Digital Dictionaries of South Asia

The Digital Dictionaries of South Asia project is expanding a vital part of the digital architecture for language learning and instruction. At present 21 dictionaries are available through the project Web site. An additional 27 lexical files are in advanced stages of testing and will be available late in 2005.

Few resources are as important for language knowledge as good dictionaries. For academic users, the ability to consider not simply the most commonly understood meaning of a word or phrase but its diverse social connotations is of great importance. Without the benefit of high quality dictionaries the critical nuances of great literature and detailed scholarship are difficult to express or comprehend, for native speakers as well as other readers.

This project aims to make high-quality dictionaries in each of the 26 modern literary languages of South Asia universally available in digital formats. At least 55 dictionaries will be converted from printed books, often multi-volume, to electronic resources. A wide variety of users are already making extensive use of the electronic dictionaries via the project’s Web site, comfortably located within the Digital South Asia Library. These readers include not only the academics whose study of Indic languages has long been supported by the Department of Education, but also American-born learners of South Asian heritage, and individuals around the world. More than one billion people or 86 percent of the total South Asian population have one of these 32 languages as their mother tongue.

Each of the project’s dictionaries is selected by an Advisory Panel of distinguished linguists and language teachers according to merit, converted to digital format by the highly accurate technique of double-keying and verification, reviewed for accuracy by South Asian scholars, and implemented on the World Wide Web. The project has relied on the University of Chicago’s American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language (ARTFL) for Web implementation.

The project is funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Education to the University of Chicago, the first of which was in collaboration with Columbia University and the Triangle South Asia Consortium in North Carolina. The Hinduja Foundation funded the inclusion of a Sanskrit dictionary. Additional support has come from the Consortium for Language Teaching and Learning for lexical resources on three minority languages of Pakistan—Khowar, Pashto, and Torwali—including the addition of digital audio files, such as the sound messages above, enabling students to hear the pronunciation of entry words and selected sentences as examples of word usage.