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Abhidhan Etymologically the Bengali term abhidhan means dictionary. It suggests spelling, meaning, pronunciation, terminology, transliteration, grammatical items, etc. From a dictionary we can know how many ways a word can be used in a sentence. It provides us the source or etymological identity of a term. It also contains various definitions associated to learning or knowledge. The historical background of a word, that is from when or for what a word comes to existence or use, can be known from it. Most of the dictionaries contain appendices, where various commonplace information of daily life is anthologised. Having so many things included here in, sometime it appears to be a concise form of encyclopedia. Moreover, there are some specialized dictionaries showing special preferences on particular things or ideas. For example we are familiar with the dictionaries namely- pronunciation dictionary, etymological dictionary, spelling dictionary, historical dictionary, social science dictionary, medical dictionary, and dictionary for slang words, etc. Likewise historical or social science dictionaries there are innumerable dictionaries of terminology is available now.

The tradition of Bengali dictionary does not refer us too back. Generally it sets out from the eighteenth century; but the people of this region were not at all segregated from the lineage of lexicon. Among the medieval manuscripts, preserved in different libraries of Bangladesh a Sanskrit dictionary entitled Amarakosa or namalimganushasana draws our attention most. Approximately during the sixth century it was compiled by Amara Singha. However, it is highly noticeable that most of the vocabularies of this dictionary are identical to Bengali Language. Keeping it in mind it can be said that the history of using or practicing Bengali dictionaries dates from Amarakosa. It is for the same reason we cannot but remember another encyclopedic Sanskrit dictionary entitled Shabdakalpadrum of the nineteenth century. It culminates through eight volumes that come out respectively in the years of 1821, 1827, 1832, 1838, 1844, 1848, 1851 and 1857. Composed in Bangla script most of the vocabularies of this dictionary are equally usable in Sanskrit and Bengali language.

Bengali dictionary, in fact, begins from the eighteenth century. On its initial stage it has been mainly characterized with a bilingual mode. Vocabulario em Idioma Bengalla e Portuguez can be identified as the first one of this type. It had been compiled by Fr. Manoel da Assumpcam, a Portuguese priest, working in Dhaka region then. It comprises 602 pages in total and was published from the city of Lisbon in 1743 with Roman script.

Table  Several bilingual dictionaries were published in the nineteenth century. These were:

A Dictionary of Bengalee Language || William Carey || Calcutta, 1815
Name of Dictionary Name of Compiler Year of Publication
A Vocabulary: Bengali and English Mohanprosad Thakur Calcutta, 1805
Dictionary in English and Bengali John Mendis Serampore, 1822
A Dictionary in Bengalee and English Tarachand Chakravarti Calcutta, 1827
Dvibhasarthakabhidhan William Morton Calcutta, 1828
A Vocabulary: English and Bengalee JD Pearson Calcutta, 1829
A Dictionary: Bengali and Sanskrit GC Houghton Calcutta, 1833
A Dictionary in English and Bengalee Ram Kamal Sen Calcutta, 1834

Name of Dictionary Name of Compiler Year of Publication A Vocabulary: Bengali and English Mohanprosad Thakur Calcutta, 1805 A Dictionary of Bengalee Language William Carey Calcutta, 1815 Dictionary in English and Bengali John Mendis Serampore, 1822 A Dictionary in Bengalee and English Tarachand Chakravarti Calcutta, 1827 Dvibhasarthakabhidhan William Morton Calcutta, 1828 A Vocabulary: English and Bengalee JD Pearson Calcutta, 1829 A Dictionary: Bengali and Sanskrit GC Houghton Calcutta, 1833 A Dictionary in English and Bengalee Ram Kamal Sen Calcutta, 1834

During the year 1788, two Bengali dictionaries were published from London in Roman script. They are Indian Glossary and The Indian Vocabulary. The compilers of these dictionaries are unknown. They are nominally 'Indian', but their entries for English synonyms are only Bengali written in Roman scripts. As a matter of fact these two dictionaries of unknown compilers are considered as the first Bengali-English dictionaries.

The first Bengali dictionary with Bengali script was published from Kolkata in 1793. Its title is An Extensive Vocabulary, Bengalese and English and comprises of 445 pages. It is assumed that its compiler and publisher was Aaron Upjohn. However, for the first largest Bengali dictionary credit goes to Henry Pitts Forster. His dictionary is called A Vocabulary in Two Parts: English and Bongalee and Vice Versa. Its two volumes appeared in 1799 and 1802. Approximately 20,000 Bengali words with their English synonyms were included in it.

Several dictionaries were published in the late eighteenth century in manuscript forms. But these were not printed. As for example, we can mention a Bengali-Persian dictionary, compiled by an unknown secretary of Nathaniel Brassy Halhed. It comprises of 100 pages including approximately 2000 words as its entries. It was compiled in 1774 to 1775. A French interpreter named Augustian Aussant compiled seven dictionaries from 1774 to 1785. All of these dictionaries were French-Bengali dictionaries. Though most of the words have been written in Roman scripts, for two of the dictionaries Bengali scripts have been used; one of which is a dictionary of relationship or social ties. Again one of the dictionaries compiled in 1782 marks a bit exceptional. Here every French word has been explained in English, Portuguese, Persian, Hindustani and Bengali synonyms. It has 3800 entries explained in 196 pages. In 1807, under the authority of Robert Keith Dick some bilingual dictionary namely-Bengali-Kuki, Bengali-Tipera, Bengali-Oriya, etc. were compiled.

From the first decade of the nineteenth century, demand for dictionaries was increasing. Initially bilingual dictionaries like Bengali-English and English-Bengali received special consideration for publication. Among the popular bilingual dictionary compilers Mohunpersaud Takoor marks a distinction. He compiles only two bilingual dictionaries: a Sanskrit-Bengali dictionary entitled Samskrita Shabdah bamgadeshiya Bhasa (Vocabulary: Sanskrit and Bengalee), published in 1809 and the other is a Bengali-English dictionary, entitled A Vocabulary: Bengali and English, published in 1810. Both of the dictionaries were compiled by Mohunpersaud. It contains almost equal number of entries. The first largest bilingual dictionary in Bengali is A Dictionary of the Bengalee Language, compiled by William Carey. It is a fragmentary of two volumes and comprises of (616+1544) 2160 pages in total. It is indeed a modern one compared to other dictionaries of earlier time either in respect of its length or innovation. Here every entry (in Bengali sripts) has been explained with its parts of speech, gender, and other grammatical notes. The dictionary has been arranged according to Bengali Alphabetic order also. The next remarkable dictionary is compiled by John Mendis. His An Abridgement of Johnson's Dictionary in English and Bengali is English to Bengali dictionary. It was published from Kolkata in 1822. In 1827, another dictionary entitled Dictionary in Bengalee and English was published from Kolkata. Its compiler is Tarachand Chukruburtee. It is a bilingual dictionary of Bengali to English. Dwibhasarthakabhidhan or A Dictionary of the Bengali Language with Bengali Synonyms and an English Interpretation comes out in 1828. William Morton compiles it. JD Pearson's A School Dictionary, English and Bengalee attains applauses for its simple language on the contemporary time. It has been published from Kolkata in 1829. A Dictionary, Bengali and Sanskrit: Explained in English, is in fact a Bengali-English bilingual dictionary published from London in 1833. It has been compiled by Graves C Haughton. Besides Bengali scripts, Haughton has provided Devanagari scripts for Hindi users, Arabic scripts for Arabic and Persian users, and Roman script for English and Portuguese users. Another remarkable bilingual dictionary of the nineteenth century is Ram Comul Sen's A Dictionary of English and Bengalee. It has been published from Kolkata in 1834. Some other bilingual dictionaries are Anglo-Bengali Dictionary, compiled by Radhanath Dey and published in 1850; An English and Bengalee Vocabulary, compiled by Mudhusudan Mullick, in 1852; A Dictionary of the English Language, by UC Addy, published in 1854; A Glossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms, by H. H. Wilson, published from London in 1855. This dictionary comprises of (24+728=) 752 pages in total.

Table  The first monolingual Bangla dictionary was published in 1817. The following is a list of some monolingual dictionaries:

Name of Dictionary Name of Compiler Year of Publication
Babgabhasabhidhan Ramchandra Vidyavagish Calcutta, 1817
Babgabhasabhidhan Rameshwar Tarkalankar Calcutta, 1839
Shabdambudhi Muktaram Vidyavagish Calcutta, 1853
Prakrtivad Abhidhan Ramkamal Vidyalankar Calcutta, 1866
Saral Babgala Abhidhan Subal Mitra Calcutta, 1906
Babgala Bhasar Abhidhan Jnanendra Mohan Das Calcutta, 1917
Chalantika Rajshekhar Basu Calcutta, 1930
Babgiya Shabdakos Haricharan Bandyopadhyay Calcutta, 1932
Vyavaharik Shabdakos Kazi Abdul Wadud Calcutta, 1953
Samsad Babgala Abhidhan Shailendra Biswas Calcutta, 1955

The publications of bilingual dictionaries continued in the twentieth century. Among various bilingual dictionaries of this time, most important are: Student's Favorite Dictionary, compiled by Ashutosh Dev, published from Kolkata in 1958; Samsad English-Bengali Dictionary, compiled by Shailendranath Biswas published in 1959 from Kolkata. Shailendra Biswas' Samsad Bengali-English Dictionary published from Kolkata in 1968. In 1993, Bangla Academy of Dhaka published Bangla Academy English-Bengali Dictionary. It is edited by Zillur Rahman Siddiqui and others. Mohammad Ali and others edited Bangla Academy Bengali-English Dictionary and published from Bangla Academy in 1994. Bangla Academy also published Bangla-Urdu Abhidhan/ Bengali-Urdhu Dictionary compiled by AM Fayez Ahmad Chaudhury and published in 1966, 1970, 1975, 1980; first two volumes have been published by Kendriya Bangla Unnayan Board and last two volumes by Bangla Academy) and Arbi-Bangla Abhidhan/ Arabic-Bengali Dictionary, 4 volumes compiled by Alauddin Al Azhari, and published by Bangla Academy in 1970, 1972, 1975, 1982. In 1978, Nani Bhaumik publishes Rush-Bangla Abhidhan/ Russan-Bengali Dictionary from Moscow. Khudiram Das in 1998 publishes a Bangla-Saotali Abhidhan/ Bengali-Santali Dictionary from the Bangla Academy Kolkata. We can also remember in this context Pali-Bangla Abhidhan/ Pali-Bengali Dictionary compiled in two volumes by Shantarakshit Mahasthabir in the year 2001 and 2008 respectively. It has been published from the Buddhist Welfare Trust, Dhaka.

From the beginning of the nineteenth century Bengali Language becomes a medium of practicing education and wisdom. As a result, there appear some monolingual Bengali dictionaries. The first dictionary of this type is Bangabhasabhidhan (Dictionary of Bengali Language). It has been compiled by Ramchandra Bidyabagish and published from Kolkata in 1817. After Ramchandra Bidyabagish we get more compilers in this respect. In 1838, Tarachandra Sharma published Sabdartha Prakashabhidhan (Dictionary of Word-Meaning) from Kolkata; next Rameswar Tarkalankar publishes Bangabhasabhidhan (Bengali Dictionary) from Kolkata in 1839. Some other remarkable dictionaries are noted bellow: Bangabhidhan/Bengali Dictionary (Haladhar Nyayaratna, Kolkata, 1839); Shabdhakalpatarangini/ Wavelike Words (Jagannathprasad Mallik, Kolkata, 1841); Shabdarthaprakashabhidhan/ Dictionary of Word Meaning (Digambar Bhattacarya, Kolkata, 1852); Shabdambudhi/ Ocean of Words (Muktaram Bidyabagish, Kolkata, 1854); Nutanabhidhan/ New Dictionary (Jagannarayan Mukhopadyay, Kolkata, 1856); Shabdasar Abhidhan/ Dictionary of Core Words (Girishchandra Bidyaratna, Kolkata, 1861); Shabdasandarbha Sindhu/ Ocean of Word Collection (Mathuranath Tarkaratna, Kolkata, 1863); Shabdartha Muktabali/ Pearls of Word Meaning (Benimadhab Das, Kolkata, 1864); Shabdadidhiti Abhidhan/ Dictionary of Shining Words (Shyamacharan Chattopadhyaya, Kolkata, 1864); Shabdartha Ratnamala/ Jewels of Word Meaning (Kanailal Shil, Kolkata, 1865); Prakritibad Abhidhan/Materialistic Dictionary (Ramakamal Bidyalankar, Kolkata, 1866); Shabdabali/ The Words (Keshabchandra Roy, Kolkata, 1867), etc.

From the beginning of the twentieth century the modernist monolingual Bengali-Bengali dictionaries start coming out. In this respect, Saral Bangala Abhidhan (Easy Bengali Dictionary), compiled by Subal Mitra have been popular for a long time. It has been however, published from Kolkata in 1906. Jnanendra Mohan Das's Bangla Bhasar Abhidhan (Dictionary of Bengali Language) on the other hand brings innovation in respect of mono-lingual Bengali dictionary. It is a fragmentary of two volumes; first published from Kolkata in the year of 1917 (its enlarged edition was published in 1937). As a matter of fact, the entries of this dictionary contained, were more in number than other dictionaries published earlier. It is almost at the same time, Haricharan Bandyopadhyay's Bangiya Xabdakos (Glossaries of Bengal), completed in five volumes, and deserves same importance as Bangla Bhasar Abhidan by Jnanendra Mohan Das. Haricharan's dictionary has been published from 1932 to 1951 (In 1966 Sahitya Academy of Delhi published it in two volumes). Both of these dictionaries mark a milestone in respect of monolingual Bengali dictionary. These were the great outcome of their long time research (eg, Haricharan Bandyopadhyay worked almost 27 years from 1905 to 1932). Both of them had collected words and their usage from the primary sources.

It is during the twentieth century some other popular monolingual Bengali dictionaries have been published paying importance on the convenience of common readers. Among those Rajshekhar Basu's Chalantika (of Modern Age), Kazi Abdul Wadud's Byabaharik Xabdakos (Functional Glossaries), and Shailendra Biswas's Samsad Bamgla Abhidhan (Sangsad Bengali Dictionary), published from Kolkata in years of 1930, 1953 and 1955 respectively. In addition Bangla Academy Dhaka published Byabaharik Bangla Abhidhan (Functional Bengali Dictionary) in the year of 1984 (Muhammad Enamul Huq et al; revised edition in 2000). Bijit Kumar Datta and others compiled another dictionary of this type entitled Bidyarthi Bangla Abhidhan (Student's Bengali Dictionary). It has been published from Bangla Academy Kolkata in 1999. All these are in turn mostly popular and widely circulated.

In 1955, after the foundation of Bangla Academy Dhaka in Bangladesh works on dictionaries attain a newer dimension. Just after its establishment it has been producing monolingual, bilingual, multilingual dictionaries regularly. In addition the publication of various types of terminological dictionaries has been a regular activity of the Bangla Academy. By the year 2009 Bangla Academy has published approximately seventy dictionaries and lexicons, including large volume of monolingual-bilingual dictionaries or mini volume of terminological dictionaries. Some of the most important of these are: Bangladesher Avcalik Bhasar Abhidhan (Dialectical Dictionary of Bangladesh) by Muhammad Shahidullah in 1965, Charitabhidhan (Biographies) by Shamsuzzaman Khan et al in 1985, Bangla Uchcharan Abhidhan (Bengali Pronunciation Dictionary) by Naren Biswas in 1989, Samksipta Bangla Abhidhan (Concise Bengali Dictionary) by Ahmad Sharif in 1992, Samakalin Bangla Bhasar Abhidhan (Contemporary Bengali Dictionary) by Abu Ishaq in 1993 and 1998, Banan Abhidhan (Dictionary of Spelling) by Jamil Choudhury in 1994, Lekhak Abhidhan (Dictionary of Writers) by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam et al in 1998, Madhyayuger Bangla Bhasar Abhidhan (Dictionary of Medieval Bengali Language) by Mohammad Abdul Quaiyum in 2000, etc. [Swarochish Sarker]

Bibliography Jatindramohan BhattacHarya, Bangla Abhidhan Granther Parichay, Calcutta University, Kolkata, 1970; MA Quaiyum, Abhidhan, Bangla Academy, Dhaka,1987; Saraswati Mishra, Bangla Abhidhaner Kramabikash, Pustak Bipani, Kolkata, 2000; Ghulam Murshid, Atharo Sataker Gadya: Itihas O Samkalin, Abasar, Dhaka, 2009.