At Deccan College in Pune (Poona) they’ve been working on a massive Sanskrit-English dictionary since 1948—and are still on the letter A. It’s true they don’t have computers (“‘We’re hoping for computers in one or two years,’ said Kshirsagar, not sounding very hopeful”), but that still seems awfully slow, and “political pressure is growing to finish the project.” You can read all about it here. Me, I’m perfectly happy with my Monier-Williams, and there’s a fair amount of lexical material on the web (including a search function for Monier-Williams), but more power to them. I just wish they wouldn’t say things like “The language is agonizingly complex and after 40 years even Bhatta can seldom just open a book and understand it.” After a couple of semesters of Sanskrit you can read it pretty well; of course there are authors who delight in using rare words and elaborate constructions, as there are in most cultures, but the language is no more “agonizingly complex” than any other. (Thanks to Gail Armstrong for the link… and happy anniversary!)


  1. And who is Bhatta? After a quick Google search I discovered that he is the chief editor of the Deccan College dictionary project.

  2. Yes, as it says at the beginning of the article I linked: “Vinayaka Bhatta, chief editor of Deccan College’s dictionary project, reads in the workroom at the college in Pune, India.” He’s trying to impress everyone with the difficulty and importance of his chosen task, which is only human.

  3. I got the impression from the article that these were not necessarily the sharpest Sanskritists in the shed (possibly political appointees or pork barrel employees), and also surmised that they read everything in terms of 2-millenia-plus of interpretive commentary. As if you were teaching Hebrew as a language while taking into account everything the Scotists, Kabbalists, Anabaptists, Christian Scientists, and Mormons ever said about the Bible.
    “The Hindus have no sense of time”. Another stereotype refuted.

  4. Yeah, I hesitated to say anything, but I have to admit I got much the same impression.

  5. Are you collecting?
    Salah Niazi: The Arabic language is one of the oldest languages in the world.
    (Straight outta the s lot.)
    It has distressingly few words for snö, however – how does Sanskrit measure up in this vital metric?

  6. Sanskrit has a million words for everything (hence the protracted labors of the struggling Sanskritists of Poona), but yer basic word for ‘snow’ is hima (as seen in Himalaya, ‘abode of snow’), which is satisfyingly related to Armenian jiun ‘snow’ and Gk. khion, as well as a bunch of words for ‘winter’: Lat. hiems, Lith. zhiema, Slavic zima.

  7. I suppose the concept of a speaker’s “active vocabulary” isn’t as useful in the context of a dead (exqueeze me, scholarly) language.

  8. Anybody recall the propaganda wars of the 80’s regarding the choice of a language as an internal code in automatic translation systems?
    Some projects were simply choosing a language as an intermediary so an N-to-N translation problem could be simplified to an N-to-1-to-N problem. Others seemed to be doing something more complicated with regard to semantic analysis or lord knows what. But regardless, any language so chosen seemed to result in a flurry of press releases about how wonderfully cyber-spiffy the language was, no matter how obscure the project. My recollection was an arms race among Esperanto, Sanskrit and something indigenous from South America — Aymara, maybe? I think Lojban might have been in the running somewhere, too.
    I never heard that any of the projects got anywhere, although for all I know there’s a Sanskrit engine buried in the guts of Babelfish.

  9. “Some projects were simply choosing a language as an intermediary so an N-to-N translation problem could be simplified to an N-to-1-to-N problem.”
    “simplified to” hahahahaha. There would be so many errors it would be completely useless. See here.

  10. Guys, I’m wokring on digitilazing the Bothlingk dictionary, anybody interested in new electronical dictionarys?

  11. I’m seeking to know the origin or breakdown of the word “nagar” (as in Lajpat Nagar or nagar-paalikaa). Could someone help me, please? Thanks in advance!

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