jinane Chaker Sultani shed the light with iloubnan.info on the challenges faced throughout a complicated yet pleasant job.

A test was carried out. We talked about this French-Lebanese Lebanese-French dictionary in the presence of Lebanese and French nationals. Reactions from both sides were practically similar: astonishment and interest. Each in turn has attentively thumbed through this particular book. Lebanese wonder how this word has been translated into French. French figured out that this word, often heard in the street in Beirut, has aslo a specific meaning they didn’t expect.

It is in the aim of making the Arabic language accessible to many people as possible around the world, and specifically to promote the Lebanese language that Jean-Pierre Milelli and his wife Jinane Chaker Sultani embarked on a challenging adventure: write a bilingual French-Lebanese dictionary. This unique book focuses on the essentials of the spoken language in Lebanon featuring phonetical transcription of all words and examples of varied use. Jean-Pierre is French, he teaches Political Science along his main job as an Arabic and Lebanese dialect teacher in Paris. As for Jinane Chaker Sultani of Lebanese origin, she holds a doctorate in sociology. “This is a joint project we have been developing for about 3 or 4 years with an intense work pace of 18 hours a day” said Jinane Chaker Sultani, voicing her enthusiasm regarding the publication of this unique dictionary “dedicated to all those who show interest to the Middle East and are fond to easily communicate with Middle Easterners”. She explains that mistakes and difficulties encountered in the Arabic language were the main reason for her and for her husband behind the creation of this dictionary, highlighting thus her willlingness to convey the linguistic heritage to her children, and to all those who are foreign-born parents or mixed Lebanese. “We wrote a language that has never been written,” she adds. In fact, Lebanese language is a spoken language. It is a dialect specific to a country. Arabic language is however a written language common to all Arab countries, it’s “literary” Arabic.

More than 200 000 words are listed in the “Milelli” dictionary, with phonetical transcription of each word in Arabic, a variety of synonyms and outlines highlighting proverbs and idioms. A month after the publication of the dictionary in Paris, Jinane recalls the work methodology adopted with her husband. “The work was developed in an accurate way. I had to write down Lebanese vocabulary, while Jean-Pierre, given his experience in Arabic and Lebanese, was keen on avoiding misunderstandings at the transfer from one language to another” she said. She stresses that this book is all about Lebanese dialect wealth often overlooked in favor of classical Arabic even though it is the daily mother tongue of Lebanese.”

The cover features the map of Lebanon in dark colors. As for the preface, it is signed by Lebanese writer and essayist Abdallah Naaman, cultural attaché at the Embassy of Lebanon in Paris. Naaman Abdullah is a veteran of the subtleties of translation from French into Arabic (and vice versa): he translated many books into Arabic including Démocratie française or French Democracy by Valery Giscard d’Estaing in 1977. In his preface to the dictionary, he anticipates “emotional interest, with some sadness and colorful hint of humor after reading the dictionary, felt by Lebanese and Lebanon’s loyals, but also by linguists and curious, eager to preserve these treasures and save them in a clear and handy volume, noting thus the lexical richness of this rare compilation. “

The transfer from one language to another is according to Jean-Pierre Milelli, a challenge to be taken into consideration in every translating process, “especially when it’s about a spoken language like Lebanese which counts numerous proverbs and sayings”. The dictionary was somehow inspired by the book “The proverbs of my mother” by Hana Samadi Naaman, released in fall, which offers varied Lebanese proverbs with their explanation and translation in French. “The transfer to French must respect the culture of the target language,” he said. The phonetical transcription allows foreign players to properly assimilate the pronunciation of certain words and maintain the same register, “the translation of a word or slang expression is not the same as that of a word belonging to the formal register!” The registry adopted in the dictionary is an average colloquial register; like the one of the dialect spoken in Beirut (the capital) accessible to readers from all social categories.

Published in April in France, the dictionary was considered as great success for orientalists and Lebanese immigrants. Some bookstores in Lebanon as Librairie Stephan and Libraire Orientale felt curious regarding this unique dictionary; they ordered many copies, reports Jinane, adding that the Protestant College in Beirut has also shown interest. “The feedback is so far more than positive” says Jean-Pierre. Two signing sessions will be held in France very soon, but there’s so far nothing scheduled in Beirut. “However, we plan to hold a book signing in Lebanon during which we will have the opportunity to present this special work” ends Jinane. She will be in Lebanon in July; accompanied by her husband, by then will they have the necessary and adequate support to present their work within the land of cedars?