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Sunday, 19 May 2013





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Enriching Sinhalese lexicon on psychology

A seminal contribution that a dictionary of psychology, particularly an English-Sinhala one, would make is that it will enrich the existing Sinhalese lexicon on Psychology. The Dictionary of Psychology (English –Sinhala) or Manovidya Shabda Koshaya (Engrisi-Sinhala) by Nandalal Malagoda, to a greater degree, fulfils a long –felt need for a comprehensive Sinhalese dictionary of psychology.

Author Nandalal Malagoda

One of the important facets of Nanadala’s publication is that it has set an intellectual precedence as lexicography is a central to the knowledge production. It will not only facilitate the dissemination of the latest developments in the field of psychology in Sinhalese but also enrich the Sinhalese lexicon on psychology, expanding the linguistic horizons of Sinhala language.

However, lexicographer Nandalal has said in no uncertain terms that specialised dictionaries such as the one he published should be periodically updated and reviewed incorporating the latest terms and thousands of new words and terms that are being added to the field of psychology.

Given the sheer complexities and subtleties of concepts in modern psychology, one of the daunting tasks that a lexicographer faces is to revise the existing corpus of lexicon in Sinhalese and to make them reader-friendly so that a reader who may not be familiar with Psychology also use the dictionary in a profitable manner.

The list of names of the pioneers in the field of psychology and brief biographies of them towards the end of the book would also provide readers with further information and in a way encourage the readers to read more and more publications on Psychology.

Psychology is an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes and behavior. Psychology also refers to the application of such knowledge to various spheres of human activity, including problems of individuals’ daily lives and the treatment of mental illness.

It is largely concerned with humans, although the behaviour and mental processes of animals can also be part of psychology research, either as a subject in its own right, or somewhat more controversially, as a way of gaining an insight into human psychology by means of comparison. It does not necessarily refer to the brain or nervous system and can be framed purely in terms of phenomenological or information processing theories of mind. Interestingly, an understanding of brain function is being included in psychological theory and practice, particularly in areas such as artificial intelligence, neuropsychology, and cognitive neuroscience.

Lexicography as a discipline

Lexicography, the art and craft of dictionary making, has an important place in the history of language studies. It is a fact that from early ages of civilisation dictionaries and glossaries of diverse types (monolingual, bilingual, general and technical) were compiled and extensively used in China, India, Middle East, Greece and Rome.

“The early known prototypes of dictionaries were the West Asian bilingual word lists, dating from the second millennium BC. The world list contained the Sumerian and Akkadian words inscribed in parallel columns on clay tablets in cuneiform writing. The contents were organised thematically, as thesauruses, for easy and quick reference.

After the invention of the alphabet later in the same millennium, many centuries passed before an alphabetic ordering system became a common tool for organising information. The list came into existence because the Akkadians (Babylonians) had inherited through the conquest of culture and traditions of Sumerians and the use of sets of signs as a means by which their scribes could learn what was, in effect, the classical language of writing. Over two thousand years later, in Mediaeval Europe, the same principle was used when scribes who speak vernacular languages learned to read and write in Latin. ”, states Niladri Sekhar Dash of Linguistic Research Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, in The Art of Lexicography.

From the earlier times, the tradition of dictionary making was well-established in India. Sekhar Dash states, “An altogether different style of dictionary preparation flourished in ancient India. It started with the collection of obscure words as exemplified in Nigahntus, continued with formation of one of the bases of Nirukta and the Padapatha during the first millennium BC, and ended with a large group of Kosas composed during the past fifteen to seventeen hundred years after the Christian era began.

Thus, a continuous activity of dictionary making in ancient India provided models for later lexicographical works in the Indo-Ariyan and Dravidian languages in India. Nigahntu and Nirukta are monumental examples of early Indian efforts in dictionary making. Since then, a large number of dictionaries and glossaries are prepared in Sanskrit as well as in Pali, Prakrit, and Apabhramsha.

Some of them are general purpose dictionaries such as Amarakosa, while some others are partial ones like - Deshi Namamala, and still others like Dhatupatha and Ganapatha fall under the category of technical glossaries. These dictionaries and glossaries follow different criteria and bases-semantic as well as alphabetic –in their structure and text presentation.”

Among the specialised dictionaries, the bilingual group is the most serviceable and frequently used. With the rise of vernacular languages during the Renaissance, translating to and from Latin had great importance. Even the most exotic and remote languages have been tackled, often by religious missionaries with the motive of translating the Bible. The finding of exact equivalents is more difficult than is commonly realised, because every language slices up the world in its own particular way.

A lexicographer who compiles a specialised dictionary will have to face the issues of norm which are rather complicated given the fact that un-adherence of linguistic norm apart from the accuracy of the subject matter, would render the dictionary useless from the readers’ perspectives. L. P. Stupin identifies some of the cardinal problems of norm are as

objectivity of norm existence, adequate reflection of language reality in a dictionary, objectivity and inevitability of language changes and a role of lexicographer while he/she registers facts of language and speech. It is noteworthy that Nandala has overcome most of linguistic issues owing primarily to his excellent knowledge of Sinhalese and other languages.

Although it is not directly relevance to Nandala’s dictionary of Psychology, a significant aspect that the lexicographer observes in compiling the dictionary is the cultural nuances in the source culture (In this case, primarily the words and the concepts of psychology originated from Western civilization with strong bearing upon Western culture and languages), and cultural nuanced in the host culture, Sinhalese cultural and linguistic pool.

Professor S.G. Ter-Minasova defines language as the instrument of culture which forms the personality of the speaker by means of world vision, mentality, attitudes to people and everything else that we call culture, imposed by and inherent to that very language. She adds that, if considered from the viewpoints of its structure, functioning and acquisition, language (native or foreign) possesses the sociocultural layer or the cultural component as part of itself or the background for its existential being. At the same time cultural component is not merely some cultural information related via language, but it is an inseparable feature of the language, characterizing all its layers and branches.

It can be postulated that there is no better way of learning language than through culture if the cultural component permeates discourse, text or a reference book. Language is also an important window on the universe of thoughts, rituals, beliefs and many like things that interest cognitive scientists.

However, this linguocultural universe consists of rather different worlds with specific, though, on the whole, cognisable landscapes. The necessity of interlingual and intercultural cognition has been discussed in the Western community of wits starting probably from mid sixties of the previous century.

Over the years, with the growth of lexicography making, linguistic and language theories play a pivotal role in the formation of bilingual dictionaries or specialised dictionaries. One of the latest trends in lexicography is the use of advanced linguistic and cultural theories.

Culture of lexicography

Nandalal’s attempt should be commended as it would be an attempt to commence an indigenous culture of lexicography which is a sine qua non for the systematizing existing body of knowledge in Sinhala and further strengthening Sinhala as a language of science.

What is noteworthy is that many countries such France, Germany, China and Japan have been effectively using their native tongues in teaching complex subjects such as Psychology due to the intellectual culture in absorbing latest knowledge in the form of translations and lexicography. The role that lexicographer will have to place in modern context is vital for the growth and sustenance of the corpus of knowledge in Sinhalese.


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