“Modern Dictionary with New Methods”

Come one, come all. There is a new dictionary for sale in Asmara. It’s by Dr. Kidanemariam and he worked 10 years to make it a reality. Just amazing.

A new monolingual, Tigrinya-Tigrinya, dictionary entitled, roughly translated into “Modern Dictionary with New Method,” by Dr. Kidanemariam Zerezghi was launched on October 24, 2008 at Emba Soyra Hotel here in Asmara.

Wow. That’s great. I really wish I was there to pick it up and thumb it through. However when reading the article something caught my eye…

The number of alphabets makes the Tigrinya language more complicated for preparing a dictionary and in making alphabetical arrangement. The language has 41 alphabets but Dr. Kidanemariam reduced them to 21, without any major change on sound, where users could find the meaning of words easily. “It is more convenient to understand and memorize,” he said during the launching ceremony.

Woah, is he “cutting out” some letters?

Can he do that? Well, I guess he can, since anyone can do anything (there’s already enough ways to spell the language -Tigrigna, Tigrinya, Tigrina, Tigriña, etc-). But is he just not going to use them….ever? Or did he choose, for example, that since so few words start with the letter family “ቐ” it’s okay to change them all to the “ቀ” family? If so, what ones did he leave out and what ones did he use to replace them? If this quote is accurate (I’m guessing it is), having just 21 letter groupings in your dictionary is ridiculously small. I can’t see the fidelat being shortened by that much without losing important family groupings.

I mean, at just ~3,700 words and 57 pages my dictionary is very tiny compared to his amazing 1200-page hard-bound copy, but even I found many common words like “ቛንቛ” that used the rare “ቘ” family. I couldn’t knowingly change that, I just don’t have the authority to make such a mark. Although, I should point out that Dr. Kidanemariam probably (most likely) has much more authority then I to make such decisions.

I guess, my main point isn’t that he needs to use all ~360 fidels of the full extended version; but question how could he write such a great dictionary and avoid using the other -roughly- 20 families? I think that’s just impossible. I suppose you could spell a word like “ጓል” as “ግዋል” but you are looking at some major changes to very basic words.

So, I (very humbly) question as to why he would be taking such a prescriptive (rather then descriptive) approach. He cited “ease of use” as his primary reason for doing so, but if his work is not accurately reflecting common usage how valuable will it be for people as a set standard of Tigrigna? This is one of the reasons why prescriptive approaches don’t work.

I guess as an amateur lexicographer, I favor a descriptive approach to my “work;” any value judgment that I make will end up being wrong to someone. However, I can sympathize with his plight, as it can be hard to stay descriptive when the language you’re trying to describe is just so darn complex (I’m not, myself, even a native speaker of Tigrigna).

In the end, I am not very fussy about such details. I greatly laud his work and his ten year commitment to the Tigrigna language (wow).

What I have tried to do is just making a little contribution

I think you have done more than just that and it is much needed and much appreciated. I hope this will be the start to Eritreans developing our native languages. Maybe the next step is a Tigre-Tigre dictionary?

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October 27, 2008  Tags: , ,   Posted in: Eritrea, language, Linguistics, Tigrigna

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  1. Qeyḥ bāḥrī » Modern Dictionary with New Methods - part 2 - December 11, 2008

    […] format and they ask him a few questions (ones strangely similar to the question I asked in my last blog entry) about his methods. Here is an excerpt: What was the new method you found? And was it […]