Thursday, May 21, 2009

Golden Age of Publishing

The evidence seems to be mounting that we are experiencing a new golden age of publishing in Mongolia. Admon Press seems to be reprinting old titles and producing new content at rate possibly unprecedented even during the Socialist Era. One item that has me particularly excited is the reprinting of the standard Mongolian dictionary which has not been published by all accounts since the mid-sixties. The ACMS library has a copy of the old edition, and next month we'll purchase the new edition (see them side by side in the picture). At the risk of revealing myself as a complete nerd, this new dictionary is a truly exciting thing for anyone interested in studying Mongolian, especially at the advanced level. The dictionary is only 39,500MNT which means it is within easy reach of most libraries, organizations, and a substantial portion of the population, and it contains updated and new entries completely in Mongolian.

Culture and language are inextricably linked, so dictionaries are much more than tools for learning or translating. They are also a record in time of the essence of a society. I shouldn't overdo it, but it is a fairly momentous occasion to have this dictionary available, because really good dictionaries that capture the essence of Mongolia are the exception not the rule. As a native speaker of English and non-native speaker of Japanese, I have almost boundless selection available to me in terms of dictionaries. I took for granted when I first arrived in Mongolia that quality dictionaries would be available for the language, because it made sense for any community of speakers to focus substantial time and effort on documenting a language. The Oxford Dictionary for English is the standard by which all English dictionaries are measured with its extensive information about not only the definition of words but also the etymology of words and extensive examples in context. I foolishly thought I would find something similar in Mongolia, and instead I found that the most widely available dictionaries were those used solely for translating Mongolian into other languages or vise-versa. You can't beat the natural forces of economics when it comes to less commonly spoken languages is what I quickly learned.

The new addition of the Mongolian dictionary does not have the history of words like the Oxford Dictionary, but this is understandable because of the scholarly effort it would take to assign histories to even a small portion of the total Mongolian lexicon. It would be a great project, though, if a Mongolian scholar or group of scholars put together a dictionary in the manner the Oxford Dictionary was developed through years of individual scholars and lay people contributing their tacit knowledge of the language as described in the book "The Professor and the Madman." In the absence of the history of words, though, the entries in the new edition of the dictionary do include substantial numbers of examples in context which is very helpful.

In this emerging golden age of publishing, I am curious what the margins are like for the publishing companies? I wonder not because I want to go into publishing myself, but rather in hopes that the money is good enough to sustain the industry. Published works are an integral part of any society, and it is heartening to think a written record of the current era is being produced at an unprecedented and, hopefully, sustainable rate.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Endicott said...

I also look forward to the publication of the updated version of this dictionary. I was given a copy of the 1966 edition while in Ulaanbaatar in 1979. It was apparently already rather difficult to acquire a copy even then.
-Tina Endicott