inofficial e-texts - interested???

David Magier magier at
Sat Feb 25 11:26:36 UTC 1995

Robin Kornman wrote:

> Well, actually, those of us translating these "unrepresented" texts do
> indeed have dictionaries. We have dictionaries we have manufactured using
> our computers as we went along. For example, the Nalanda Translation
> Committee has its own ever-growing glossary of standardizations we use in
> our translations of biographies and ritual texts. We know that such
> glossaries exist for many other groups. And Erik Schmidt combines these
> various databases in a huge, burgeoning computerized dictionary he keeps in
> Nepal. We freely give him our material and he and his friends type it into
> their huge database...
So the question becomes how to disseminate among scholars the ongoing
value of such a database, even while it is still a 'work in progress'.
For me, the answer would be to make it available on the internet.

> The problem is that there is no money or time to spruce up these bases into
> publishable dictionaries like Monier-Williams. Jeffrey Hopkins and his
> students solve this problem by continually republishing their database at
> the local Kinkos. They keep the information on a database program and
> produce new editions in printed form on an irregular basis. 

A useful solution that's been used for centuries, but costly,
cumbersome, and quite a burden on the data producers.

> Should we make our databases available via FTP?  We are all hesitant to do
> this, because we do not understand very clearly what risks are involved in
> this process.

Instead of making the entire database available to the world via FTP
as a unified text (a la Monier Williams), why not make it available
for USE by the world as a searchable database? Instead of each scholar
downloading the entire thing, like a new book for his own collection,
why not set up the database on a server that would allow scholars to
connect to and use it to look up specific entries as needed. This
would solve many problems and address at least some of the concerns
that Robin raised:

> We would expose unedited scholary materials to the criticism
> of our colleagues.

Yes, but criticism is a good thing. A database like this could only
benefit from the feedback of colleagues. And with an appropriate
disclaimer, indicating that this is a work in progress, the
'unedited' nature of the resource would not be viewed negatively. This
is precisely equivalent to the working papers that physicists and
medical researchers (for example) publishe with great success on the
internet, in order to share the results of their ongoing work, in
order to let others benefit from the process, and in order to derive
benefit from the feedback.

> We might forestall the possibility of one day actually
> publishing a prestigious, carefully editing dictionary like
> Monier-Williams.

Yes. If you put the whole thing up for downloading as an FTP file,
this would certainly be the case. But if you put it up as an
interactive, searchable database, then people get to use it (or pieces
of it) by looking up specific entries through keyword searching. In
this case, you have not really 'published' the whole thing as a
compiled dictionary, and could still do so later in paper form.

> We might invite plagerism and stealing of our work--- which might not be a
> problem, but who knows?  None of us have thought through the problems that
> might be involved.  

Yes, still a possibility, but again it would only be pieces of it that
could be stolen, rather than the whole thing. That is, no one would be
able to download the entire work, they could only look up particular

> Then there are a number of interesting dictionaries that relate to
> indological subjects and are in Chinese or published in China. Not covered
> by international copyright law, these texts could easily be transferred to
> electronic format. Some of them have been. But they are only available
> informally, again because the politics of making these texts broadly
> available electronically is obscure. 

I don't know the specifics of the dictionaries mentioned. But it
certainly should be possible to get past the 'politics' and to garner
the approval of the authors/compilers to add their data to a
globally-accessible electronic database. My experience is that authors
are often thrilled at the prospect of having their work made more
available in this fashion, provided they are given appropriate credit
for what they have done.

> Then there are card-catalogue vocabularies which could be transferred to
> computer databases quite easily. I saw one for Tibetan oral narrative in
> Paris several years ago. 

I'm not so sure that this kind of conversion is 'easy'. As a librarian
I know that libraries have been struggling for years to find
reasonably accurate and inexpensive ways to convert their old card
catalogs into online databases. A massive project, and nothing seems
to work except hiring someone to type in all the same data. Of course
if the source materials were sufficiently interesting and of great
value to the scholarly world, one might be able to get a foundation
grant to support such conversion...

Anyway, I would encourage anyone with useful lexical resources to take
the leap and consider making them available on the internet as
databases (not necessarily as ftp files). I would certainly be willing
to disuss mounting such databases here at Columbia as part of The
South Asia Gopher, to make them accessible from anywhere. The actual
mechanics of taking such a file and generating a keyword index (using,
for example, WAIS software on a unix server) to allow searching, are
fairly trivial, and I could undertake to do that for any files people
cared to deposit here for this purpose. The authors/compilers
obviously would have to supply all the supporting material as text
(i.e. the 'front matter' that explains methodologies, romanization and
encoding conventions, sources consulted, names of contributors,
acknowledgments, etc. etc.). This material would then form an "ABOUT"
file (or README) which would accompany the actual search menu on the
Gopher. What do you think?

David Magier
Columbia University
South Asia Gopher
magier at



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