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CHILDREN'S DICTIONARY IN INDIAN LANGUAGES
G. Sankaranarayanan, Ph.D.
1. LINGUISTICS KNOW-HOW NOT UTILIZED
Every major Indian language is spoken by millions of people. There is certainly a profitable market for well-designed materials that may cater to the specific needs of the speakers of these major Indian languages. However, the reference materials in Indian languages still continue to be few and of poor quality. For example, dictionaries for children in Indian languages are not yet well developed. Pictorial Glossary, prepared and published by the Central Institute of Indian Languages, in several Indian languages, made a good beginning, but this initiative has not caught the imagination of the dictionary makers and state-run textbook corporations in India. The know-how available with the Indian linguistics scholars for the preparation of dictionaries to meet specific purposes is yet to be fully exploited by the state-run textbook corporations and the private textbook publishers.
2. FUNCTION OF CHILDREN'S DICTIONARY IN INDIAN LANGUAGES TEACHING
We should recognize that children do need their own specially designed dictionaries in their mother tongues to help them learn the meanings, pronunciation, and spelling of the words they come across in their textbooks as well as in their classroom experience. They also need their own dictionaries to develop further their knowledge of the vocabulary in their mother tongue and to use them appropriately.
3. ANALYZE THE NEEDS OF CHILDREN
We will make a good beginning in our attempt to prepare children's dictionaries if we, first of all, analyze the needs of children in learning Indian languages. Most children will learn an Indian language, and this language may be their mother tongue. Some in every class and school will learn an Indian language as the first language within the curriculum although that particular language may not have been the language of their early childhood experience. Ideally speaking, a children's dictionary should try to take care of both the groups. However, our first goal in most contexts will be geared to reaching out to the first group.
4. "CORRECT" LINGUISTIC COMPETENCE IN MULTI-DIALECTAL SITUATIONS
Teaching Indian languages in schools is still tied to the goal of developing "correct" linguistic competence, and appropriate "standard" usage. For example, the children are expected to transition from their home style to a style that is commonly used in the community. In the case of Tamil, for example, the children are to learn the written variety and, if possible, "pure" Tamil usage. In other words, in most Indian language teaching contexts throughout the country, children are expected to learn the written (and formal) variety that is employed in the language and other textbooks. In addition, although some Indian languages exhibit more diglossic conditions (wide gulf between the spoken and written forms of the language) than others, there are diglossic-like bi-dialectal or multi-dialectal conditions in many languages including Hindi that demand strategies similar to the ones applicable to diglossic languages like Tamil. The gulf between the spoken and written varieties of Tamil is so wide that the child's major occupation in learning Tamil is to quickly master the written variety. On the other hand, a child in native Hindi-dialect environment is to transition to standard Hindi in his school. He may continue to use his dialect for interpersonal communication but he is required to learn and use the standard Hindi in his Hindi class. Children's dictionaries in Indian languages need to take this fact into consideration.
The child who is usually at home with his own dialect is puzzled when he is exposed to the written variety in the school. He needs a lot of help in transitioning from the spoken to the written or formal variety in school. He needs help in associating his words with the words he is expected to learn in the school. He needs help in associating the form used in his home environment with the form and meaning of the word used in the written variety in school. Sometimes the words used at home and the school may be greatly similar but not identical. In such cases when the children try to switch over to the written form, they will be required to learn a spelling dissimilar to the spoken form. Consider the following examples from Tamil.
6. OVERCOMING INTERFERENCE
The 'corrupt forms" of the child produce interference errors in the child's reading and writing. Prior knowledge of the spoken variety interferes in learning the written variety of the language. In a way, the child's condition at this stage is similar to a bilingual child. Children's dictionary would be of great help in overcoming such problems. The dictionary will guide the students to check their spelling.
7. SOURCES FOR THE WORDS
The words needed for the children are of two types: words that are necessary for formal communication, and a stock of textual words.
Some of the sources that may be used for the collection of words that should be part of a children's dictionary are as follows: 1. Textbooks, 2. Children's literature, 3. Scientific materials, etc. Frequency count is useful for the selection of words for inclusion in the children's vocabulary. But there may be words in the Indian languages textbooks that focus, unfortunately, more on styles not currently used in everyday speech. These words may not be frequent even within the same textbook. If we ignore these words, then the children may have no way of checking the meaning and spelling of these words on their own with the help of their dictionary. Probably we should include all the words found the textbooks.
8. FREQUENCY COUNTS, HARD AND EASY WORDS, ETC.
From the educational technology point of view, we may divide the words into hard and easy words. Perhaps we could define a word to be hard, if that word is likely to more difficult for the children to comprehend. Sometimes it is argued that the children's dictionary should consist only of hard words and it should avoid including easy ones. In the multi-dialectal situation that provides the background for teaching Hindi in Hindi-speaking states, even the easy ones become hard words. The so-called easy word to a child belonging to a particular dialect may be hard to another child belonging to a different dialect area. So, a children's dictionary in Hindi, for example, will be forced to accommodate even those words that are apparently easy to comprehend. That is, we view the dictionary not from the point of view of the dialect or variety in which it is presented but from the point of view of the dialectal or linguistic background of the children.
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G. Sankaranarayanan, Ph.D.
Central Institute of Indian Languages
Mysore 570006, India