Tony Duff, The Illuminator, Tibetan-English Encyclopaedic Dictionary.
Tools of the Trade: Basic Linguistic Requirements in Digitized Format
In recent years, a number of digital bilingual Tibetan-English dictionaries of quite different quality have been published or circulated. This review will focus on The Illuminator: Tibetan-English Encyclopaedic Dictionary (edition 5.00 of July 2004) published by the Padma Karpo Translation Committee under the guidance of Tony Duff. It is the only one among them that deserves to be regarded a dictionary, since unlike the other ones it makes a real effort to present itself as an example of that genre. In theory, one could formulate a great number of requirements and standards for a Tibetan-English dictionary, depending on whether one aims for e.g. a historical, etymological or a primarily semantical dictionary. In practice, however, a few standards would suffice--if adhered to--to in fact achieve a considerable contribution to Tibetan Studies. These are, certainly, in each entry a differentiation of the parts of speech (i.e. noun, adjective, adverb and verb) and semantical fields, a clear definition, and instances of the use of a word with source references. I mention this trivialities since if we just take a single example from a "dictionary" that unfortunately is very popular among students, namely the so-called Rangjung Yeshe Dictionary (Rangyung Yeshe Publications, Kathmandu), we can immediately see that not even a single of these minimum requirements has been accomplished. Consider, for example, the following entry for sdom pa:
rite, discipline, commitment, restraint, control, obligations, self-control, tie up, bind up, tie, fasten, vow, precepts, bind, stanch, stop, cause to cease, make morally firm, confirm, add together, cash up, sum up, engagement, duty, sum
The entry, which is quite typical for this product, does neither differentiate between the parts of speech ("tie, fasten, vow, precepts ...") or semantical fields ("vow, sum, rite ... fasten, sum up, control"), nor does it provide a definition or instances of use or any reference. In addition to that, it contains questionable elements such as "cause to cease" and "stanch(?)." The Rangjung Yeshe Dictionary is therefore at best an "inhouse word list" for the translation group around Eric Pema Hein. Nevertheless, an online version of the Rangjung Yeshe Dictionary continues to occur itself or as a link on several internet pages of Western academic institutions.
Fortunately, the Illuminator outshines the former example by far. The edition under review comprises almost 24,000 entries, with each entry marked as a part of speech. According to the Illuminator's introduction ("version history"), such distinctions (as into parts of speech) "have never been made in a Tibetan-English dictionary before." This is not quite true because one of the first dictionaries, i.e. the Jaschke (publ. 1881!)--linguistically certainly the most reliable of the early bilingual dictionaries-always differentiates in its main entries into verb and substantive and also marks adverbs, adjectives and compounds. In the Illuminator, for each verb, the standard orthography of the stem-forms is provided, largely based on the verb list of the Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo (BG), and its status as being transitive or intransitive (following BG) is mentioned. Links are not only provided to the matching transitive or intransitive forms, but often also to opposite or related verbs. The definitions of the verbs, too, are often based on BG, but frequently go beyond it, both in breaking down the meaning into different categories and in the detail of the explanation. In addition to BG, the Illuminator makes also extensive use of four glossaries popular in Tibet. These are:
DGT (494 entries) i.e. dKon-mchog-'jigs-med-dbang-po's Enumeration of Dharmas found in many Sutras, Tantras, and Shastras: A Festival for Intelligent Minds, (mDo rgyud bstan bcos du ma nas'byung ba'i chos kyi rnam grangs shes ldan yid kyi dga' ston, translated by Tony Duff). This is a text of the "enumerations of dharmas" genre chos kyi rnam grangs), which presents religious terminology occurring in groups of one, two, three and so forth, often together with a generic term and further explanations. One example would be sde snod gsum, i.e. "three pitakas," which is explained according to DGT as 'dul ba'i sde snod (vinaya-pitaka), mdo sde'i sde snod (sutra-pitaka), and chos mngon pa'i sde snod (abhidharma-pitaka). Such collections of terms have been variously produced in Tibet and their inclusion into modern dictionaries is certainly desirable.
LGK (906 entries) i.e. the House of Cloves (Lishi'i gur khang), which is a text written in 1476 by sKyogs-ston Lotsa-ba Rin-chen-bkra-shis (also translated by Tony Duff.). It informs us about changes that occurred within the Tibetan language during the earlier revisions of the language and about words that were incorporated into the Tibetan language from other languages. Examples are terms such as skyos pa (new: nyams pa) and tres sam (from Zhang-zhung language, a Tibetan equivalent would be phye ma). Such a text is likewise a desirable source and the large number of entries shows how substantial such collections can contribute to the compilation of dictionaries.
MVP (272 entries) i.e. the MahAvyutpatti as published by Alexander Csoma Koros. These are technical terms of the Sanskrit language for which the MVP provided standard translations such as kun dga' bo (Skr. Ananda) or yid kyi khams (Skr. manodhAtu). From the number of entries occurring in the Illuminator, however, it occurs that by far not all standardized terms have been incorporated.
NDS (676 entries, often with multiple sub-entries) i.e. the Dharmasamgraha, a collection of Buddhist terms ascribed to Nagarjuna (Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, Varanasi, India, 1993). In all of the entries of this source and of the DGT and MVP, Duff mentions the Sanskrit (as offered in his source).
Other sources (as far as they are mentioned or further specified) are private communications from interpreters of Tibetan Lamas and various Western scholars, Sanskrit-English and Tibetan-English dictionaries (Edgerton, Sarat Chandra Das, Rangjung Yeshe, Goldstein, Tsepag Rigdzin), a Tibetan-Tibetan dictionary (Sog-po dGe-shes Chos-grags), translations of Tibetan classics or English works by Tibetan masters (Dudjom Rinpoche's Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Tsongkhapa's Lam rim chen mo, The Practice of Dzogchen by Tulku Thondup and parts of Kongsprul's Shes bya kun khyab mdzod) and several translations prepared by Tony Duff. Among the latter, there is a significant concentration on certain genres or subjects, namely of works pertaining to rituals, Mahamudra, rDzogs-chen, gTer-ma literature, various aspects of indigenous Tibetan grammar, Indo-Tibetan philosophical genres, gZhan-stong and a few standard works or compilations of indigenous Tibetan masters ('Jig-rten-mgon-po's dGongs gcig, 'Jam-dbyang mKhyen-brtse'i-dbang-po's collected works, Kong-sprul's Shes bya kun khyab mdzod, Dol-po-pa's Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho and Kong-sprul's Rinchen gter dzod).
We may safely assume that this selection of genres and subjects reflects both Duff's fields of interest and expertise. One could complain about the limitations of these preferences and list the many genres of Tibetan writings that one would like to have included within the sources of a dictionary, but as long as a dictionary is principally compiled by a single person, such limitations cannot be avoided. But before I begin with my critical remarks, I would like to make a few more observations about the obvious qualities of the Illuminator.
The Illuminator is a digitized dictionary. That does not only mean that the entries are offered in "computerized form," its contents being searchable on one's computer. To be sure, the Illuminator comes as a formidable database together with a number of very powerful and indeed useful tools. As one can expect it, typing Tibetan text (in Tibetan fonts or Wylie transliteration) into the main search box leads very quickly (in fact, while you type), to the respective main entry of the dictionary. A search through the whole text is also possible and one may also click at any time on any Tibetan term within an entry and continue with a search of the highlighted word. Any search string either of the main search box or of a full text search can be easily edited. From anywhere in the dictionary it is also possible to leaf back through the last thirty entries one has looked at. There are also several convenient ways to scroll through the list of head words or the entries themselves and it is also possible to leave bookmarks in the text of an entry and return to it later. The digitized format also allows for hyperlinks which are provided within numerous entries. One of the most useful devices is the "select" feature, through which one may select one part of the whole dictionary (such as only the verbs or only the entries of one of the glossaries) and then search or browse exclusively within that selection. One minor technical disadvantage is that every time one places the cursor in the main search box to write down a term to be searched, one first has to delete--letter by letter--the previous job. In short, however, the digital features of the Illuminator are indeed very useful tools.
Let me now make a few critical observations, which are not intended to belittle the many advantages and distinctions of the dictionary under review, but may serve as indicators of the directions in which the Illuminator could be further refined in the future. The most far-reaching betterment would be to provide more and better references. Less than a fifth of the entries provide a reference. In the section "references cited," Duff provides eighty-one abbreviations for references (some of which I have noted above). Some of these references, however, are curious, like KHN ("any one of a number of learned Tibetans"), some are strange for other reasons, for example CHR, which stands for Charles Ramble ("who spent many years living in the East"), but it actually does not appear again in the body of the dictionary (and the same is true for FPR, a Tibetan text). In other instances, mostly the first Tibetan letter Ka has benefitted from the exploration of a source, but hardly any other part of the alphabet, such as in the cases of GCD (brDa dag ming tshig gsal ba) and KBC (BodhicaryAvatAra commentary by mKhan-po Kun-'phel). Most of the sources have contributed between one and fifteen entries and only a few texts seem to have been explored thoroughly. Many of the Tibetan texts mentioned in the reference list, however, are merely mentioned by their titles and a proper reference is lacking. But the most serious problem of the Illuminator is the overall lack of example sentences (and when such samples are provided, they are often not referenced). A careful documentation of the usage of words also with more than one example would be desirable, for here the user could gain impressions where the term appears and what its nuances are. In this respect it would also be desirable that not only the title and (if known) author of the reference is provided as a rule, but also which edition was used, from which page the example is taken and, if possible, an indication of the time period in which the text had been composed. An ideal entry would then contain well referenced examples for usage across several centuries. This is, without doubt, the future of digitized dictionaries with modern memory capacities: the references can be almost limitlessly detailed and thereby the dictionary turns also into a formidable tool for research.
Having undergone a thorough education in one of the scholarly Tibetan traditions, Duff has decided to rely in his presentation of Tibetan verbs on traditional learning. Regarding the morphology of the verb, for example, he follows the presentation of the BG, which was (in Duff's words) "created by native Tibetan scholars who set down the correct spellings." Elsewhere, however, he concedes that for example the traditional Tibetan interpretation of "letter gender," which is closely connected with the morphology of the verb, "is an extremely complex subject. It is regarded as the most difficult subject of Tibetan grammar. Few Tibetans penetrate it, let alone penetrate it well." Duff and the Tibetan indigenous grammatical tradition are following to this day a prescriptive/normative system of orthography, for which one hardly finds two persons who interpret it in the same way. Both would be better off if they would try to develop a more critical and descriptive approach. For a thorough review of the many problems involving Tibetan verbs one should read Bettina Zeisler's excellent review of Paul Hacket's A Tibetan Verb Lexicon: Verbs, Classes, and Syntactic Frames (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publication, 2003, in: The Tibet Journal 30.2: 69-92.).
And finally there are, despite of Duff's often somewhat excessively selfconfident statements, occasionally inaccuracies and mistakes in his entries. The term zhabs 'brings, for example, is described in his entry in the following way:
"One of many levels of attendant in Tibetan culture. A middle level attendant or assistant. Not in the closest circle of attendants but not far away either."
The "definition" is already vague enough, but in addition to that one wonders (in view of the lack of any evidence) about the classification "middle level." It has been noted often enough that Tibetan monastic terminology does not only vary from tradition to tradition, but also of course according to region and period (not to mention from monastery to monastery). This is therefore a good example for an entry that needs to be enriched with references.
In explaining the verb 'gyes pa, Duff fails to recognize it as an intransitive verb and translate his example sentence (shing pa sta re gyis shing bcad nas gyes pa) as "the woodsman cut the tree into pieces with his axe" when in reality we have a subject change: "the woodsman cut the wood and it split." The term mched grogs is primarily explained as a tantric term ("vajra relatives" and "immediate relatives/ intimate friends on the path"). This is certainly too narrow as the term also refers simply to students of the same teacher (classmates). Sometimes Duff's explanations appear to go in circles:
sgom pa--Translation of the Sanskrit bhavana which literally means "to cultivate", "to bring forth". This has been traditionally translated as "meditation" even though it is not really accurate in many contexts. The term is also regularly translated on the one hand as "to practice" and the other as "to contemplate / to ponder" but these words translate other terms better (e.g., nyams su len pa and bsam pa respectively). These days translators have begun to use the more accurate term "to cultivate". E.g., snying rje sgom pa "to cultivate compassion". Nonetheless, the term does come to mean "to meditate", "to visualize" etc., in the sense of saying "now cultivate that practice of meditation, visualization, etc., etc. whatever is being discussed".
Such an explanation is based on an unfocused use of the problematic Western term "meditation," and, besides, in most cases "practice" (bhavana) would be quite right, such as in "practicing compassion."
Sometimes the definition of a term, which should always be at the beginning of an entry, is buried in midst of the article:
'dun pa--This verb does not have an exact equivalent in English but like the noun, its precise meaning is important at least in Buddhist context where it is used very precisely. It has the specific meaning of that act of mind which takes interest in something and makes a decision to go towards it or to aim for it. Thus its meaning is both to seek after that which is worthwhile and then to motivate oneself towards what is found. It is similar to the English "to aspire" but that only corresponds to the first part of the definition just given; it loses the sense that the mind is directed towards and going after the things that is aspired to. It means "being motivated towards because of having seen as desirable / worthwhile / worth pursuing" and in fact, that is the sense that the Buddha used it in and which is found throughout Buddhist literature. The closest in English is "to be motivated towards". (...)
Here the discussion would also have benefitted from a few examples and references. And finally there is obviously a difference (ignored or blurred by Duff) between old and new spelling on the one hand (such as myed--med, kund--kun, dkon cog--dkon mchog, 'gyurd to--'gyur to, pha myes--pha mes) and old and new lexicographical usage or terminology on the other (such as mthong kha--brang,'khus pa--sbas pa, etc.).
Despite these points of critique it must be said that the Illuminator is an impressive achievement, especially since it is largely the product of a single person's dedication. For the future one can only advice the author to increase the circle of contributors and editors and to try to enter into a cooperation also with scholars form the Western academic tradition. And, as a last remark regarding the style of writing, a bit of scholarly modesty would indeed be very becoming.
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|Publication:||The Tibet Journal|
|Article Type:||Video recording review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2007|
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