Commonly known as Lane’s Lexicon, this is the most meticulous and thorough Arabic-English dictionary ever produced. Because of its clarity and logical structure, it is even used extensively by serious modern Arab linguists.
The English scholar Edward Lane spent decades collating, translating and summarising material from classical Arabic dictionaries. He added notations, references and comments which gives modern students unparalleled access, in a single dictionary, to the work of all the major classical lexicographers.
The clarity and logical structure of Lane’s work can only fully be appreciated by comparing it to the sources from which Lane drew, such as Lisān al-‘Arab or al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ. In many ways, Lane’s Lexicon has made the use of classical Arabic dictionaries almost obsolete for the English speaking student; almost, but not quite.
For one thing, Lane’s dictionary is incomplete. He died before he could finish it, and so beyond the letter qāf there are incomplete notes only, which are nonetheless still of considerable value. As well as this, some of the more obscure Arabic words (even before the letter qāf) are not covered at all.
Also, it is very, very detailed! This is truly a dictionary for the advanced student. A student who is not yet ready for it will simply be overwhelmed, and it will hinder rather than aid his or her progress.
As a rule, don’t start using Lane’s Lexicon until you are reasonably comfortable reading both modern and classical Arabic texts, are able to use a basic classical Arabic-Arabic dictionary, and are finding that your understanding of classical texts is hindered by your not having detailed enough information about word usage.
Because this is a classical multi-volume Arabic dictionary, it would be both impractical and unhelpful to use it modern Arabic texts, such as newspapers – as with Hava, you won’t find the words for ‘car’ or ‘computer’ in here.
Even if you have no real interest in modern Arabic, you will still need a modern Arabic-English dictionary, such as Hans Wehr, which, if used in conjunction with Lane’s Lexicon, will alert you to which words are more commonly used in Arabic today, and how, if at all, their meanings have changed.
In conclusion, if used at the right stage of your Arabic education, this dictionary will form an absolutely essential (if costly) accession to you Arabic library.