dictionary of world languages

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dictionary of world languages

Post by Archived Topic » Thu Oct 28, 2004 5:32 am

I'm looking for a dictionary of the languages of the world past and present. I've looked in the resources site and done several google searches with no success. Am I going to have to find the individual dictionaries for each language. IF anybody knows of an online dictionary that can help me, please let me know. Thanks! = )
Submitted by Barbie Johnson (North Richland Hills - U.S.A.)
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dictionary of world languages

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Oct 28, 2004 5:46 am

Barbie, if you think about this for a moment you will realise that what you are after is, in practical terms, unattainable.

To take your question at face value, there are currently some 5000 languages in the world, with an unknown number of former variants and prototypical predecessors, plus countless languages that are entirely extinct. Cultures, technologies and concepts have all varied, and continue to vary, enormously in both space and time, and even among individuals nominally inhabiting the same culture. To successfully construct a dictionary of the kind you propose would present an enormous challenge of scholarship, involving tremendous feats of palaeolinguistics, sociological research and speech codification. In practice, of course, many languages are already gone, forgotten or otherwise unknowable. In many cases, even when a language still exists, it does so only in an oral form, particularly in remote tribal areas. To include these languages would require extensive (and expensive) scholarship in order to transcribe their sounds suitably into written words, construct a grammar for each one, and take account of how the people who speak it conceptualise the world they inhabit.

But even assuming all these languages could be incorporated into such a dictionary, there would be enormous numbers of words and expressions for which no equivalent terms would exist in other languages. The more disparate the cultures, the more this would be the case. For instance, there is little likelihood that there is an equivalent in any one of the hundreds of tribal languages of New Guinea for the English terms 'sleeve valve', 'devolution', 'junk bond', 'dandelion', or 'double jeopardy'. Equally, there will be few equivalent terms in English for New Guinea's spear-naming rituals, agriculture systems, tribal decision-making processes or hut construction techniques.

In other words, the success of a mulilingual dictionary does not merely consist in rendering equivalents word for word or expression for expression. Because the words it contains represent objects and concepts, such a dictionary has to be able to interpret one culture to another, different culture. Once you start to get beyond the basics of human anatomy, physical functioning and the basic activities that are common to all humans, this starts to become a gargantuan task for the lexicographer. In practice, therefore, multilingual dictionaries tend to confine themselves to the languages spoken in places whose associated cultures are reasonably congruent. Naturally, this tends to mean the languages of the world's developed economies, which have all influenced each other heavily over the centuries and are therefore fairly similar, despite their superficial differences. Frequently such mulitilingual dictionaries restrict themselves to narrow fields of activity with commercial applications, such as banking, car manufacturing or aeronautics, and where complications deriving from cultural differences are negligible. Equally, dictionaries cover those languages with few speakers poorly either because there is too small a market to make them commercially viable or there is insufficient academic interest in compiling them, or both.

Lastly, a physical dictionary containing terms from many thousands of languages would be a frightful behemoth to handle, running into many thousands of volumes. With the currently available technology, such an artifact would only realistically be feasible in a virtual setting, i.e. as a computerised database.

Maybe such a project will eventually emerge, given enough time, unlimited budgets and a lot of academics with spare time on their hands. But it won't be tomorrow, nor the day after.
Reply from Erik Kowal ( - England)
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dictionary of world languages

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Oct 28, 2004 6:01 am

Excellent article, Erik - I'm reminded of EE Smith's tackling the problem enlarged to a galactic scale - apparently us Earthmen will never really understand what dextroboping is! The Lens merely slapped a handy name on it (sounds just like MOST of science).
But, Barbie, are you asking if there is a reference work just LISTING most of the 5000 plus languages and variants Erik mentions? It would be better to call such a book a guide, handbook, encyclopedia, or perhaps gazetteer or lexicon (getting riskier!) - "dictionary" is just too ambiguous in this context! (But IF my guess is right and IF you hadn't used the word "dictionary" we'd have missed Erik's treatise on language and culture.) Popular works such as a "Dictionary of Saints" and a "Dictionary of the Wild West", excellent reading though they may be, are using the word "dictionary" in a rather informal way.
I'm sorry that I don't know of any books containing extensive lists of languages - though asking a Bible Translation Society for their "completed" and "to do" lists may be a good start.
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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dictionary of world languages

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Oct 28, 2004 6:15 am

Erik,
You made a VERY good point and I feel kind of silly about my request. I'm therefore going to narrow it down. The reason I want this is I was looking for the origins of specific words and often found in there words I didn't know from other languages. Currently I'm looking for mainly an online dictionary of middle english that is free and you don't have to be a member of a specific group to access it. If such a thing exists and you know of it please let me know. Thank you very much. = )
Reply from Barbie Johnson (North Richland Hills - U.S.A.)
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dictionary of world languages

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Oct 28, 2004 6:29 am

Well guys, it’s funny that this topic should come up because it just so happens that several years ago, after a 37 years effort, I completed my own ‘Comprehensive Dictionary of World Languages’ which fills the two warehouses I am storing it in here in Fort Collins. After completion I realized that it would be quite tome and a bit unwieldy to handle and that most libraries would probably have to build an annex to house it. So, Viola is now busily in the process of digitizing it from my 3x5 index cards and sheets of yellow close-ruled notes and I plan on having it out on DVD when she’s done. She’s averaging about 2 or 3 pages a week and I’ve been urging her to pick of the pace. But between working on her cuticles, the spelling class she is taking, and the hot tub breaks, it’s going to be a long slog, but I’ll notify you as soon as the job is done. (<:)

Yours in world lexicography,

Ken G – March 5, 2004

Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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dictionary of world languages

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Oct 28, 2004 6:44 am

Wow Ken! No wonder you always give such long detailed responses! That's quite an achievement! I had wondered if you spent forever on research just so you could give your imput in discussions because you always have such great responses. = )
Reply from Barbie Johnson (North Richland Hills - U.S.A.)
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dictionary of world languages

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Oct 28, 2004 6:58 am

Ken will get back to you on that after he returns from his current hot tup break - whoops, I meant tub break - with Viola! Boy, does she have nice cuticles!
Reply from Erik Kowal ( - England)
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Post by Archived Reply » Thu Oct 28, 2004 7:13 am

(nobody has heard about the rosetta project?..at least it´s a beginning)
Reply from Jan Saudek (Marbach - Germany)
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dictionary of world languages

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Oct 28, 2004 7:27 am

Viola's in a different class from Rosetta.
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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dictionary of world languages

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Oct 28, 2004 7:41 am

:-))))
Reply from Jan Saudek (Marbach - Germany)
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