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Ahad, 09 Jumadil Akhir 1442 (Saturday, January 23rd, 2021)
December 20th, 2010 08:12

Dictionary Making: Preserving Tradition of 17th Century

Dictionary Making: Preserving Tradition of 17th Century

By Setiono Sugiharto

The controversy over the allegedly pirated Alphabetical Thesaurus of the Indonesian Language (ATIL) published by the Language Center has shown no signs of abating.

Eko Endarmoko, the compiler of the first-ever written Thesaurus of the Indonesian Language (TIL), has condemned the publication, accusing the Language Center of deliberately copying his thesaurus.

In an article written in Kompas daily (Nov. 26), Eko fulminated at the remarks made by the ATIL’s associate editor Sugiyono, who said that there was “no such a trademark for plagiarism in the realm of language study”.

The latter then urged the public to further study the theory and tradition of lexicography.

This claim is further espoused by the ATIL’s chief managing editor Meity Taqdir, who added that “in lexicography copying is legal as it is a common practice to copy from the available source”.   

Implicit in Eko’s counterargument is that copying from one dictionary to another is indeed an act of piracy, which certainly goes against the grain.

One, however, needs to exercise his intellectual prudence in weighing which of these conflicting arguments are well-founded. Unlike plagiaristic acts in other intellectually protected domains such as works of art and scholarly works, plagiarism in the field of lexicography, for a historical reason, is most subtle to prove.

In hindsight, the history of lexicography (most notably English lexicography) in the 17th century has shown us that flagrantly copying one dictionary to another and having it printed verbatim was a common and not unlawful practice.

No regulation governing the copyright infringement was in existence at that time, so the practice of acknowledging sources in dictionary making was hardly recorded.

Also, creativity on the part of lexicographers was not  required in compiling new dictionaries. In fact, there were no such things as new dictionaries.

The insight from this diachronic view, cannot, however, be used as the sole justification for preserving the piratical tradition in lexicography, as has been implied by Sugoyono and Meity.

It is undeniably true lexicographic practice in the 17th century was studded with plagiaristic conducts, but it needs to be noted that dictionary making is also a highly intellectual enterprise.

Thus, any decisions made to compile a dictionary must judiciously ruminate over legal and ethical issues and avoid mere provincialisms.

If the publication of the ATIL is meant to complement and perfect the shortcomings of its predecessor, the existing source (i.e. TIL) can only be used as a reference for the making of the former. In so doing, plagiarism can be avoided.   

The case of the ATIL, as has been defended by Sugiyono, cannot be categorized as plagiarism because it did acknowledge the TIL in its references, which Eko still resented, asserting that crediting his work does not necessarily mean the former could copy as much as material from the available source (i.e. the TIL).

What, then, are the standard norms used by lexicographers to prove that a dictionary is the product of a piratical act?

In his book, Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of Lexicography, Sidney I. Landau suggests “a pattern of close correspondence” criteria for proof of plagiarism in lexicography.

He says that “if two dictionaries consistently shared the same or similar wording in a large number of definitions, and if these definitions were of a complexity and size that suggested there might have been many ways to treat them, plagiarism might be provable.”

Although revealing, this caveat cannot in itself serve as strong ground for legal action. As has been aforementioned, proving originality in the field of lexicography is quite subtle, if not impossible. On the face of it, Landau nattily advises any lexicographers “to take an indulgent view of the pilfering of ideas, since no one is innocent”.

To pronounce an opinion to the public that his work has been breached without his knowing by the Language Center, and in turn to beg for the public’s support in order to take legal action, Eko Endarmoko must, at worst, first convince them that his Thesaurus of the Indonesian Language is indeed a pure, original work of his own, which is free from a close correspondence with the previous thesauri of other languages or other dictionaries of the Indonesian language he was inspired by.

At best, though less satisfactorily explainable, he can only tell them the thesaurus he compiled is the first-ever written thesaurus of the Indonesian language.


Setiono Sugiharto, an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language.

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com

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