Urdu dictionaries & European scholars
Urdu's early dictionaries and European scholars
Islamabad, Aug 27: When we have a look at the history of Urdu lexicography, we
realise that the early Urdu dictionaries were compiled mostly by
Europeans. But before the compilation of Urdu dictionaries, Urdu words
had started appearing in the Persian-Persian dictionaries compiled in
Interestingly, aside from a few early ones, most of the early
Persian-Persian dictionaries were compiled in the subcontinent in the
pre-Mogul era and these dictionaries are still considered authentic in
many respects even by Iranians. The earliest of Urdu dictionaries, if
they can truly be called so, though I doubt it, were the versified
wordbooks intended as textbooks. Known as 'Nisaab nama', these were the
kind of poems that explained the meanings of Persian and Arabic words in
Urdu/Hindi. 'Khaaliq baari' is one of the earliest such versified,
bilingual dictionary and is said to be compiled by Ameer Khusrau. Hafiz
Mahmood Sherani tried to establish that 'Khaaliq baari' was not
Khusrau's work and was compiled a few centuries later in the Mogul era.
Though some of his arguments and evidences were quite convincing, most
of Urdu's scholars still favour the idea that it was basically Khusrau's
work but was interpolated over the centuries.
Aside from 'Nisaab namas', 'Gharaib-ul-lughaat' is believed to be
Urdu's first regular or systematic dictionary. Strangely enough, this
'first ever dictionary of Urdu' enlists Urdu words but explains them in
Persian. It manifests the high pedestal the Persian language occupied in
the subcontinent until just a few centuries ago.
Compiled by Abdul Waase Haansvi in the late 17th century,
'Gharaib-ul-lughaat' was first concrete effort by a native. But
Sirajuddin Ali Khan Aarzoo (1687/88-1765) , a poet and
scholar of repute, severely criticised the dictionary and in doing so
wrote a treatise that became a piece of lexicography itself. Titled
'Navadir-ul-alfaaz', Aarzoo's work was later compiled and annotated by
Dr Syed Abdullah and published by Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu, giving it a
new lease of life.
But the earliest attempts at compiling an Urdu dictionary are much
older than that. Though they were of rudimentary nature and today we
would be reluctant to give them any status
higher than that of glossaries, Urdu owes much to the European scholars who compiled Urdu's early grammars and dictionaries.
Apparently, the Europeans arriving in the subcontinent had realised
that Hindustani (Urdu was often referred to as Hindustani with some
other slightly variant spellings by European
scholars back then) was the lingua franca of the land and they not only
began learning it but also compiling its grammar and dictionaries.
The dictionaries compiled by these Europeans were bilingual and in
some cases multilingual. For example, as G.A. Grierson (1851-1941) has
mentioned in his monumental work 'Linguistic survey of India' (which
gives information on nearly 350 languages and dialects) that a scholar
named Quartich had published in 1887 an 'Oriental Catalogue'. This
catalogue enlisted a manuscript of a dictionary that was in his
possession. It was a dictionary of Persian, Hindostani, English and
Portuguese compiled in Surat (Gujarat) probably as early as in 1630.
Quartich described the dictionary as "a great curiosity as being the
first work of its kind. It was probably compiled for the use of the
English factory at Surat. The Persian is given in native and Roman
letters, the Hindostani in Gujarati and Roman letters".
Grierson has made mention of another dictionary of Urdu compiled in
Surat. According to him, a Capuchin monk named Franciscus M. Turonensis
had completed it in 1704. He says that its manuscript, named 'Lexicon
Linguae Indostanicae', consisting of two volumes of about 500 pages
each, was said to be "preserved in the library of Propaganda in Rome,
but when I searched for it there in the year 1890, it could not be
John Joshua Ketelaer (also spelt KÖtelär, Kessler and Kettler) was a
Dutch envoy to India and in 1711he became Dutch East India Company's
director of Trade at Surat. He wrote a grammar and a vocabulary of the
'Lingua Hindostanica', which was, Grierson assumes, "composed about the
When David Mill published his 'Miscellanea Orientalia' in 1743, he
included Ketelaer's work in it. J. Ferguson published from London in
Roman characters his dictionary titled: 'A dictionary of the Hindustan
language'. It had two portions: English into Urdu and Urdu into English,
along with 'a grammar of the Hindustan language'.
John Borthwick Gilchrist has to his credit a large number of works on
Urdu grammar and vocabulary. His two-volume 'A dictionary, English and
Hindostanee', published from Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1787 and 1790,
proved to be the precursor to his other works on Urdu grammar and
In the 19th century we see a steady flow of Urdu's bilingual
dictionaries, mostly compiled by Europeans and they also include
dictionaries by William Kirkpatrick, Henry Harris, Joseph Taylor (with
William Hunter), T. Roberts and Thomas Roebuck. But the dictionary that
broke new grounds and became the foundation for later authentic works
was John Shakespear's 'A dictionary, Hindostani and English'. Published
in 1817 from London, its subsequent editions were updated and revised.
Its fourth edition (London, 1849) became a comprehensive English-Urdu
and Urdu-English dictionary. Duncan Forbes's 'A dictionary, Hindustani
and English' (London, 1848) and S.W. Fallon's 'A new Hindustani-English
dictionary' (Banaras and London, 1883) were quite authentic when they
first published. But John T. Platts' 'A dictionary of Urdu, classical
Hindi and English' (London, 1884) was perhaps the most comprehensive one
and often serves well even today. Fallon's dictionary is also very
helpful when it comes to Urdu's proverbs, idioms and rustic expressions.
The fact that is often ignored or not discussed at all while
narrating the theory or practice of Urdu lexicography is that these
European lexicographers of Urdu based their works on the research work
and data collected during the field work. Though these early
dictionaries were bilingual ones and not compiled by the natives, they
became the foundation on which the later day Urdu lexicographers built
their monolingual lexicographical works, i.e. Urdu-Urdu dictionaries.
Urdu's native lexicographers learnt a lot from their European
predecessors but what they could not follow more faithfully was the
practice of going into the field and collecting the data. Emphasising
the written word instead of the spoken one is the weakness that
undermines many Urdu-Urdu dictionaries. They not only ignore the
different pronunciation (emphasising the original Arabic or Persian
pronunciation) but sometimes tend to exclude the informal, rustic or
slang parlance. Fallon and Platts deserve praise for their field work
and samples of Urdu's dialects. Fallon is particularly very conscious
about women's slang, rustic expressions and local vocabulary as given in
songs. He even reproduces rustic songs and their English translations
which makes his dictionary all the more valuable and interesting, though
sometimes he goes overboard on vulgar and obscene terms.
On the other hand, our lexicographers compiling Urdu-Urdu
dictionaries, be it 'Farhang-i-Aasifya', 'Noor-ul-lughaat' or Urdu
Dictionary Board's 22-volume dictionary, prefer citations from
literature and are biased in favour of poetry and poetical expressions. -firstname.lastname@example.org. Dawn
Post your comments
ISS celebrates Independence Day
Islamabad: In order to celebrate the 66th Independence Day of Pakistan a ceremony was
held at the International School System, F-8/3, says a press release.
School Chairman Colonel (r) Mushtaq Ahmad presided the ceremony. The
event started with a march past and flag hoisting ceremony. Students of
the summer camp sang national songs and performed tableau expressing
their fervour and zeal.
In their speeches they put light
on struggle of Muslims of sub-continent for separate homeland and
problems faced by Pakistan during its initial years. A quiz was also
held to assess the knowledge about the important events and figures of
independence struggle. The news
Post your comments
KP schools awaiting monitoring system
Peshawar: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elementary and
secondary education department has failed to implement the decision it
took three years ago to streamline the affairs of the government primary
and middle schools in the province.
In 2009, the department had decided that principals of all government
high and higher secondary schools in the province would be empowered to
monitor the government primary and middle schools located in the
surroundings of the high and higher secondary schools, according to the
They, however, said the new monitoring system of educational
institutions called 'School Cluster System' couldn't be implemented due
to the disinterest of education and finance departments.
According to officials, schools are to be divided into clusters under the new system.
"Each cluster will consist of a high and higher secondary school as
well as many middle and primary schools located near to it. The number
of primary and middle schools within the cluster will be five to 15," an
Officials said the education department had decided that principals
of all high and higher schools would be declared 'drawing and dispersing
officers' of primary and middle schools in their respective areas.
Currently, there are two DDOs on district level each male and female
for overseeing administrative and financial maters and monitoring the
performance of all primary and middle schools.
Officials said in Peshawar, DDO (male) was responsible for monitoring
over 600 boys schools and DDO (female) around 415 girls schools. They
added that in all districts, DDOs were overburdened and therefore,
they're unable to do assigned tasks diligently.
According to officials, there are many schools across the province,
including Peshawar, which haven't been visited by DDOs for years.
"If the cluster system is implemented, then principals will be given
the powers to sanction staff leaves, conduct their trainings, take
disciplinary actions against neglectful staffers, ensure doing of
repairs and small constructions, make transfers and postings within the
cluster schools," an official said.
He said the new system would streamline the affairs of the government primary and middle schools to a great extent.
"Absenteeism of teachers that is very common in primary and middle
schools will be controlled because principal of high and higher
secondary schools could easily check presence of teachers of primary
schools in their respective areas unlike DDOs, who have to monitor
hundreds of schools," he said.
The official said similarly, all financial matters of cluster schools
would be administered by the respective principals and that would prove
helpful for teachers to address their financial matters at local level.
He said currently, teachers wasted a lot of time by frequently visiting DDO offices for resolution of their problems.
When contacted, Education Sector Reforms Unit deputy director Farid
Khattak said the cluster system would be implemented this year in eight
divisional headquarters of the province as a pilot project.
"Hurdles to the implementation of cluster system will be cleared soon," he said.
Mr Khattak said training courses for the cluster in charge had already been completed.
Post your comments
Fresh students welcomed at GIK Institute
Swabi: Former Wapda chairman Engineer Shamsul Mulk
has said that Pakistani engineers are brilliant professionals and they
could steer the country out of prevailing crises.
Speaking at a ceremony arranged to welcome and induct fresh students
in Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology
here on Sunday, he said that Pakistan was not a poor country but in fact
'we have made it poor'.
"The GIK Institute always gives its students best facilities and
environment conducive for getting education of international standards.
We as successors to this great legacy of Ghulam Ishaq Khan have made it
the cornerstone of our policy that we never compromise on quality," he
Mr Mulk said that the institute enjoyed fame as a centre of
excellence in engineering education. "Several generations of students
have contributed to take the institute to this position and you must
contribute your share," he said while addressing the fresh students.
Jehangir Bashar, rector of the Institute, asked the students to
spread knowledge, civility and tolerance. "It will be our endeavour to
facilitate you both in professional and personal terms," he said. He
praised Mr Mulk, the president of Society for Promotion of Engineering
Sciences and Technology in Pakistan, executive director Dr Shaukat
Hameed and members of board of governors for their support to the
Post your comments