Two Classic Malay Dictionaries

Do you worship the dictionary as the ultimate authority? A story leading to birth of the first
genuine Malay-English dictionary may be enlightening.It was more than 200 years ago, a time when English colonialists needed the service of a bilingual dictionary in a Malay-speaking realm. They had one…full of spelling mistakes in the Malay version. Not all the spellings were wrong, actually, some were correct…by chance. By the way, the Malay words were not spelled according to Malay but to Persian language. Oh dear! Was it possible to figure out the Malay words by relying on the explanation in English? Probably,but the content was almost an exact replica of another dictionary printed 100 years earlier!How could anyone make a dictionary like that? Readers could easily find his name on it and that
would be shameful. However, the person who lent his name to this dictionary was apparently not
involved in the production. ” This bizarre lexicographical curiosity,’ was the conclusion of a writer
after examining it and added “it would be interesting to discover more about the precise role and
motive” of the gentlemen who presumably funded the republication of an old dictionary under
another person’s name.How long did the service of this dictionary with a long title-Howison’s A Dictionary of the Malay
Tongue, as spoken in the Peninsula of Malacca…English and Malay, and Malay and English, last?
Eleven years until the publication of William Marsden’s fine dictionary in 1812.The Dublin-born English Orientalist Marsden was the first person who devoted more pages and
prominence in his dictionary to the Malay-English part. Thus, shifting focus to study of Malay
rather than English. How did Marsden’s work fare during an era in which Dutch scholars were
considered the best in the study of Malay language and had already translated the Bible into Malay?Despite separation of the Malay world after the Anglo-Dutch Treaty 1824, the government of the Netherlands arranged for Marsden’s dictionary and grammar to be translated into Dutch and
French. That said a lot about the Dutch’s esteem. Naturally, the English welcomed the service of a
good dictionary for a change. Marsden’s dictionary remained a respected reference tool only to be
superseded by Wilkinson’s dictionary a century later.No doubt Marsden put in a lot of effort. Modern dictionaries can still learn from his work. For
example, instead of just listing forms of derived words under their respective root words, Marsden
had separate entries for the derived words with cross references to the root words – a helpful feature
for foreign learners. His discussion on the sources of
jawi considered by many to be an adapted form of Arabic in the preface is still a recommended reading material and a delight for serious students.On the other hand, Howison’s dictionary demonstrated the universality and subtleness of
plagiarism. While dictionaries are obliged to be the authority in language learning, they are not
infallible even under the protection of copyright laws today. Do you notice a lot of similarities
among different brands of Bahasa Malaysia dictionaries and how difficult it is to find a different
angle of explaining a word? May the user use his discernment.

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