Language and Linguistics
Ashok R. Kelkar



Available material


The Dictionaries of modern Indian languages can be classified in various ways:           

(a) According to the number of languages covered:

             1. Monolingual    2. Bilingual    3. Multilingual.


(b) According to the status of language provided for:

1. Standard or literary language in the eight scheduled;

                           2. Non- standard dialect or language associated with standard language;

                            3. Languages or dialects scheduled tribes.


(c) According to the scope of the coverage (especially in the case of standard or literary languages in the eight scheduled of constitution of India).


1)      comprehensive coverage of the various historical stages including the contemporary stage;

2)      coverage chiefly of the contemporary  stage;

3)      Coverage of some portion of the vocabulary delimited according to the subject-matter etc.


The principal bibliographies of the published material with language-wise classification are the following:

India (Republic). Ministry of Education, National Library. A Bibliography of dictionaries, findings encyclopedias in the Indian languages. Calcutta: National library, 1964.


Pattnayak, Debi Prasanna. Indian languages bibliography of grammar, Dictionaries and teaching materials: A preliminary publication. New Delhi: the educational resource centre, 1967.


Roy Burman, B.K. bibliography in tribal languages. New Delhi; social studies and handicrafts unit, office of the registrar general, no date.


A perusal of these bibliographies will show that at least quantitatively the following areas are fairly adequately provided for: Monolingual dictionaries (a, 1)


English - Indian languages dictionaries (a, 2)

Hindi-Indian languages dictionaries (a.2)

Languages of the eighth schedule (b, 1)

 Coverage chiefly of the contemporary stage (c, 2)

While the following are poorly represented:

Indian languages-English dictionaries (a, 2; those listed tend to be outdated or out of print) Indian languages-Hindi dictionaries (a, 2)

Indian languages-Indian languages Dictionaries other than those noted separately (a, 2; for example: Marathi-Bengali, Urdu-Tamil, etc).


Non-standard speech forms associated with the standard language (b, 2)


Specialised vocabularies (c, 3; other than more English-Indian languages, Indian languages-English listings without explanation of any kind).


Most of the material has been published in India or (before 1947) in England with government of India support in some form.


The quality of the material


In the matter of externals such as the quality of paper, printing and binding, typography, etc, there is a good deal of  variation depending on the place of publication and region and on the auspices of publication  (government, University, private scholarly work institutions, commercial Publications, etc) the following observations may be made:


a)      Pictures, diagrams, and other visual aids are virtually unknown; if present at all, they tend to be of poor quality.

b)      In commercial publications there is sometimes variation within the same edition-some copies will be printed on better paper ands be bound better and will be the first to be circulated, later copies of the same edition or later reprinting being of poor quality.

c)      Multi-volumes dictionaries are hardly ever reprinted; single volume dictionaries that have proved to be popular tend to be reprinted without any revisions, improvements, or supplements. The practice of incorporating addenda and corrigenda sent by the readers is, needless to say, unknown.

d)       So far as accuracy of printing is concerned, Marathi, Gujarati and a good deal of Hindi material attains reasonable high standards; about other languages the present writer is not in a position to say.

e)       The device of cross-references and entries consisting solely of cross-reference is either unknown or exploited in a limited and a haphazard manner.

f)        Typographical devices such as use of different type- faces, symbols, spacing and layout only to be exploited.

g)      There is a very little attempt the standardize and define clearly alphabetization, orthography, shapes of letters where options exist (as with conjunct consonants), and the like.


The best way of assessing the contents of these dictionaries will be to set out what the typical single entry will look like. It may be noted that there is on the whole realization that this format can be significantly manipulated to suit the special purpose of the dictionary. Items which are optional i.e. (missing in most of the Less ambitious dictionaries) are marked with an asterisk.


              (a) Entry  word in the local script

            *(b) Translation in Roman or Devanagari.

              (c) Origin tag-Sanskrit, Persian, English, etc.

              (d) Part of speech tag.

            *(e) Sub-class tag- gender of a noun, transitivity of a verb (little or no information on declensional or conjugational types or irregularities).


               (f) String of glosses-*(with some punctuation structuring).

             *(g) Idioms with glosses.

             *(h) Citations from literary texts.

             *(i) Etymology.


This is obviously a rather hand to mouth scheme especially when the starred items are missing, as they are in most single volume dictionaries. There is of course some recognition the dictionary making is a scholarly activity- though hack work abundant, but little conception that any specialized knowledge or skill will be required; in particular there is no relationship with either descriptive or dialectological linguistics. It is not uncommon to find that trained linguistics are missing in the Staff of ambitious dictionary projects even after the advent of linguistic studies in India either 1950’s. This has led to some serious lacunae in these dictionaries with the exception of recent specialized work done outside India. This are-


a)      Information on pronunciation is usually missing; in general spoken languages neglected.


b)      There is no co-ordination with grammar - no listing of morphological irregularities or details about syntactic peculiarities.


c)      In selecting an entry word or citation for inclusion no consistent policies are formulated- for example, a comprehensive dictionaries will include data from earlier stages, non-standard dialects, or associated  literary languages ( example classical Sanskrit or Braj or of Avadhi in Hindi dictionaries).


Without discrimination, consistent labeling, or consistency of  coverages).

d)      Etymological information is often innocent of the techniques of historical linguistics.


In dictionary making it is inevitable that later work will tend to take over a good deal from earlier dictionaries. This is however often carried to an excess. Errors will be safely handed down through generations. The publication of the new dictionary may be undertaken without even any pretence to fresh spadework.


In general the picture is not a very bright one.

Some recommendations.

1)      In general, trained linguistic should have a greater hand in the planning and execution of dictionaries. This means that students of linguistics will have to overcome their reluctance to face long drawn out project and plain drudgery; and that traditional scholars will have to get over-come their hostility or indifference to linguistics.


2)      In the matter of providing glosses requiring specialized information of Flora, Fauna, Music, Medicine, Ritual, etc. The practice of seeking the cooperation of specialists should be encouraged.


3)      There should be clear separation between dictionaries recording past or present usage and between technical dictionaries recommending new usage or new terms for the future. In case there is some practical need to combine the two kinds of work they should be clear labeling in this matter.


4)      Explicit discussions and conscious formulation of policies on such matters as transliteration, phonetic transcription, alphabetization, abbreviations, typography and other externals of Dictionary making should be encouraged.


5)      In encouraging a dictionary project specific case should be taken that the scholarly preliminaries are available. For example, there is no point in undertaking a dialect Dictionary without a dialect survey having been undertaken. Again a historical dictionary on the lines of the Oxford English dictionary is not feasible if the large body of text properly edited and clearly assigned to periods and regional dialects is not available.


6)      The possibility of modern methods of mechanization, the use of punch cards, sorting machines, computers, tape recording, photocopying should be thoroughly explored and built into a project from the start. The present writer has known cases where even ordinary card filing is shirked too fashionable or too costly


7)      Even care should be taken to preserve the cards and other material even after the dictionary is published. Such material has to been known to have been sold away as waste paper in the past because no one was willing to arrange for the storage. Such stored material should, of course, be accessible to scholars.


8)      Bilingual dictionaries especially in the different areas like the following should be undertaken: Indian English, Indian Hindi, foreign Indian where ‘ Indian’ stands for any of the modern languages in the eight schedule and foreign stands for the modern foreign languages like French, Russian, Sinhalese, modern Arabic,etc; specialized vocabularies where the entry word is properly defined and explained.


9)      The use of pictorial aids should be encouraged. Perhaps good quality pictures could be made available on an all India basis to ensure low costs.

10)   In distributing paper quotas the case for a dictionary should receive a sympathetic consideration.


11)  Experimentation with different methods of presentation from the point of view of book production and of scholarly and scientific considerations is important and should be encouraged. Good dictionaries published by private publishers should be given prizes, subsidy to bulk orders, etc. Since experimenting with the Whole book is costly, specimen entries or blocks of entries should be produced and widely canvassed. Perhaps Indian linguistics in collaboration with publishers and projects can bring out a lexicography number every two years. Recommendations for above should also be borne in mind in this connection. A linguistic scientist who may be unwilling to shoulder the responsibility of a whole dictionary may be wiling to produce model entries which will serve others.


12)   The team for any ambitious projects specially when it is claims to give etymological or a comparative information should includes scholars of the other relevant modern and Classical languages (for example, Marathi knowing, and Sanskrit knowing scholars for a Kannada dictionary).


13)   In providing for the study of tribal languages, descriptive analysis and lexicography can go hand in hand. They is really no room now for publishing work by untrained amateurs.


The views expressed in this report are expressed by me in my personal capacity.



This was presented at a national conference on dictionary-making in Indian languages, CIIL, Mysore, March1970 and published in Lexicography in India of proceedings… Mysore: CIIL, 1980, page 228-234.