Trilingual Lexicography: Sorbian - German – English

Gunter Schaarschmidt, University of Victoria

For a language to be functional at all stylistic levels, including LSP (language for specific purposes), monolingual dictionaries, often encyclopedic in design, have shown to be the best means for establishing and aiding in the preservation of norms. Bilingual dictionaries usually fall short in this respect, as is evidenced by translators who more often than not have to resort to a monolingual dictionary, not only for the target language but for the source language as well. Nonetheless, the compiling and publishing of mono- and bilingual dictionaries is a well-established and well-motivated activity in language planning, language pedagogy, and translation. The same cannot be said for tri- and multilingual dictionaries, and yet tri- and multilingualism is a well-established fact (note also the recent conferences on the subject of trilingualism in Innsbruck 1999 and in the Netherlands in September 2001).

Sorbian trilingualism has a long history - it may be assumed that Sorbian intellectuals communicated in German, Latin, and Sorbian prior to the 16th century. Apart from Sorbian intellectual emigration to Poland and Czechoslovakia during the Nazi period, virtually borderless contact with Polish lasted well into the 16th century while contact with Czech, especially in the Catholic Sorbian region, has been guaranteed by the clergy receiving their training in Prague. More recently, with German unification and the European Community, English has become the dominant third language, especially in technology and communication. Thus far, there are no trilingual dictionaries (Sorbian - German - English/English - Sorbian - German), yet the practice of recent Sorbian - English/English - Sorbian dictionaries indicates that in the definition of English lexical items, German is used frequently to delimit the semantic and stylistic range of a given entry. This practice would seem to point to a need for a trilingual dictionary some of the methodological and practical premises are discussed in this paper.

One of the theoretical/practical issues arising out of trilingual lexicographic research is the question of the directionality in the lemma structure. Based on trilingual language learning experience, it seems that for bilingual speakers the directionality is source language related language target language, and for monolingual speakers source language related target less related/unrelated target. Here “related” is to be understood in the sense of typological, not necessarily genetic relatedness, but more research is needed in this area.

Another issue of both practical and theoretical significance, after determining the directionality as discussed above, is the internal lemma structure in terms of synonymy relations, styles, and redundancy. Judging from published trilingual dictionaries as well as from ongoing trilingual lexicography projects, it is apparent that a trilingual dictionary is not the association represented here as {SL {TL1, TL2}}, where SL = source language, TL= target language. Such an elemental association of the lemma structure would not allow for cross-classification and thus obscure the synonymy relations in the lexical structure of the languages involved. The union of three languages in a dictionary is thus an inherently independent collection of lexical items, and not a loose association of two or three bi- or monolingual dictionaries.