LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 29, No.3 - Fall 1983
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1983 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
B, Piesarskas and B. Svecevičius. Lietuvių-anglų kalbų žodynas.
Vilnius: Mokslas, 1979. 911 pages. 3.40 rubles.
This bilingual dictionary is intended primarily for Lithuanian students of English. It will not serve them particularly well. If one had any doubts about the need for at least one native speaker of each language to be involved in the production of a good dictionary of this kind, this work would eliminate them. An English-speaking editor or proofreader could have corrected the great majority of this dictionary's many flaws.
Most of these flaws call for deletion rather than positive modification. For instance, an English-speaking editor would have removed the un-English "potato-crusher" given alongside "potato-masher" for bulvių maigytuvas.
SCENE: an American diner.
Waitress: How da ya want yer potatoes?
Foreigner: Crushed, please.
Under mada we find, in addition to "the last word (of fashion)", "the last shriek". Unlike "potato-crusher", this expression must have been used by some people at one time, but it was long ago. The same is true of the archaic "Mussulman" given with "Mohammedan" and "Moslem" for mahometonas. But sometimes none of the alternatives represent current English usage. Neither "mode journal" nor "fashion paper" will do as translations of madų žurnalas, which is, of course, "fashion magazine". For magas they give the rare (if not obsolete) "magian" but not the usual "magus". It is a commonplace that dictionaries are destined to be out of date by the time they are published, but this one would have been out of date thirty or forty years ago!
Usage labeling also lags behind the times. "Store" for magazinas is no longer an Americanism. The pronunciations as well as the translations in this dictionary are very much those of British English. This is fine, but one could wish for the makers to make this rather more explicit. Neither are the phonetic transcriptions all that they should be. The only pronunciation provided for "maestro" is acceptable Italian but unusual and affected English, even in Britain.
"Wet the bargain" is neither a literal translation of magaryčios gerti nor idiomatic English. Better would be "drink on it" or "close the deal with a drink" they may not be exact equivalents, but at least they are English. "Wet the bargain", like "provoke the appetite" (maginti) and "potato-crusher", is English only in the sense that the phrase is made up of English words. Only a foreign learner would combine them in this way. The treatment of idioms is particularly weak. "He is dying to speak" is a good translation of jam liežuvis maga. Unfortunately they also give "he is dying to know", which, since the tongue (liežuvis) is not related to knowing as it is to speaking, is quite unacceptable. This is an error typical of this work: the wrong version is included as well as the right one.
All of the faults I have mentioned so far appear on a single page (379), and I have not exhausted it yet. A more straightforward error is "alluring" in place of "allure" for magumas. Even if we assume that this page is worse than the average page, our confidence in this reference work must be shaken. There are misprints, too, of course, and these are more troubling in a dictionary than in other kinds of books. The only one I found on this page was "fasionable", but there is at least one spelling or printing error on every page I have looked at. In a dictionary with relatively small pages and relatively large print, this is not an impressive rate.
The amount of print spent on literal translations of phrases and sentences is amazing. If a dictionary tells us that vaikas means "child" and abuojas "insufferable", we do not need it to tell us that abuojas vaikas means "insufferable child", especially when better translations exist. We do, however, need it to tell us that "mad dog" is the equivalent of abuojas šuo; instead, it translates the latter as "angry/wild dog". Not only do all these unnecessary translations waste a great amount of energy and space; they give the lexicographers more opportunities to make mistakes, such as translating drugelius as "butterflies" rather than "moths" fn drugelius magino lempų šviesa " the butterflies were attracted/fascinated by the lights".
This habit is most dangerous when Lithuanian idioms are involved. For some of these the dictionary provides a functionally equivalent English expression; for others it gives a literal translation. Since "tarred with the same brush" is clearly not a word by word version of abu labu, abi labi, the dictionary user can assume that the two expressions are used in more or less the same situations. "I haven't had a poppy-seed in my mouth" just as clearly is a literal translation of yet another Lithuanian idiom, but the Lithuanian learner of English has no way of knowing that it is not functionally equivalent in English. The English-speaking user of the dictionary will recognize that this is not an English idiom, but he can only guess at the significance of a statement like aguonos grūdo burnoje neturėjau.
This raises an interesting point. The nature of the errors in this dictionary ensures that it will serve English-speaking learners of Lithuanian much better than those for whom it was intended. Unlike them, we are not deceived by the mistakes. We know that basketball is not played on a pitch; we know that apples do not have a rind; we know to speak of oats rather than "oat". The student of English as a second or foreign language does not know; he relies on his bilingual dictionary to tell him. But this one tells him that a krepšinio aikštelė is called in English a "basketball pitch", and so on. There are not many of us, I suppose, but it is unfortunate that the makers and publishers of this work have not acknowledged its potential usefulness to the student of Lithuanian, because they could easily have made it considerably more useful to him. A fairly common word like bagotas does not appear. Archaic the word may be, but it makes more sense to include archaic Lithuanian words in a dictionary of this type than it does to include archaic English words, which belong in an English-Lithuanian dictionary. It is also ironic that the foreign learner of Lithuanian can find out how words are accented in a monolingual Lithuanian dictionary such as the one published in 1954 for the Lietuvos T.S.R. Mokslų Akademija, but not in a bilingual work such as the one under review.
The Lithuanian speaker who depends on this dictionary will be just as likely to say "farewell" as "goodbye", and he will say the oddly literary "a world of thanks" rather than the usual "thank you very much" or "thanks a lot", which are not given for labai ačiū. In short, the learner of English who puts his trust in this work of reference will indeed, in the words of the compilers (s.v. grebezoti), "speak a broken language".
University of Canterbury.