January 23, 2007

Het Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal op internet

You read it here first, via a note from Ruud Visser in Leiden:

Let me start with a word of thanks to you and all the other writers at Language Log. I discovered LL in November of last year and I was hooked right away.

I saw a news report just now that I thought might interest some people at Language Log Plaza. The "Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal" (WNT), or the "Dictionary of the Dutch Language", will become freely available on the internet on January 27. The WNT is the Dutch equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary, containing some 400,000 words on almost 50,000 pages of print. The first part was published in 1864, the last one in 1998. Three appendices were added in 2001, mostly covering words originated in the 20th century.

The WNT is based on sources dating back to 1500. The online edition will contain all words in two spelling schemes: the original one from 1863 and the current, modern one. The 1.7 million source quotes used in the printed version will also be available and searchable.

The WNT can be found at http://wnt.inl.nl/.

Ruud continues:

The news report in question is in this week's newsletter of the Leiden University "Grootste woordenboek ter wereld gaat online", 1/23/2007 [I think this means "Biggest dictionary in the world goes online" -- myl]

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find an English story on this anywhere, but if you are interested, I'd be happy to translate. (There is an English Wikipedia page on the WNT, but it says little more than what I just did.) The article ends with a size comparison between the WNT, the OED, the Deutsches Wörterbuch and the Dai Kan-Wa jiten (a Chinese-Japanese dictionary). For such a relatively small language, Dutch has a pretty big dictionary.

I have no doubt that you Language Log readers can all read Dutch, by Roman Jakobson's method if in no other way. If you'd like to try it, here's how the Leiden University newsletter starts:

Met ingang van zaterdag 27 januari is het Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT) voor iedereen gratis op het internet te raadplegen. Is dit nieuws alleen van belang voor neerlandici, filologen en taalkundigen? ‘Magnifiek’, reageert Harm Beukers, hoogleraar geschiedenis van de geneeskunde.

You could try Babel Fish, which renders the lede as

As of Saturday 27 January the dictionary is for free consult language (WNT) for everyone of the Nederlandsche on the Internet. Is this news important only for neerlandici, philologists and linguists? ` magnificently, react Harm tired cherry, hoogleraar history of medicine.

Then again, maybe Jakobson's method is better. At least, Professor "Harm tired cherry" is likely to think so.

Roman Jakobson divulged his method, legend has it, to a member of an audience (in New York City) who objected to his proposal to deliver a lecture on Bulgarian poetry in the Bulgarian language.

"But Professor Jakobson, none of us know Bulgarian!"
"You are linguist, no? So listen, and try to understand."

Still, perhaps some would find a translation helpful in focusing their linguistic attention...

[Update -- Jesse Sheidlower writes:

True story: I arrived at the University of Chicago having studied Latin and Greek in high school, but no modern languages. Nonetheless, I was very interested in historical linguistics, and I signed up for Eric Hamp's seminar in Indo-European. The text (such as it was, this being a class with Eric Hamp) was Meillet's _Introduction a l'Etude comparative des langues indo-europeenes_.

After class I nervously approached Prof. Hamp, and said, "Uh, about the Meillet book--I don't actually know French yet." He replied, "Oh, just learn it. It's easy."

How true.]

[Update #2 -- Ruud Visser wrote:

Thanks for sharing my news of the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal going online with the Language Log audience. I see Babelfish is still not quite fluent in Dutch, so I took an extended coffee break this morning and translated the Leiden University newsletter article. I posted it to my weblog (which you already found):


By the way, your translation of the article title, "Grootste woordenboek ter wereld gaat online", was perfect. Dutch isn't as difficult as some people say it is!

Let me also draw our readers' attention to Ruud's investigation of the vagaries of Babel Fish in this case, including especially the mysterious translation of "Beukers" (a name that apparently means "Bashers" if it means anything) as "tired cherry".]

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 23, 2007 05:12 PM