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Literary Notes: Fallon’s Urdu-English dictionary: a remarkable feat of lexicography

Published Apr 14, 2014 07:41am

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IT is quite strange that very little is known about S. W. Fallon (1817-1880) though he was a fine lexicographer who compiled some of the earliest of Urdu-English dictionaries. Fallon’s ‘A new Hindustani-English Dictionary’, (1879), is ranked among the most remarkable works of Urdu lexicography, but whatever little we know about Fallon is largely derived from C. E. Buckland’s famous ‘Dictionary of Indian biography’.

According to Buckland, S. W. Fallon was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1817. He joined the Bengal education department when he was 20 and was made inspector of schools. Later, he got a PhD from Germany’s Halle University. Buckland says that Fallon retired in 1875 and between 1875 and 1879 published his Hindustani-English dictionary. He lived in Delhi and went to England in 1880 where he died on Oct 3, 1880.

Aside from this information, says researcher Ikram Chughtai, we do not know much about Fallon’s life. Though he achieved some remarkable linguistic feats, even famous British biographical reference works such as Dictionary of National Biography and The Annual Register are devoid of his name.

According to Chughtai Sahib, what we know about Fallon is taken mainly from what Buckland and Garcin de Tassy (1794-1878) have mentioned. Also, George A. Grierson (1851-1941) in his ‘Linguistic Survey of India’ has mentioned Fallon and his works in a few lines. What Mohiuddin Qadri Zor has written about Fallon, too, is extracted from Garcin de Tassy’s writings.

Some of Fallon’s works are:

1) ‘An English-Hindustani Law and Commercial Dictionary’. Published from Calcutta in 1858, it is an English-Urdu dictionary of commercial and legal terms, as in those days ‘Hindustani’ was one of the many names given to the Urdu language. Its second edition appeared from Banaras (now Varanasi) in 1888.

2) ‘A Hindustani-English Law and Commercial Dictionary’. Published from Banaras in 1879, it is an improved Urdu-English version of the work mentioned above.

3) ‘A New English-Hindustani Dictionary’. Subtitled ‘with illustrations from English literature and colloquial English’, this English-Urdu dictionary first appeared in 1883 from Banaras. Lala Faqeer Chand Vaish and ‘others’ assisted Fallon in this work. It was reprinted in 1927 by Pai Sahib and Gulab Singh, a Lahore publisher. Apart from an Indian edition in later years, Lahore’s Urdu Science Board (USB) published its new, updated and revised edition in 1976, which was reprinted in 1993.

4) ‘A Dictionary of Hindustani Proverbs’. Edited and revised by Richard Carnac Temple (1850- 1931) and Lala Faqeer Chand Vaish, it was published posthumously in 1886 from Banaras. Though it is an Urdu-English dictionary, in addition to Urdu and Punjabi proverbs, it includes many proverbs from Urdu’s regional dialects such as Bhojpuri, Marvari (Marwari) and Maggah (Magahi, spoken in Bihar). Delhi’s Asian Educational Services reprinted it in 1998.

5) Urdu Readers. When Fallon was posted as Bihar’s inspector of school, he prepared, in collaboration with Munshi Soorajmal, a number of modern Urdu readers. Later, he penned ‘Urdu aamoz’, which was prescribed as a textbook for schools.

6) ‘A New Hindustani-English Dictionary’. First published from Banaras in 1879 and subtitled ‘with illustrations from Hindustani literature and folklore’, this Urdu-English dictionary is Fallon’s most famous and most remarkable work. Urdu words are printed in Urdu script and the words of Sanskrit/Prakrit origin are also given in Devanagari script. Explanations are in English. Fallon got it published first as fascicles, beginning in 1875. It came in complete book form in 1879. Lahore’s USB reprinted it in 1976. Asian education Services, Delhi, reprinted it in 1989 and Qaumi Council Bara-i-Farogh-i-Urdu Zaban, Delhi, published a reprint in 2004.

Even today hardly any dictionary surpasses Fallon’s work when it comes to recording indigenous Urdu proverbs, idioms, superstitions, songs, riddles, cultural nuances, regional/dialectic pronunciations and folklore. One of the most striking features of Fallon’s Urdu-English dictionary is that he included in the dictionary words, phrases, idioms, proverbs and expressions that most of the Urdu lexicographers ignored on the basis of their being rustic or dialectal. He especially researched and recorded the words and idioms used by women. Fallon knew the value of field research in the realm of dictionary-making. He would go to ordinary people, men in street, and ask for pronunciations and shades of meanings of different words. This, however, led him to use lewd or taboo words and he sorts of developed a taste for such expressions. Some believe that Moulvi Syed Ahmed Dehlvi, the compiler of ‘Farhang-i-Aasifiya’ caught that taste from Fallon since Moulvi Sahib was assisting him in his lexicographic works. But the truth is that no word in a dictionary can be termed lewd or indecent since it is a part of the lexicon and a lexicographer must record it.

Fallon’s love for the common man’s language and idiom made him turn to Nazeer Akberabadi, the great poet ignored by his contemporaries and later-day critics. It was not until the 20th century that critics and readers realised the value of Nazeer’s poetry. But Fallon instinctively knew the invaluable vocabulary that Nazeer had used, much of which was rustic, hence, greatly helpful for linguists and lexicographers. Fallon has rightly much appreciated Nazeer and says in the preface to his Urdu-English dictionary that Nazeer Akberabadi is “the only true Hindustani poet according to the European standards of true poetry and the poet whom native word-worship will not allow to be a poet at all”. He says that Nazeer is “the only poet whose verses have made their way to the people. His verses are recited and sung in every street and lane, especially in his native town of Agra; and missionaries, who are familiar with his poems, quote him and Kabir with marked effect in their street preaching”.

Considering Delhi or Lucknow schools as the only acceptable standards was something that hindered the progress of Urdu. This kind of linguistic arrogance and prejudice, to which Fallon has pointed, began in Urdu with Sirajuddin Ali Khan Aarzoo, who criticised Abdul Vasay Haansvi, the compiler of Urdu’s first dictionary ‘Gharaib-ul-Lughaat’, for his local colour. Insha Allah Khan Insha in his ‘Darya-i-Lataafat’ ridiculed the accent of Punjabis, Kashmiris and other Urdu-speaking residents of Delhi. Ameer Meenai, while compiling ‘Ameer-ul-Lughaat’, wrote in a letter that Nazeer Akberabadi’s poetry was not useful for “citing even a single word”. As a result, many interesting and rare words, idioms and expressions that have made it to Fallon’s dictionary are rarely found in other Urdu dictionaries considered authentic.

It is not to say that Fallon’s Urdu-English dictionary is the only authentic one but it is painful to see how thousands of beautiful citations from Urdu poetry or regional dialects of Urdu are ignored by even today’s scholars. Sometimes Fallon translates Urdu verses or colloquial expressions in beautiful and colloquial English. It is a virtual treasure-trove for anyone seeking examples of good translations skills. What we need to do is to publish a revised, edited and updated version of Fallon’s dictionary.

drraufparekh@yahoo.com

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