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Urdu's first comprehensive dictionary

Karachi, June 9(The News): The recent printing of 21st volume of the Urdu Dictionary has enabled the Urdu Dictionary Board to be nearer to its goal of compiling the Urdu words from beginning to the end. The 22nd volume that will appear in about 18 months will conclude the gigantic work that began in 1958 under the watchful eyes of Baba-e-Urdu, Maulvi Abdul Haque.

The Dictionary contains nearly all the words spoken by the Urdu-speaking diaspora all over the world. Dr Rauf Parekh, the current Editor-in-Chief of the Urdu Dictionary explained that Urdu was the language of those who speak it. It is not confined to a certain geographical part and has no centre now as it once had in Delhi, Lucknow, Hyderabad and some other parts of India. "It is a universal language and in Pakistan it is spoken in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and other parts of the country. It is wrong to say that Urdu belongs to any particular ethnic group". Parekh has a Masters and PhD degrees in Urdu from the University of Karachi, speaks accent-free and flawless Urdu, though he comes from a Memon family.

The idea about an Urdu Dictionary on the pattern of Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was first floated in the Osmania University, Hyderabad (Deccan) in early forties but it could only be realised in Pakistan in 1958. Parekh pointed out that it took 70 years for OED to get its first edition published in 1928 though the British Empire was ruling the waves at the time. It was a remarkable feat to have the complete dictionary in less than 60 years in Pakistan, with limited resources especially for educational purposes.

The compiling process of the dictionary starts with the foreign scholars engaged by the Board reading the classical work in Urdu literature and noting down the words that interested them. The word is written on a paper with the name of the book, name of the author and page number. The editors read it, check for any mistake and then pass it to the Chief Editor who gives the final nod for its inclusion in the dictionary. Scholars also read the books of the contemporary Indian writers and writers from other parts of the world.

The key to the usage of the dictionary shows how exhaustive the publication is. It gives the relevant diacritical mark with each word - zer, zabar or pesh - which helps in the pronunciation. It also mentions the gender of each word, which makes it helpful to those who were not weaned on the language.

Thus anyone in doubt can consult the dictionary to know which is correct dahi khatta hai or dahi khatti hai. Like Hindi, a sister language of Urdu, French, German and scores of other languages but unlike English, Urdu has only two genders. On the other hand, English gives you two more - neutral and common genders, but English poses a major problem for non-native speakers - the use of prepositions. You study in the university, but you are on the campus for eight hours.

Urdu has adopted (and even adapted) words from different languages. Dr Rauf Parekh and his team, not to speak of their predecessors, have listed 19 languages from which the headwords have been taken and the languages are from Europe and Asia. They include such lesser known ones as Avesta, which is the older version of Persian and Abrani (Hebrew).

All parts of speech whether normally used in Urdu writing or not are also indicated and so are the keys to pronunciation. Thus anyone can find out how the word bilkul is written and how it is pronounced. Then there is the key to a fairly long list of punctuation marks.

The advantage with the dictionary under review is that like the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary and unlike the 20th Century Dictionary, it is both a core dictionary and a usage dictionary. Thus one gets to see a variety of usage of headwords. What makes the work unique is that it has quoted examples not just from prose pieces' but also from verses to illustrate the use of the concerned words.

Since this dictionary is meant only for scholars, work on its shorter version in single volume for students and general public will begin soon after the 22nd volume is printed.
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