Thursday, September 21, 2017

After 25 years of work, dictionary set for release

‘Wörterbuch Deutsch – Myanma’, which features 70,000 entries and will be released this month. Photo: Supplied‘Wörterbuch Deutsch – Myanma’, which features 70,000 entries and will be released this month. Photo: Supplied

For Mr Tobias Esche, June 2011 will be a momentous month. In the mid-1980s, his grandparents, Dr Annemarie Esche and Dr Otto Esche, began full-time work on the first German-Myanmar dictionary – a labour of love that, almost three decades and 70,000 entries later, is about to begin hitting a handful of bookstore shelves in Asia and Europe.

“They were motivated by the idea that the dictionary will be an important tool to promote cooperation and friendship between the two peoples,” Mr Esche told The Myanmar Times by email last month.

With a succession of linguistic, technological and financial hurdles finally overcome, Hamburg-based specialist publishing house Helmut Buske plans to begin distribution of 700 copies of Wörterbuch Deutsch – Myanma this month. Of these, 270 will be available locally through Myanmar Book Centre, and Mr Esche anticipates they will find a market among language students, translators and staff of non-government organisations and other institutions.

He says that while his grandmother is “most excited” to see the dictionary published, the occasion is also tinged with sadness, as Dr Otto Esche passed away in September 2010.

“After such a long time working at her desk seven days a week it must be an unbelievable feeling to see this project materialise,” he said.

“At the same time she is very sad because her husband passed away so shortly prior to [publication].

“They were a proficient team, with her finding and verifying the equivalents and him typing and editing the more than 1000 pages on a decades-old computer.

“What consoles her a bit is the idea that the publication of the dictionary amounts to paying homage to his merits and is a lasting token of their decades of joint work.”

The dictionary covers not only contemporary vocabulary but also specialist terms from many different fields, including history, linguistics, technology, medicine, arts and cooking. Entries are furnished with information concerning the area of usage, field, grammar and pronunciation where necessary. Mr Esche says a special feature of the dictionary was the inclusion of many word combinations, phrases and sayings that “not only exemplify the usage but also convey a notion how the languages ‘think’”.

However, in many cases these cannot be translated verbally and instead an equivalent expression is given that conveys the same idea.

“For example the Germans denote useless actions with the saying ‘to carry owls to Athens’, whereas a Myanmar in such cases would say ‘to sell needles in China’. Unfortunately, solutions often are not as obvious as in this case – they can demand a long discussion and search for an accurate equivalent.”

And then there are words that defy translation. Mr Esche cites the example of the German word Autobahn, which – perhaps unsurprisingly – has no equivalent in Myanmar. In such cases, an explanation is provided instead.