Posted on Monday, June 18, 2018
“This year, whatever else it may be, is the Year of the Dictionary.” So wrote Charles Onions, the fourth Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (and one of only two still alive), on April 19, in an article in the London Times celebrating the completion of the first edition of the Dictionary, whose final section or ‘fascicle’ was published on that day, bringing to a triumphant conclusion the labour of thousands of people—working all over the English-speaking world—over nearly three-quarters of a century.
The English language, in all its richness, was now recorded and described in unprecedented detail. And today, as we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the completion of that first edition, the OED continues to provide unequalled documentation of the words that make up the English language as it has been spoken, written, printed, and transmitted over the last millennium.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) may have been published by a British publishing house — Oxford University Press— but it had always aimed to be a dictionary with a truly international outlook. Its inclusion of English vocabulary from all parts of the world was evident from its very first fascicle, published in 1884 (when the project had already been in progress for nearly three decades): indeed, one of the very first words in that first fascicle was a word with Indian connections: aal, the Indian mulberry tree, and the reddish dye obtained from it. James Murray, the Dictionary’s first Editor, took a particular interest in the English of India, and worked closely with Henry Yule, compiler of the pioneering Anglo-Indian glossary Hobson-Jobson (1886), even before that book was published, in an effort to ensure good coverage of that variety of English.
A succession of advisers with specialist knowledge of the English of India kept Murray and his successors informed about the language of the subcontinent, so that fully-researched entries for words like babu and crore and galangal and juggernaut could take their place alongside entries for words from Britain, America, Africa, Australia, and elsewhere.
The process of monitoring the English of India has continued over the 90 years that have elapsed since 1928. The OED lexicographers of today continue to seek out the distinctive features of Indian English so that they can be documented alongside all of the language’s other varieties. In the last year alone, dozens of words from the region, from achcha to jugaad, from gully cricket to chakka jam, have been added to the OED’s website. And we are always eager to learn of more!—anyone, in India or elsewhere, can send us information about new developments in the language, so that we can continue to work towards the ideal of making the Oxford English Dictionary the best possible dictionary of all the world’s English. (The author is an associate editor, Oxford English Dictionary)
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