Xinhua reports that the first 3 volumes of a new all-Tibetan dictionary will be published within 2015, with another 27 to be gradually launched through the end of 2018 (新版《藏文大辞典》). The aim seems to be to create the Tibetan equivalent of the much respected《辞海》(Cihai), the large-scale dictionary and encyclopedia of the Chinese language.
Anyone who follows the PRC’s dictionary scene knows that the Chinese authorities can be more than a tad political about these reference tools – which script they employ, which words make the cut (or don’t), and crucially, who actually edits them.
The news item informs us that there are some 8 million potential end-users out there in China, Bhutan, Nepal and India. Given that about 120,000 Tibetan refugees are located in India (source: Wikipedia), many of whom have been educated in English and have unfettered access to the Internet (unlike their compatriots who live behind the Great Firewall of China), one might imagine some ethnic Tibetan scholars in India have been invited to take part in the compilation. Or academics worldwide, for that matter.
There was nothing in the news item about whether anyone outside mainland China would play a part in the massive project. Over the years I have used and/or reviewed many dictionaries compiled in China (see Turkish-Chinese Dictionary or Vaporware), and the prevailing spirit is well captured in an old Chinese idiom: Fabricating a cart behind closed doors (闭门造车). In fact, it wasn’t until recently that Taiwan-based scholars began to be officially consulted about all-Chinese dictionaries, a development that has helped to make them more inclusive and representative of Chinese as it is actually used worldwide.
Just take a look at one of China’s leading works, The Chinese-English Dictionary (《汉英大辞典》，吴光华主编) published in 2010: Well over 500 names of compilers/editors are listed for the past and current three editions, but not one is in English, and none of the names look faintly non-Chinese, i.e., have more than 3 syllables, etc.
Granted, many of these experts may be native English speakers, or very fluent English speakers living in the West, but I think you get my meaning — the publisher obviously wanted to suggest that this 2,288-page classic was Made-in-China. Frankly speaking, most any native English speaker would know this without poring over the editorial board list, because a good portion of the English in the dictionary is just plain . . . weird.
Enough of that. A few neat factoids about the new Tibetan dictionary:
- It will be entirely in Tibetan. Most earlier efforts were Chinese-Tibetan, English-Tibetan or Chinese-Tibetan-English editions.
- One of the earliest and most popular dictionaries, A Tibetan-English Dictionary with Sanskrit Synonyms, published in 1902 , was compiled by Indian scholar (and reputed British spy) Sarat Chandra Das.
- Despite the fact that they were completed quite some time ago, 《藏汉大辞典》 (1985, edited by a dozen or so scholars in China) and 《东嘎藏学大辞典》 (2002, the fruit of over a period of half century of work by 东嘎·洛桑赤烈) are reportedly still popular highly regarded by China-based scholars today.