THL Toolbox > Reference > Dictionaries > Introduction to THL's Tibetan Dictionary
Contributor(s): David Germano
This application is part of a “universal navigation” system that provides integrated access to the Place Dictionary, Media Management System, Tibetan Dictionary, and Knowledge Maps. Please read the documentation on the universal navigation to better understand how it functions.
THL’s Tibetan dictionary aims at an innovative and long term collaborative integration of glossaries, rich dictionaries, topical dictionaries and encyclopedias. Rather than focus initially on large amounts of data, we have slowly built a long term digital infrastructure to support many scholars collaborating together with an array of individual projects.
It is important from the outset to clarify some of the basic vocabulary. To begin with, we divide lexical resources in general into three broadly defined, but overlapping types. While we realize our strict definitions are somewhat artificial, and that in use these terms can be used in overlapping ways, we find it useful to provide standard definitions in this context for ease of reference and classification:
Glossaries are in essence simply lists of translations, such that each Tibetan word is given an equivalent word or phrase in the target language. In addition, they can have other limited information such as parts of speech. It is the absence of definitions that makes it a glossary and not a dictionary. Three distinct styles of glossaries may be delineated based upon the types and sources of the words found within them, as well as the intertwined goal of the glossary:
- Standard glossaries
- Thematic glossaries
- Personal glossaries
In contrast, a dictionary is marked by the presence of definitions as well as translations. However, dictionaries are tremendously varied in structure, and can range from glossary-style dictionaries at one end, to encyclopedia-style dictionaries on the other end. For purposes of reference, we divide dictionary types into four:
- Glossary-style dictionaries
- Standard dictionaries
- Rich dictionaries
- Topical dictionaries
At the minimal end, dictionaries can often be barely distinguishable from glossaries. Such glossary-style dictionaries often are no more than glorified glossaries, distinguished from ordinary glossaries only by offering multiple translations for a given term, the structuring of such translations into groups that suggest different meanings for the term, and/or perhaps modest descriptive documents that range from incidental notes to very spare definitions.
In contrast standard dictionaries systematically offer definitions for each term, and these definitions are at least as prominent structurally as the translations of the terms in question. In addition, standard dictionaries generally offer other categories of information about each term beyond definitions, most typically pronunciation, grammar type, etymology and examples. Pronunciation typically uses a simplified phonetic scheme for representing the sounds of the words in the source or target language, or use the international standard for phonetic representations known as “IPA” (international phonetic alphabet). In digital and on-line dictionaries, pronunciation is also often represented with a sound file giving the actual sound of the word. Grammar type typically uses abbreviations – such as V for verb and s forth – drawn from an analytical scheme representing the language’s grammar. Etymology discusses how the word is derived from older forms in the language, as well as other languages originally, to delineate the historical formation of the word in brief. Finally, examples give example sentences illustrating the usage of words in phrases and sentences. Other such categories found in standard dictionaries can including “typing” of words, such as indicating archaic words, regional expressions, and so forth, and the indication of related words such as compounds, synonyms, antonyms and so forth.
Rich dictionaries incorporate the fields of information found in standard dictionaries, but tend to be more comprehensive and lengthy. Of course perhaps the world’s most famous example is the well known Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Four central features of rich dictionaries are (i) a historical orientation charting in sometimes astonishing detail the history of individual words over time, (ii) a great attention to variant meanings of words both in dialectical usages and in very nuanced variations, (iii) more detailed and elaborate definitions, and (iv) elaborate citations of written passages and oral speech in which the word occurs, including provisional of full bibliographical references for the texts/transcripts in question. This orientation towards the history of words, as well as citation of sources in which they occur, involves a massive expansion of the length of a dictionary, such that rich dictionaries tend to be extremely lengthy.
An encyclopedia contrasts to a dictionary both in its focus on the content - the items or concepts referred to by terms - rather than the linguistic nature of the terms in themselves, as well as in its focus on extensive essay-length descriptions rather than short, analytical informational structured into categories such as definition, etymology, and pronunciation. Thus unlike dictionaries, which aim to document linguistic features of words, including their meanings, such reference resources are organized by words but focus on the phenomenon rather than the words themselves.
Topical dictionaries likewise are marked by a focus on the content in question rather than the linguistic nature of the words. Just as glossary-style dictionaries are almost identical to glossaries, at the other end topical dictionaries are indistinguishable from encyclopedias. We would slightly distinguish them from encyclopedias in that they focus on terminology that applies to a specific subject or body of literature, and hence are still more linguistic in orientation, whereas Encyclopedias are driven by content signified through nominal rubrics, rather than any focus on terminology per se. However, like an Encyclopedia, topical dictionaries consists of paragraph- to several page-long descriptive essays presenting the meaning and use of the term in question, with little to no linguistic data on the term. The focus is on the item referred to by the term, and how its usage came into being. Topical dictionaries will often be discipline based, and attempt to present the terminology used in a specific field of endeavor – such as Dictionary of Biology, A Concise Dictionary of Physics, A Concise glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory, or The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. Other topical dictionaries may focus on a specific person’s literary corpus and terminology specific to it – A Hegel Dictionary, or A Heidegger Dictionary; or they may refer to an entire body of literature unified in some way – The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, or The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Like rich dictionaries, topical dictionaries tend to refer to specific literary passages utilizing the term, though they tend to refer to authors, or groups of authors, and how they use the term in a broad fashion as part of an intellectual movement, and so forth. Also like rich dictionaries, they tend to discuss terms historically, though to a lesser degree, to show how the term came into being and changed over time. Finally it should be noted that often scholarly articles and even full length books can function as topical dictionaries even if they are not explicitly presented as such, given their focus on systematically explaining terminology and overarching groups of concepts. Thus such works need to be fully documented to provide a sufficient survey of lexicographical resources.
General and thematic are used throughout the present document to refer to the coverage of any given lexicographical resource: “general” signifies that a given resource includes a wide range of words not limited to any one subject or corpus of literature, while “thematic” signifies that a given resource is limited to a specific body of words, such as “biological” terminology, or words found in the corpus of writings of a given individual, or words applying to architecture, and so forth. “General” thus is a resource which for at least theoretically offers “one stop shopping” for students, since it aims to offer a broad coverage of words sufficient for constant consultation in reading a text. In contrast, thematic resources are limited in scope to a particular focus – a certain type of terminology specific to an intellectual discipline, or corpus of literature for example. They can thus be frustrating to use when utilizing dictionaries constantly in reading a text in the language in question, since the dictionary may or may not have the term in question, requiring a tedious consultation of multiple dictionaries. However, they are often more precise in translation and detailed in definitions than a general dictionary offers for the same term, such that they can be useful when a particular world is troublesome, or when one is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of a group of terms affiliated in some fashion. In practice, the line between “general” and “thematic” is somewhat arbitrary, but our rule of thumb has been breadth of reference across the most standard types of Tibetan language, namely classical Tibetan, modern literary Tibetan, or spoken Lhasa dialect.
While technically speaking “personal” and “indexes” are thus a subset of thematic, we have separated them out in this context given their importance as types of glossaries. Personal glossaries simply provide a standard set of translations for technical terminology employed by a given author, or team of authors, in their translations, essays and books for easy reference by the reader. Thus such personal glossaries are often found in the back of books. Word or phrase indexes are similar, but tend to be focused on specific texts, or even bodies of texts. Using them, one can easily find where a specific word occurs in that text or literature, as well, if the text exists in different languages, what word that word translates in the other language(s)