Thursday, February 21, 2013

Consulting Other Dictionaries to Produce an Isinay Dictionary

IF YOU ARE a newcomer in the dictionary-making world and you wish to come up with one to help protect or prolong the life of the endangered language of your choice, it would do well if you consult other dictionaries.
Well, that’s what your self-avowed but amateur endangered-language warrior had been doing in spurts these past three years. I would look at the outputs of other lexicographers, take note as to what ideas they could give, then try to apply them in the dictionary of the Isinay language that I’ve been calling “a labor of love and a work ever in progress” since 2008.
This approach to learning new skills echoes a formula for improving one’s writing that over the years I had been teaching to technical personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ central and regional offices. The formula is simply this: Go look for good models of writing, pay attention to what makes them appeal so well to readers, and then when it’s time for you to write, try your best to summon and apply the secret ingredients you discovered.
My eavesdropping on pacesetting dictionary makers via their respective outputs has, indeed, given me tips on how to organize and format the contents of dictionaries. Yes, through them I gained enough leverage to now have the temerity to advise fellow greenhorn lexicographers that teaming up with other dictionaries is not only fun but also fruitful insofar as searching for inspiration is concerned.
Believe me, dictionaries of other languages can make you hit the ground running, as it were, on how to (1) find elusive words, (2) define in non-technical terms and use in “laymanized” sentences the word entries, and (3) give the rainbow to your would-be dictionary’s substance and appearance.
In a little while I’ll give the titles of the dictionaries that made my Isinay lexicographer’s life easy. But, as a backgrounder, I think my love affair with these books started when one cloudless day a quite disturbing thought gripped the better of me.
The thought was that, no matter how tectonic and how tsunami-like my desire was (and still is!) to produce a badly needed dictionary of (and for) the Isinay language, I knew next to zero in the art and science of dictionary-making. Yes, zero as in nothing.
Even as I thought that having Isinay blood in my veins and my growing circle of Isinay friends in Facebook were a great advantage insofar as knocking on Isinay doors and asking questions on Isinay are concerned, I still shuddered.
In the corner of my mind I thought of the educational powerhouses and think-tanks – e.g. UP Los Baños, UP Diliman, Ateneo de Manila, De la Salle, Asian Institute of Management, East-West Center, UN Food & Agriculture Organization – some halls of which I’ve set foot on as a knowledge-thirsty young man in the ‘70s up to the ‘90s attending workshops and seminars here and there on any subject under the sun.
I wondered if I missed learning events that these venerable institutions offered no matter how small, no matter how remotely connected they were to the serious business of making dictionaries.
Compiling words of a dying language -- not to mention checking/rechecking/crosschecking them and arranging them in a visually tasty and user-appealing form ­-- is indeed an extreme challenge. The gravity of it all stands out even more when we consider that what I have put myself out on a limb for since 2008 would be the first comprehensive Isinay dictionary ever attempted.
If I were in Isinay land right now, I would say to my fellow natives: Neyir tay poddan Isinay si nangapyat attu an librun si Isinay. (No Isinay has ever made a book like this in Isinay.)
All that, of course, is now water under the bridge. In what I like to call the “penultimate stage” of this dictionary-making mission, I’m almost ready to "migrate" my output to the printed format.
But before it gets too late to acknowledge their help, here then are the dictionaries I so far tapped for the dictionary I’m making:  
  • Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary (published in 1987 by Collins Publishers, London).
  • IBALOY Dictionary, Phonology, Grammar, Morphophonemics (published in 2005 by DITENG, Inc. and the Cordillera Studies Center, UP Baguio, Baguio City).
  • KANKANAEY English Dictionary (authored and published in 2005 by Judge James P. Kibiten Sr., Bauko, Mountain Province).
  • The Oxford Companion to the English Language (published in 1992 by the Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York).
  • Larousse Spanish Dictionary (published in 2009 by Larousse Editorial, Barcelona).
  • Vicassan’s Pilipino-English Dictionary (published in 2009 by Anvil Publishing, Pasig City).
  • English-Ilocano Dictionary (published in 2012 by Isa-Jecho Publishing, Inc., Quezon City).
  • Modern English-Pilipino Cebuano Dictionary (published in 1987 by Merriam & Webster, Inc., Manila).
  • An English-Cebuano Visayan Dictionary (published in 2012 by National Book Store, and authored by Rodolfo Cabonce, S.J.)
  • Let’s Learn a Little Hawaiian (published in 1970 by Hawaiian Service, Inc., Honolulu).
  • Teach Yourself Welsh Grammar (published in 2007 by Hodder Education, London).
  • Children’s Illustrated Dictionary (published in 2007 by Parragon, UK).
Arranged in no particular order, the books mentioned above were my “silent partners in crime” for the dictionary I am making. I would summon them (or rather, they would beckon to me) particularly when I could not go visit my real human partners and advisers in Isinay land, as well as when I could not reach my fellow Isinay language advocates in Facebook.
How did these books come to the rescue of this amateur dictionary maker? Here are examples:
  1. Whenever I would face a blank wall in my recollection of Isinay nouns, verbs, adjectives, and expressions that I used to hear since I was little, I would leaf through the Ibaloy and Kankanaey dictionaries. It is always fun to learn new terms in these two Cordillera languages and to read vignettes on folk beliefs and traditions. But the joys double whenever I come across a dozen or so words (such as the Kankanaey atung, bujlaw, diyat, and asi asi) that sound or even look like Isinay. And pretty soon the words would morph into Isinay and trigger memories of those years when, oh well, my hometown’s grass was green, myriad birds were singing, and fish were jumping!
  2. Whenever I get chance to go home to Isinay land and, the day or so before the trip, I would jot down English, Ilocano, and Tagalog words the Isinay equivalents of which are not yet in my list. Again, to facilitate my list of words that I would take to Dupax for translation by much older and Isinay Podda senior citizens, I would turn to the Ilocano, Tagalog, and English dictionaries. For example, I found I do not yet have the Isinay words for the Ilocano barayuboy, the Tagalog kandirit, and the English trailblaze.
  3. As for the Spanish dictionary, well, I had to buy one when I could not comprehend the Spanish portions of Padre Joaquin Lazaro’s Introduccion al Estudio de la Lengua Castellana en Isinay (Imprenta del Colegio de Santo Tomas 1889) that I found in the Internet (after my attention was called to it by a now US-based Isinay from Bambang, Mr. Jimmy Genoves). Moreover, just like the Ibaloi, Kankanaey and Visayan dictionaries, Larousse’s Spanish dictionary showed me dozens of words that sounded like Isinay. I will turn to it again soon to make a section of Isinay words derived from the Spanish language.
What’s next?
In providing the definition of words, I think I would adopt the conversational style of my favorite Collins COBUILD that I bought in May 1989 yet. For example, it defined AMATEUR this way: “An amateur is someone who does something such as acting or playing a sport as a hobby and not as a job.” Another example that I came across with when I thought that a dictionary would be pivotal in the revitalization of a dying language but I wasn’t sure what PIVOTAL means: “A pivotal point, factor, role, etc is one that is very important and affects the success or development of the larger thing that is involved in.”
For appendices, I will most probably take the cue from the Cordillera Studies Center’s Ibaloy Dictionary and include Isinay terms/phrases used in such activities as rice agriculture, carabao raising, river fishing, hunting, kaingin-making, etc. as well as Isinay names of flora and fauna that are found (or which used to be abundant) in the wilderness of Aritao, Bambang, and Dupax.
As for page layout, I will definitely vote for the visually appealing, fact-sprinkled, and very reader-friendly format of Children’s Illustrated Dictionary. Yes, the pages will have drawings and photographs. Plus, the final copy will avail itself of the wonders that color and desktop publishing could lend.
Now, if only I could very soon write "finis" to this dictionary, so I can move on to other avvesan si Isinay projects.

I would not have thought of writing this particular blog had it not been for one of the personally-delightful-to-answer questions raised during the open-forum part of my recent UP Baguio talk on the Isinay language. Yes, this post is an expanded answer to the question on whether I use other dictionaries to help me with the Isinay dictionary I’ve been working on. While we’re at it, I must also thank Dr. Ikin Amores for inviting me to “take over” the two sections of her Anthropology 170 (Language & Culture) students so I could share my little experiences as a “language warrior” (to borrow her words), including my on-going journey into the exciting world of dictionary-making.


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