Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Talking with Hafid Benhadriya, co-founder of the online Algerian Dictionary Jazayriya.org

I used to expect “good things come to those who wait” to mean that should you wait long enough, the thing/s you were waiting for would eventually turn up.  Then an epiphany crashed on my head and I knew... you can wait all you want and what you’re waiting for might never come, but along the way during the wait you’ll encounter some things positive, like something-good and something-close.

And so it is that along the way, I sort of encountered Hafid Benhadriya.

Hafid Benhadriya is an Algerian language researcher, teacher and writer based in Wahran, who is very active in promoting Derja. He is behind several projects such as Jazayriya and Derja at school. He blogs in Derja at Felmdina and accompanies his posts with an audio that matches the text, a great initiative to reach the blind. He is also working on translating The Little Prince by Saint Exupéry, in Algerian. These are the few projects of his I know and I suspect he works and helps out on many others.

One such which caught my attention while searching for a dictionary-of-the-Algerian-language-written-in-Algerian is Jazayriya.org, a project he co-founded with equally energetic and passionate researchers who, it would seem might just succeed in what hasn't happened in Algerian lexicography as of yet: producing a fully fledged dictionary of the Algerian language, written in the Algerian language, for an Algerian audience, compiled by native Algerian speakers.

This tremendous project going by the name of Wiki Jazayriya will eventually contain a grammar of Algerian together with several other tools to record, safeguard and generally promote the language. It so far contains 3 pages of 200 words each, and is growing every day.  

Because I was curious as to where this dictionary came from and where it is heading, I asked Hafid:

You’re very active promoting Derja. You have initiated, and are part of, several projects. What motivated you to start Wiki Jazayriya (jazayriya.org) and work on an Algerian dictionary?

H.B.: Jazayriya wiki is the idea of the members of Jazayriya and the platform is managed by Nassim and Emin. From my side, I try to provide Darija-written material as much as I can. As a group, we know now, after many years of working together, our strength and weakness points. For this, we try to encourage ourselves and help each other.

The dictionary is important: 1. to show that Darija can be written and adapted to information technology 2. to keep track of our vocabulary and also preserving our memory and culture from death (a language death is a culture death). 3. to enlarge the culture/education field and - for all people and not only to the elite. 4. to provide Algerian content in the Algerian language for Algerians outside the country and also for foreigners. 5. to show that the Algerian language can be the language of culture, knowledge, science and the arts.

Your Wiki dictionary it would seem is the only Algerian dictionary actually written in Derja and that addresses itself to its readers in Derja, so why are you giving the translation of words in French rather than their definitions in Derja?

H.B.: The recent form of the dictionary is a mix of many dictionaries, compiled during many years by Esma, Said, Nassim, Mekkiya, Emin and me. On Glosbe, Said is in charge of managing the dictionary. We are trying to capitalise on our experience and learning, all the time, new stuff, techniques and new ways of doing things in order to enhance the Darija experience. At the moment, we can't yet provide Darija definitions as it is a huge amount of work but this is part of our project and we'll begin to do it as soon we can. We are running many projects at the same time, on the Internet and in real life.  We are trying to reconquer our identity and mother tongues by learning, via discussions and through reading. To reach this, we try to write and communicate in Darija.  

The most urgent, now, is to collect all the words we can, from the different towns of Algeria. In our philosophy, every Darija word is a synonym of another. So all Darija words are welcome in our projects. For many reasons, many words are already dead. A dictionary will be a good way to make them alive again. The version of the dictionary that I'm still working on is a multilingual one (Algerian, French, Spanish, English, Russian, German, Arabic, Turkish and Maltese "with different progress percentage") where we also find the different forms of a given word (Verb, Noun, adjective, expressions). 

For instance: verb: Qra - Qerra - tneqra / Noun: Qraya Adjective: Qar-i, -ya / Expressions: Tɛellem w nta tqerri! Meɛna: El qraya, f el-Darija, ɛendha zuj mɛani: 1. Rahu yeqra fi ktab (He is reading a book) 2. Rahu yeqra f el jamiɛa ntaɛ Wahran (He is studying at Wahran University).

The next step for the dictionary will be: - providing explanations in Darija, - providing expressions, as much as possible, and providing Smartphone applications.

Would you want to have it published in paper format?

H.B.: I have plans to launch a publishing house. One of my main projects is to publish a paper dictionary. For this, I'm all the time taking trainings in different fields in order to make the experience more professional. Thanks to Oran associations who provide me with several trainings for free (Communication, debating, citizenship, human rights, nature guide, storytelling...)

When you publish a post on your blog, you also post its audio equivalent, do you have any plans to publish audio-books in Derja?

H.B.: One of my projects is to provide audiobooks. I hope the first one will be Sliṭen (The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) as soon as I finish the translation. Meanwhile, I'll have to master the audio-making process and have to get trainings. I'm always getting feedback from my network. This feedback is so precious in order to make the Darija revitalization process stronger. 

Well, this is all rather exciting, isn't it!  

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