Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 7, 1990 p. 21.

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Shamsur Rahman Faruqi


Urdu presents a number of peculiar problems to the dictionary maker. Some of these are there because lexicographers so far have chosen to ignore the living reality of the language and have played strictly according to the book. Yet the trouble is that there is no book, except the usage of poets. And the usage of poets has been conditioned by the high respect which non-Prakritic words commanded during the middle period of the language a period which is often held to be the high point when the language stabilized. I mean, of course, the 18th century, and especially the sixty years between 1720 and 1780. (The first two dictionaries of the language, incidentally, were composed between circa 1700 and area 1743.) Yet other problems owe their origin to the fact that most lexicographers had but a dim idea of what a dictionary should be. More particularly, they failed to determine a workable definition of the term "word" workable, that is, for the purposes of a dictionary. They weren't clear about what kinds of words should be entered. They often failed to distinguish between "definition" and "meaning," and frequently satisfied themselves with offering an equivalent or approximate translation instead of definition or meaning. And lastly, there are problems which are inherent in the language. Some of these have been solved ad hominem by some lexicographers; authoritative or widely accepted solutions are wanting. It will be my endeavor in this paper to discuss some of the more notable problems in each category, and to offer tentative or even firm suggestions. I want to show that even the best existing dictionaries are insufficient as teaching aids, especially to a non-native speaker aiming to instruct non-native pupils. My aim is not to belittle the honorable and highly respectable work done by Indian, British and Pakistani dictionary makers over the last 300 or so years. God knows that I am no lexicographer myself. But that is an advantage perhaps. For as an outsider, I can see the forest better, and not be trapped by the undergrowth or by the thick growing trees and dead wood which often trip the professional lexicographer.

I know that in my own way I am as much liable to be snapped at, if not swallowed entirely, by the crocodile of error as my more honourable predecessors were liable to fall into Charybdis while intent on avoiding Scylla. For example, I have said that lexicographers so far have chosen to ignore the living reality of the language. Now what do I mean by "living reality"? Well, in the present context, I merely mean the language as it is spoken by educated native speakers. I know that this raises more problems than it solves: How to determine who is an educated native speaker? Which part of the country should that chimerical personage come from? If he is to be from Delhi, should a karkhandari speaker also qualify? If he is to be

Annual of Urdu Studies, #7 21

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