Sometimes I am (not to put too fine a point upon it) an idiot. I recently expressed wild enthusiasm for the online version of Platts without ever noticing that at the top of the Platts page was the rubric Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. Today, in order to make a point in a comment, I Googled “Hobson-Jobson” and was directed to this page; this time I did notice the rubric, clicked on it, and was taken here. I boggled. My friends, I’m here to tell you that the good people at The South Asia Language and Area Center at University of Chicago, Columbia University, and the Triangle South Asia Consortium in North Carolina are putting online every major dictionary available for their area of focus.
The first name that caught my eye was Steingass. Once I had found Platts online, I began wishing that someone would publish Steingass the same way; it’s the classic Persian-English dictionary, full of obscure words and usages often tossed together in a blender (“par, Past, elapsed; heretofore; last year; a bit, a piece; a skin, a tanned hide; flight”) and, as my beloved Gaffarov (Persidsko-russkii slovar’, 1914-28) says, not based reliably on either authentic Persian texts or actual conversational usage, but indispensable all the same. I’ve often looked longingly at it in libraries and the Librairie de France in Rockefeller Center (ridiculously overpriced—I never buy anything there—but a great place to gawk at dictionaries), but could never afford it (it’ll set you back over a hundred dollars). Suddenly, there it was, the whole thing online for free. I should point out that it can be maddening to use, especially online; for instance, if you’re looking for pur ‘full’ you will come up empty—there is no such listing, even though there are plenty of compounds, e.g., pur-a-pur, ‘Filled to the brim, quite full.’ You have to go to par ‘A wing; a feather; a leaf; the arm from the collar-bone to the tip of the finger; the sails or paddles of a mill; a side, skirt, or margin; leaf of a tree; light, ray; (imp. of paridan, in comp.) flying’ and look down past all the compounds of that word until you get to “pur, Full; laden, charged; complete; much, very; too much, too.” It’s written the same in Perso-Arabic script, you see, so it’s part of the same entry. Which is particularly ridiculous since, as they demurely admit at the bottom of the seach page, “Perso-Arabic script is not yet displaying.” (Speaking of which, in case you’re wondering at the two different citations for par quoted above, the first has long a and is thus written differently, with an alif. This points up another problem with using the online transliteration: you can’t tell the length of vowels. They really should be using a more informative transliteration, like the one explained here.) But details, details… the important thing is that all that information is right there at my fingertips, and at yours.
And beyond the books already online, they’re working on still more: for you Sanskrit fans, for instance, they’re encoding Macdonell and Monier-Williams and negotiating license agreements for Apte. Here’s their statement of purpose:
For each of the twenty-six modern literary languages of South Asia, a panel of language experts identified key dictionaries currently in print and selected at least one multilingual dictionary for each language. For the more frequently taught languages, a monolingual dictionary also has been chosen. After identifying the best available resources, the chosen dictionaries have been converted to digital formats. The results of this conversion are available to readers through this site on the World Wide Web, by means of standard file transfer protocol, or by compact disc. There is no charge for access via the Internet and the compact discs are available for the cost of duplication and mailing.
Bless their little hearts!
And now, as a reward for those who have slogged through this long and technical post, a pair of tidbits:
1) From my battered old 1970 edition of Webster’s Biographical Dictionary, the following magnificent name (discovered in a vain search for Steingass): “Alidius Warmoldus Lambertus Tjarda van Starkenborgh Stachouwer, 1888– . Dutch diplomat and administrator.” Alidius has since passed on, but his many-barreled name survives to awe future generations.
2) No-sword has been on a roll. Read his latest (06-14) entry “The shirt” and then scroll down to “Awesome baboon article” (06-12). You’ll laugh till you cry.