Highly valued Sinhala-English Dictionary for all | Sunday Observer

Highly valued Sinhala-English Dictionary for all

18 April, 2021

The new edition of the Sinhala - English Dictionary by Buddhadasa Hewage, a massive book that has more than 2,500 pages consisting 1,50,000 English words similar to 95,000 Sinhala words was launched recently as an author publication. It is of high value for the Sinhalese native language students as there are Sinhala words first to seek the similar English words according to the alphabetical order. And the book has been accepted as a school library book by the Ministry of Education too. The following excerpts are from an interview that the Sunday Observer did with Buddhadasa Hewage who is a retired school teacher and a Service Advisor of English teachers. In addition to the dictionary he has published two short story books in English, two English translations of his two fictions, six novels and three short story books in Sinhala.


Q: How is this book appeared? When did you start the research for it?

A: I started working on my Sinhala - English Dictionary in 1998 during which time I was working as a school teacher. First I started to collect words. I note them down in my note book - It was my habit to use a note book those days. That habit came about thanks to my father who advised me to use such a thing for writing down new words. But there were no any intention of compiling a dictionary back then in my mind. I just wrote down words only for the satisfaction of my father as he was inspecting whether I found new words or not. However, this habit gave me a basic foundation for compiling a dictionary in my later life.

Q: So the dictionary started with collecting words?

A: Yes. But there are other things too that helped me to compile this book. You know I am a creative writer, I wrote few novels and short story collections in Sinhala and English, and I learnt English all by myself. Because of this bilingual writing, I had to deal with Sinhala words and English words mostly and therein I noticed many similarities between two languages. So invariably I found myself writing those words in my note book. Besides that, there wasn’t any comprehensive Sinhala - English dictionary where I could find words whenever I want to. So this is how the book was started.

Q: One can say that an English - Sinhala dictionary is more useful than a Sinhala - English dictionary for students because most of the time they need the Sinhala meanings for their difficult English words?

A: Yes, but if you are a student with the native language of Sinhala, you need to know relevant English words for your Sinhala words. In that case, I think this is a more useful book. For instance, we have Malalasekara Dictionary which is an English - Sinhala dictionary, but you cannot find similar English words for Sinhala words from it. You have to know the English language to a certain extent if you use that dictionary. In my Sinhala - English Dictionary I present 95,000 Sinhala words and 1,50,000 similar English words.

There I categorized them into nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, idioms, short forms, prepositions and pronouns, so that one could easily find a synonym in English for a Sinhala word. Actually, the aim of compiling this dictionary is to help Sinhalese native people to find English synonyms for Sinhala words, not to help the rich people who attend to International Colleges or so.

Q: You said earlier that there weren’t any comprehensive Sinhala - English dictionary in Sri Lanka. Is that correct?

A: Yes, of course. Here I would like to describe the history of Sinhala - English dictionaries in Sri Lanka. The concept of compiling a Sinhala - English dictionary in Ceylon was presented by British rulers. As soon as they took control of our country they wanted to know the Sinhala language well. Especially, their civil servants needed to know the Sinhala language to understand people’s thoughts. So they needed a Sinhala - English dictionary very urgently. Hence, Sir Frederick North, the first Governor of Ceylon (1798 - 1805) decided to compile a Sinhala -English dictionary through a European civil servant. In this way, he carried out his idea by a young British civil servant called John Wine. But he couldn’t finish the job.

Then the task of compiling the dictionary came up to another civil servant named Samuel Trolfey. It was in 1801. He compiled at least 40,000 Sinhala words with their English meanings. However, as he deceased untimely, the task was given over to a Father called Benjamin Clough. He could eventually print the dictionary in 1821. So that is the first Sinhala - English dictionary with 628 pages - the same year he could publish an English - Sinhala dictionary too. Later he edited that first dictionary up to 852 pages and it was published in 1830.

Another landmark of compiling Sinhala - English dictionaries in Ceylon was established when Father Charles Carter came to Ceylon in 1853. He spent twenty years in our country and compiled his own dictionary in 1902. It was actually the most completed one. He edited and reprinted it in 1924. In my view, that is the best Sinhala - English dictionary ever published in Sri Lanka.

After father Carter’s dictionary, there published a few more Sinhala - English dictionaries, the first among them was Mudliyar Mendis Gunasekara’s Sinhala - English dictionary, printed in 1915. Then another important one appeared in 1948 as (Sinhala – English Dharma Samaya). The most recent Sinhala - English dictionaries are Somapala Jayawardhane dictionary published in 1994 and Somapala Dematapitiya dictionary published in 1995. Before I compiled my dictionary there were seven Sinhala - English dictionaries and I associated them all.

Q: Why did you launch your dictionary as an author publication?

A: If I give my manuscript to a publisher, he would give me back only a 10 percent royalty which means if a book is priced as Rs. 100, I only receive Rs. 10. If they print 1000 copies of it, they would offer me Rs. 10,000 whereas they would take Rs. 90,000. I think this is very unjust compared to the author’s effort for the book. So I thought to publish the book as an author publication.

Q: What about the reader’s response to the book?

A: This is actually the third edition of my dictionary, so readers reacted to it well. And at the second edition I gave away 100 dictionaries free to University students who came from rural areas and showed their colours at their examinations. I constantly receive letters from the dictionary users.

Q: The first edition of this dictionary appeared in 2013, but it was relevantly a small book?

A: Yes. There was a big problem when it was launched. When I was preparing to publish it I hired a computer operator for the page making and type-setting works of it. That person was one of my close friends, and I gave him 40,000 rupees for the job too. But what happened was he took my final page set-up book by his pen-drive and went to his home in Kurunegala. He never came back. I searched for him to find where he was working. There, I got to know that he had stolen one of the woman servant’s money - her three months’ salary - in his work place and now he was ready to pay back that money to her by selling my dictionary. I had no option, but to consult lawyers. I met my lawyers and made a complaint too against him in a police station. In the meantime, my lawyers advised me to publish the manuscript that I, though it was a raw one, because if I wait for a more completed one, that person would sell my final corrected manuscript in his pen-drive to someone else and he would publish it. Then I wouldn’t be able to prove it as my own dictionary. So that is why the first edition of this book was small.

Q: When we consider the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, we see their Tamil version and other language versions appear in other countries. Unfortunately we don’t see a Sinhalese version of it yet?

A: Yes, you are correct. We cannot see such a version. I think the government or relevant authorities must look into this matter. In my case, I only focused on Sinhala - English dictionary which is also a difficult task as there are many meanings for a Sinhala word too. For instance, if we take the word (Wahanawa) in Sinhala, it can be shut down, close down, cover, etc. This is why, I think, we need a dictionary with example sentences like Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

Q: In an international stage, we see some standards with regard to dictionary compiling. You cannot just collect words and publish a dictionary there. First, you have to present the manuscript to an authorized board and take the permission. Then you have to submit it to an editorial board. You have to follow certain standards with regard to its print paper, colour, page lay-out, and so on, if you are going to publish it. But in Sri Lanka we don’t see such methodology?

A: You are quite right. We should have such methodology not only for the dictionary publishing, but also for the whole book publishing. Especially, we should have an editorial board. If we have such things, we cannot publish dictionaries with our own consent. This is why many published dictionaries in Sri Lanka are failed efforts.

Q: But your dictionary is also not following the world standards as its print paper is thick and heavy and the words that you have given could be understood by many ways?

A: With regard to the print paper we have no accepted thin paper in Sri Lanka to print a dictionary. So I used this paper though it is thick and heavy. But with other things, I try my best to publish it with accepted standards.

Dictionary compiling in Sri Lanka is not an easy job. Most of the time dictionary compilers die before they see the final output as it’s a very long process. And when we consider the aspect of money earning only the publishers take benefits from them. While they earn more and more money, the compilers take only one or two royalty by them.

Actually, there isn’t any compiler who takes royalty for his dictionary with each print order, because they are unable to know about the new printing of his book. In most fields we have no ethics in Sri Lanka. Book publishing is one such field that hasn’t ethics whatsoever. In that case, dictionary publishing is a way of exploiting writers while dictionary compiling is a painstaking effort for writers.

Q: Finally, what is your plan with regard to your Sinhala - English dictionary?

A: Now I am ready to add Tamil words to my dictionary. Then this would be the only dictionary in Sri Lanka one can find similar English words and Tamil words for Sinhala words. Therein, this could be useful for Tamil people too in addition to Sinhala and English people.

- Ravindra Wijewardhane