The School of Cultural Texts and Records of Jadavpur University has taken up the mammoth task of recording the evolution of every Bengali word and compiling them into an online historical dictionary, ‘Shabdakalpa ’. The computer-aided project—one of the few attempts anywhere, and certainly the first in an Indian language—will be along the same lines as Oxford English Dictionary of the pre-computer age.
Once it is ready, people can have free access to the dictionary, and those involved in the project said it would come as a huge help to anyone working with the language from anywhere in the world.
“Since Bengali is a highly inflectional language, each word can be used in many forms. The idea is to record the history of each word in terms of first occurrence, usage and how it has developed and transmitted over the years,” said JU Professor Emeritus Sukanta Chaudhuri. Those involved in the project said it was Chaudhuri’s brainchild.
Comparative literature professor Parthasarathi Bhawmik said it would be unique as the dictionary would carry the first occurrence of each word. It would track the usage of words, keeping the cultural and social context of each period, he said, adding that it would show which word became popular in which period and whether they remained in use.
A team of 10-15 professors, students and research fellows have already started collecting a vast corpus of Bengali texts, making them computer readable and uploading them into the system. A special programing system is being developed that will comb the words out of the texts and arrange them according to dates. No selectivity would be involved, said Chaudhuri, pointing out that any word used in the language—a very formal, highbrow one to slang, colloquial words from all periods —would be recorded. He added they had endless possibility of expanding the dictionary, such as adding the words’ sounds and pronunciations.
Chaudhuri said the framework of the project, including the software and the database, would be ready by March 2020. But the actual analysis, which will be carried out through intensive human application, will need some more time and will also depend on the flow of funds. “We have no plan of putting this historical dictionary behind a paywall. People can have free access to it,” he added.
Comparative literature professor and principal investigator of the project Samantak Das said, “The first glimpse of the dictionary will be ready by the end of 2020. This resource-intensive academic work will help anybody anywhere in the world working with Bengali language.”
Hailing the initiative, educationist Pabitra Sarkar said, “It will be a historic work that will benefit everyone pursuing higher studies in any stream in Bengali.”
Source: Times of India