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400 years of ties celebrated with new Dutch-Turkish dictionary

The new Dutch-Turkish dictionary has been completed, just in time for the celebration of 400 years of Dutch-Turkish ties. It would not have been possible without Gerjan van Schaaik and Mehmet Emin Yıldırım from Leiden University. On Wednesday 18 April the Education Minister Marja van Bijsterveldt will officially be presented with the first copy.

Why a new dictionary?

Van Schaaik says, ‘There have been Turkish-Dutch and Dutch-Turkish dictionaries for years. But they were all made by and for Turkish speakers. This new dictionary is a translation dictionary with comprehensive information about Turkish for the Dutch speaker. The Dutch speaker needs a production dictionary such as ours with a grammatical compendium and overviews of the argument structure of verbs and adjectives at the end.’

Modern data structure

Van Schaaik joined the project, which began in 1996 and continued in fits and starts since then, in 2005. He found a way to get it back on track. He says, ‘The first thing we needed to do was to structure all the material that had been collected in the preceding years. Once, after endless programming, we had managed to impose a data structure, we could see how much had already been done. And then, luckily, we were also able to make a prognosis about the dictionary’s completion.’ In 2010 the Dutch Language Union (Nederlandse Taalunie), which originally commissioned the project, and the Leiden Institute for Area Studies made extra funds available for the project’s completion.

The strength of the dictionary

Making a dictionary is rather like the work of a road builder who is looking at the endless miles stretching ahead. And that whole stretch needs to be filled with really small building blocks. In the end these result in a strong and extremely useful whole: the road. As Van Schaaik says, ‘It’s exactly the same with a dictionary. The smallest unit is the lemma, the word, and that’s what you use to pave the way. The lemmas sometimes have different meanings, and these meanings have as many Turkish equivalents again, which are sometimes but certainly not always synonyms. An example then has to be given for each of these meanings. An electronic Turkish text corpus (with more than seven million tokens) did a fantastic job here. Once a fitting example has been found, all that needs to be done is to include a Dutch translation.’

And now a Turkish-Dutch dictionary?

Van Schaaik says, ‘By making a Dutch-Turkish dictionary we have already gathered a huge amount of material for a Turkish-Dutch dictionary. Just think of the many shades of meaning of Dutch and Turkish words that have been included in the dictionary we’ve just published. And think of the enormous wealth of examples that arose through things such as supplementary corpus research. What we need is money and manpower; we don’t even need a great deal of time.’


Dutch-Turkish dictionary 2012, published by Leiden University Press.
Compiled by Dr Gerjan van Schaaik and Mehmet Emin Yıldırım, both lecturers in Turkish on the Middle-East Studies Programme.

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