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Jan Hoogland in the desert

20 questions for: Jan Hoogland (#31)

I am a big fan of the Oxford Arabic Dictionary. Therefore, I am honored that one of the creators of this exceptional dictionary was available for the 9273-roots series: Jan Hoogland, a Dutch Arabic scholar and Moroccan Arabic expert.

LAST UPDATED: 1 month ago

Lisān al-‘Arab (لسان العرب), the famous dictionary of Classical Arabic, contains 9273 roots (and 4,493.934 words). A huge playground for people who are passionate about Arabic such as…

Jan Hoogland

يان هوخلاند

The Arabist who created the lexical basis of the
excellent Oxford Arabic-English Dictionary

Jan Hooglandsource: Jan Hoogland
Jan Hoogland


How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?

I am a Dutch Arabist, specialized in teaching and lexicography of Modern Standard Arabic and Moroccan Arabic (Darija). Since 1977 I am deeply in love with Morocco.


What was your first Arabic grammar book?

Ziadeh and Winder: An introduction to Modern Arabic.

After having taught Modern Arabic for many years, I know wonder how such a poorly structured book still made me successful in learning Arabic.

Please note that we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.


What is your favorite Arabic book (novel, etc.)?

Book Cover Hot Marocsource: goodreads

Hot Maroc (هُوتْ مارُوك) by Yassin Adnan (ياسين عدنان).

It is the latest novel I have read, but it also depicts Moroccan society in a perfect way and it uses Moroccan Colloquial Arabic (called Darija in Morocco) in different ways.

The written use of Darija in Morocco has been a main topic of interest since I wrote my MA thesis on it in 1983.


The main character of the book “Hot Maroc” is Rahhal Laâouina, a slow-witted coward who becomes a hero in his dreams and online, whether on facebook or the news site called “Hot Maroc”.

The novel is about the changing face of Morocco: about Marrakech, student movements, internet and globalization, daily life and human nature, politics and journalism, and weird election campaigns in a country where people do not vote.

Yassin Adnan (ياسين عدنان), born in 1970, is a Moroccan writer and journalist. He is the author of four books of poetry, three short story collections, and has co-authored several other books. Hot Maroc (2016) is his first novel.

How much time does a native speaker of English need to master Arabic?

I have worked my whole career on teaching Arabic, so an answer to this question could best be in the shape of a book.

When people ask my advice about learning Arabic, I always reply with this question: For what purpose do you want to learn Arabic? Their answer will determine my reply: should it be Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, Colloquial Arabic.

And characteristics of the learner are incredibly important. Has this native speaker of English learned another language before? Or did he just rely on English as the international language of the world? How old is she? Do they have talent for language learning? (I have had both very talented students and students lacking all the necessary qualifications to learn a language like Arabic).

But to cut a long story short: I always say that you have to invest at least two years full time to reach a level of competence in Modern Standard Arabic on which the learner will be able to proceed independently to further improve her language skills.

Remark of Jan Hoogland: In my answer, I deliberately tried to use different pronouns as “inclusive language”.


w=1160,h=1058source: Jan Hoogland
Jan Hoogland in front of a portrait of Jacobus Golius, born Jacob van Gool (1596 – 1667), who compiled the first Arabic-Latin dictionary in 1653 (Lexicon Arabico-Latinum). “I consider him a predecessor of me”, says Jan. The portrait is on the wall of NIMAR institute in Rabat, which was founded by Jan Hoogland. If you are interested in the lexicon of Golius, you can read it on Google Books – just follow this link.

What is your favorite Arabic word?

This needs an explanation. The lemma 3alâqa (علاقة) in “my dictionary” is an example of modern lexicography of Arabic. The lemma presents 47 different collocations and expressions with the word 3laqa (علق). I am proud of that lemma, so it is my favorite lemma and word.

I say “my dictionary” between quotes because the Arabic-Dutch and Dutch-Arabic dictionaries that came out in 2003 in the Netherlands are the result of team work (see excursus below). Since I was the editor-in-chief and project coordinator, I can describe it as ‘my dictionary’.

If you allow me a short anecdote: At the presentation of the Oxford Arabic Dictionary (OAD) in Oxford in 2014, I explained to one of the attendants the reason of my presence there. This person responded: “So you are the new ?” Explanation: The Hans Wehr Arabic-German dictionary was translated into Arabic-English by J. Milton Cowan. The Arabic-Dutch dictionary was translated, and enlarged, by Tressy Arts and others at Oxford University Press.

Excursus: The Genesis of the Oxford Arabic Dictionary (OAD)

Did you know that the bulk of the Arabic-English part of the Oxford Dictionary (2014) was derived from an Arabic-Dutch dictionary?

The Oxford Arabic Dictionary is the most authoritative English-Arabic / Arabic-English dictionary ever published. The dictionary boasts more than 130,000 words and phrases and 200,000 translations. Jan Hoogland played a significant role in bringing the Oxford Arabic Dictionary into its present form.

It all started with the Nijmegen Arabic Dictionary Project. In 1990, The Stichting Middle East Transfer in Nijmegen (a foundation which was discontinued in 1991) took up the plan to compile a Dutch-Arabic/Arabic-Dutch dictionary. The Dutch Ministry of Education and Science was requested to subsidize a feasibility study, which was granted. However, it took some years until the financial commitments were set and a team of Arabists got the green light.

What was the project about? The idea was to write two sets of dictionaries for Arabic: a set of two learners’ dictionaries (Dutch-Arabic and Arabic-Dutch) and a set of two translation dictionaries (Dutch-Arabic and Arabic-Dutch). The assignment to compile the learners’ dictionaries was given to a team of Belgian Arabists, led by Mark van Mol. The learners’ dictionaries were published in 2001.

The compilation of the translation dictionaries was entrusted to the Arabic department of the University of Nijmegen. This is where Jan Hoogland comes in.

The team consisted of respected Arabic experts (Jan Hoogland, Kees Versteegh and Manfred Woidich) with worldwide reputation. It took them many years until the lexicon was compiled and proof-checked. In 2003, two volumes were published, containing over 2300 pages of Dutch or Arabic words and expressions followed by their translations in the other language.

Meanwhile, Oxford University Press had obtained the rights to use the of the Nijmegen dictionary and in 2014 the Oxford Arabic Dictionary was published. One volume contains both an English-Arabic part and an Arabic-English part. The Arabic-English part was based on the database of the Nijmegen dictionary.

Tressy Arts and Jan Hoogland have estimated that 85% of the Arabic-English part of the Oxford Arabic-English Dictionary (2014) is originally Arabic-Dutch and was converted into English.

You can read the full story here at Jan Hoogland’s website.

Please note that we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.


Which Arabic word do you like least?

Any Arabic word that is frequently used and is not in “my dictionary”. Being a lexicographer is a lifelong sentence. While reading (or listening to) Arabic, I always ask myself: is this word or this collocation or expression in “my dictionary”?


Excursus: How is the Oxford Arabic Dictionary updated?

When Jan Hoogland encounters new Arabic words or terms that are not in the Oxford Arabic Dictionary (“my dictionary”, as he calls it), he writes them down. After verification, these words or phrases are finally added to the Oxford Arabic Dictionary database. That is why the Oxford Arabic Dictionary (the online version) is the best and most up-to-date dictionary of contemporary Arabic.

Here are some examples of words and phrases that have recently been added:

droneطائِرة مُسَيَّرة
sleeve gastrectomyتَكْميم المَعِدةِ
readinessجُهوزيّة
swing statesوِلايات مُتَأَرْجِحة
Islamismإسْلامَويّة
risk factorsعَوامِل الاخْتِطارِ
the LGBT communityمُجْتَمَع الميم
heterosexualityمُغايَرة جِنْسيّة
genetically engineered; genetically modifiedمُعَدَّل جينيًّا, مُحَوَّر جينيًّا
repositioningإعادة التَمَوْقُعِ
briefingإحاطة بالمَعْلوماتِ
Table: examples of words and terms recently added to the Oxford Arabic Dictionary (OAD)

Which Arabic dialect do you like best?

Moroccan Darija.

I have been working on it for many years. I am in the final stage of compiling a dictionary of Moroccan Arabic and Dutch.

Moroccan Arabic has a special status, it sounds very peculiar to the inexperienced ear because Moroccan Arabic is extreme in vowel elision. I have talked to Arabs who even stated they consider Moroccan Arabic not an Arabic language.

Jan Hoogland’s work on Moroccan Arabic

Jan Hoogland’s research on Moroccan Arabic concentrates on two topics: the use of Moroccan Darija in writing and lexicography of Moroccan Darija.

He has written a course book for Moroccan Arabic which was published in three different languages (Dutch, English, German). A French translation is available, but so far, no French publisher was found willing to publish the book. Jan Hoogland is open to proposals.

Please note that we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.


What is your favorite Arabic colloquial word or expression?

Derrež men fedl-ek

درّج من فضلك

If a speaker in Morocco is talking in Fusha (Classical or Modern Standard Arabic) and the audience prefers she speaks in Moroccan Darija, they can demand from the speaker to derrež.


“I made a trip to Saudi Arabia, with a friend who was a truck driver. That trip changed my life.”

Jan Hoogland

What is your favorite Arabic quote or proverb?

!الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام

Do I really have to translate this? This slogan can be heard in all Arab countries from time to time, and with good reason.

Remark: The sentence الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام means The People want to bring down the regime and was popularized during the Arab Spring in 2011. People on the streets were shouting it, there were graffities on walls and when Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak (حسني مبارك) eventually stepped down on 11th February 2011, the headline of Egypt’s biggest newspaper al-Ahram (الأهرام) was as follows:

الشعب أسقط النظام

The people overthrew the regime. It was a play on words related to the slogan.

There is even a wikipedia page about الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام which provides more details about the origin and application of the slogan.

Headline of Al-Ahram on 11th February 2011source: Gerald Drißner | All Rights Reserved

What is the best thing that was ever said about the Arabic language?

That there is not just “one Arabic language”.

Of course, the first layer of this variation in Arabic is : the co-existence of a High and Low variety of the language as defined by Fergusson (1959, when I was 2 years old). The second layer is the abundance of different Arabic colloquials (even outside the Arab world).

As for diglossia, I want to remark that we are presently witnessing tremendous changes in diglossia in the Arab world. As I already mentioned, I have been studying the use of Moroccan Darija in writing since 1983. In those early years, it was difficult to find any writings in colloquial in Morocco.

While I was living in Rabat from 2009 until 2015 I noticed a strong increase in the use of Darija in writing (and in other domains as well, in media, in political discourse). Due to COVID, I was unable to visit Morocco in 2020 and 2021, but when I finally was able to go and see my old friends last spring, I was surprised by the increased presence of written colloquial in public space. It is obvious the pace of developments has increased during the last few years. I noticed the pandemic has also influenced the use of written colloquial by government institutions. I had already observed this at home, watching Moroccan TV broadcasts.

I have tried to keep track of these changes since 1983, with varying intensity over the years, and created a collection of written texts, about which I publish on an irregular basis on my website.

Hopefully, other Arabists have done the same to document this development in other Arab countries.


What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

After missing 3 months of classes (civil engineering) for medical reasons, a student counselor advised me to travel a bit and resume studying the next year. I made a trip to Saudi Arabia, with a friend who was a truck driver. That trip changed my life.


Which three people would you like to invite for dinner?

  • Jacob Gool aka Golius: he compiled the first Arabic-Latin dictionary
  • Hans Wehr (no introduction needed)
  • Roel Otten: my teacher of Arabic, with whom I am still working on the dictionary of Moroccan Arabic

STUDY TIP: Jan Hoogland’s FREE Advanced Media Arabic website

Jan Hoogland provides high-quality Media Arabic learning material for free. You can find it on his website https://nagore.pythonanywhere.com/

Note: It’s a good idea to visit the explanatory page first to get the most benefit from it.

Screenshot Media Arabic Text Collection (MATC)source: Gerald Drißner | All Rights Reserved

What was the last great meal you had?

Lunch at the home of my successor in Rabat (Prof. Léon Buskens, director of NIMAR) prepared by his cook Malika who used to be our cook between 2009 and 2015.


What is your favorite city?

Fez, Morocco. The old city of Fez (l’mdina as it is called) is an enormous time machine.

medina of Fez, Morocco
Flickr album about Fez by Jan Hoogland

Which book would you give to a dear friend?

Hot Maroc, either in Arabic or in translation (see above, question 3). I have not read the English translation made by Alexander Elinson, but I have full confidence in him.

Remark: Alexander E. Elinson’s translation was shortlisted for The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize 2022 for Arabic Literary Translation. Here is an interview with Alexander E. Elinson:

with the translator Alexander E. Elinson

What is your all-time favorite movie?

Ratataplan (1979). I can’t remember to have laughed more than during that movie.

Since this is a serious platform, I will also mention a (very) serious movie: رجال في الشمس (Men in the Sun), also known as المخدوعون (The Dupes), a film after the story by the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani (غسان كنفاني). I will never forget the final images of that movie.

What’s the plot of المخدوعون?

This sad movie, which gets to you emotionally, is one of the 100 most important films of Arab cinema. The film deals with the consequences of the Nakba (النكبة), the destruction of Palestinian society and homeland in 1948 and the permanent displacement of most of the Palestinian Arabs.

The story is told through three Palestinians from different generations and circumstances. They have nothing in common except their attempt to reach Kuwait searching for a better life. Director: Tawfik Saleh (توفيق صالح).

Film poster The Dupessource: el-cinema

What’s the plot of Ratataplan?

Unemployed and shy Colombo (actor: Maurizio Nichetti) is an engineer but can’t find a job. He has one disappointment after another.

Hence, he tries to strike back with ingenious inventions. In his place, he sends a robot that looks like him to contact the woman he adores, but the result is a literal short circuit.

Film poster Ratataplan

What music do you listen to?

While working: various lounge music. I am not a great fan of , but Marcel Khalifa has always been a favorite of me. I also regularly listen to Souad Massi and Cheb Khaled. After 45 years of “working with Arabic” I finally started to discover Fairuz.


When were you happiest?

During the years I was working and living in Rabat. I was director of NIMAR, which I had founded myself.

We were teaching Arabic to Dutch students. I could see students sitting there, studying and making use of “my” dictionary of Arabic or my textbook of Moroccan Arabic, in “my” institute, being taught by “my” great staff.


What is your greatest fear?

That the Arab world will remain as it is now, that dictatorships and human rights violations continue, and the people continue to suffer from the ruthlessness of all these autocratic regimes.


What is your life motto?

Be prepared if an opportunity arises.


Jan Hoogland, thank you for your time.

People who were also interviewed:


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