OF MODERN INDIAN LANGUAGES: ASSESSMENT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Dictionaries of modern Indian languages can be classified in various
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
According to the scope of the coverage (especially in the case of
standard or literary languages in the eight scheduled of constitution
comprehensive coverage of the various historical stages including
the contemporary stage;
coverage chiefly of the contemporary stage;
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,
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,
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)
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tend to be outdated or out of print) Indian languages-Hindi dictionaries
Indian languages-Indian languages Dictionaries other than
those noted separately (a, 2; for example: Marathi-Bengali, Urdu-Tamil,
Non-standard speech forms associated with the standard language
Specialised vocabularies (c, 3; other than more English-Indian
languages, Indian languages-English listings without explanation of
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:
Pictures, diagrams, and other visual aids are virtually unknown; if
present at all, they tend to be of poor quality.
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.
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.
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.
The device of cross-references
and entries consisting solely of cross-reference is either unknown
or exploited in a limited and a haphazard manner.
Typographical devices such as use of different type- faces, symbols,
spacing and layout only to be exploited.
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.
Entry word in the local script
in Roman or Devanagari.
(c) Origin tag-Sanskrit, Persian, English,
(d) Part of speech tag.
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
*(g) Idioms with glosses.
*(h) Citations from literary texts.
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-
Information on pronunciation is usually missing; in general spoken
There is no co-ordination with grammar - no listing of morphological
irregularities or details about syntactic peculiarities.
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
Etymological information is often innocent of the techniques of historical
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The use of pictorial aids should be encouraged. Perhaps good quality
pictures could be made available on an all India basis to ensure low
In distributing paper quotas
the case for a dictionary should receive a sympathetic consideration.
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
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).
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
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.