CMU-Q explores Qatari dialects and draws an interactive map to preserve heritage – News

March 07, 2022

Research project tracks social and geographic variation, creating digital tool to explore Qatari dialect usage

Languages ​​are a main driver of personal interactions and intercultural communication, embodying heritage and reflecting the development of civilizations and societies. Thus, languages ​​constantly evolve and change from the interaction of the various components of society.

One of the latest research goals of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q), a partner university of the Qatar Foundation, is to explore and analyze dialects in Qatar.

“Our main goal is to broaden Qatar’s knowledge base with respect to Qatari dialect, heritage, culture and identity,” said Zeinab Ibrahim, a teaching professor of Arabic studies and the project’s principal researcher. creation of an interactive map of Qatar. dialect. The project is funded by the National Priorities Research Program of the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF). Principal investigators include Houda Bouamor, assistant professor of information systems education at CMU-Q, as well as Aisha Sultan from Doha International Family Institute and Hany Abdelrhem from Georgetown University in Qatar.

For the project, the research team traces the social and geographic variations of the Qatari dialect over generations and creates a digital tool to explore pronunciation, usage and expressions.

Ibrahim said she believes CMU-Q’s research can help preserve and promote Arabic language learning in Qatar.

“I’ve been living in Qatar for a while now, and noticed a lack of references on the local dialect which has changed over the years. Also, a lot of people move and work here and would like to learn the Qatari dialect, but there is no reference or manual available for it,” she said. “Thus, the result of this research effort can be used to develop programs that help Qatari students learn Standard Arabic.”

Bouamor is working on the second part of the project: evaluating the use of the Qatari dialect from a computational linguistic point of view.

“Looking at the way people write on social media, for example, we notice that they use either English or the Qatari dialect. It is therefore important to establish references of the linguistic resources used,” said Bouamor. “Dialects differ from country to country, even within the Persian Gulf. The Emirati dialect differs from Kuwaiti, for example. So we need to do some real research to find out if there is a general dialect” of gulf” or if each country has its own specific dialect.

“We notice that many people over 60, for example, use different language expressions than those used by young people in their twenties. So we have to monitor these changes and draw up a reference map,” she said. declared.

Main challenges of the project

As part of efforts to develop an interactive linguistic map of the Qatari dialect, the research team is working on collecting data from native speakers and collecting linguistic vocabulary in its basic form. With the participation of Qatari researchers, the project features interviews with Qatari individuals with the aim of establishing standard written conventions for the Qatari dialect, and digitizing and analyzing this information using language processing techniques. natural and machine learning.

Hamed Al-Qahtani is a research assistant on the project and represents the Bedouin dialect.

“As part of our work, we had to conduct interviews with people of different ages addressing five specific themes relating to heritage and ancient customs and their evolution over time, as well as the nature of past work and the difference between the past and the present,” Al-Qahtani said. “We also asked participants about their views on contemporary issues, such as Qatar hosting the World Cup.”

The research effort faced several challenges, the biggest of which was gaining people’s trust to speak naturally and spontaneously, said Delma Al-Hajri, another research assistant.

“Among the difficulties we have encountered is the reluctance of some people to participate in the interviews. Some were not interested in the subject, or did not want the conversation to be recorded for reasons of confidentiality, although they were assured that the information would be used for research purposes only,” Al-Qahtani noted. “The young participants were the most excited about the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, while others expressed interest in discussing Qatari heritage, working traditions and ancient customs.”

Another challenge researchers have faced is the overlapping dialects between geographic areas.

“One of the requirements of our work is to document the name of the region in which we are conducting the interview. However, there is national overlap in terms of residence and lineage. Previously, Bedouins lived in non-urban areas , but that’s not the case today, which posed a real challenge for researchers.” Al-Qahtani said.

Al-Hajri said the project will give people a better understanding of their local dialect.

“This project will gracefully frame the Qatari dialect, preserving it from the many impurities we see today. During my research, I found that some people tend to deny their authentic Bedouin dialect and use urban terms to sound sophisticated,” she said.

Bedouin versus urban

Discussing the results of the project, Professor Ibrahim said the research highlights gender-based differences, as well as variations between Qatari generations and Bedouin and urban populations.

“Using Modern Standard Arabic can allow teachers to better help students overcome some common language errors. It can also help, for example, to develop a book dealing specifically with the Qatari dialect,” she said. declared.

The research project also provides a valuable resource that can be leveraged to create different tools that automatically process the Qatari dialect, starting with creating the linguistic map of Qatar, Bouamor said.

“From a computational perspective, this is a great resource. For example, we can draw a map showing where specific words are more commonly used, which is one of the main goals of this project” , she added. “From a neuro-linguistic programming perspective, we can build a morphological analysis tool using machine learning. Another application is to build machine translation systems or tools to search for documents and information using a purely local dialect.”

Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar offers undergraduate programs in biological sciences, business administration, computer science and information systems. Students can choose to pursue a minor in Arabic Studies or more than a dozen other fields.

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