Màʹdí English–English Màʹdí dictionary

ʹdí English–English Màʹdí dictionary, 2nd edn. By Mairi J. Blackings. (Languages of the world/dictionaries 25.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011. Pp. vii, 232. ISBN 9783862880539. $90.97.

Reviewed by Michael Cahill, SIL International

This dictionary of about 7000 Màʹdí entries is written by a Màʹdíspeaker/linguist. The second edition has added 2000 entries since the first edition in 2000. It includes a six-page introduction explaining how to use the dictionary, including a list of phonemes and two notes on prefixes, but no other grammatical notes. The Màʹdí entries are in bold type, followed by a more phonetic-looking entry in square brackets. The first, bolded, entry is in the old orthography, and the second entry is in the new orthography, which includes tone marks and distinguishes +/- advanced tongue root (ATR) vowels with dots under [-ATR] vowels. Implosives are marked by an apostrophe before b, d, j, and gb, which varies between left- or right-hand single quote marks and an acute accent-like symbol, as in the volume’s title above. The entry includes the part of speech, one or more brief English definitions, and sometimes an example sentence or phrase, alternative forms, dialect label, or source of a borrowed word. The presence vs. lack of examples makes the book appear to be a mix of glossary and full dictionary. An English-Màʹdí glossary is included, with the English term, part of speech, and Màʹdí equivalent in the new orthography. For convenience, I refer below to Màʹdí entries in the old orthography.

There are many examples of identically spelled adjacent entries, like eku and eku (also identical in the new orthography) defined as ‘fish species’ and ‘glory’, edi and edi, ‘to have washed clothes’ and ‘to shout for help’, te and te, ‘to be drunk’ and ‘to fart’, and eco and eco, ‘to assume a different form’ and ‘to change’. Examples such as the last are obviously related and perhaps could be combined under one main entry, but the others do not seem related. If these are not mistakes, then either Màʹdí has quite a large number of homonyms, or there are phonetic distinctions not captured in the new orthography.

There is not a one-to-one correlation between the Màʹdí-English and English-Màʹdí sections. The head entry for ‘cook’ (noun) is oddly listed with the plural form la’di’ba, with the singular la’dire as a sub-entry. If one looks at the English-Màʹdí glossary, we find la’dire as well as another entry late’do, which does not appear in the main Màʹdí-English section at all. Those wanting to know the difference between la’dire and late’do will therefore be disappointed. One finds ‘rot’ and ‘decay’ both have ngma as the Màʹdí gloss, but when one looks up ngma in the Màʹdísection, we find only ‘decay’.

Likewise, there are many Màʹdí terms for plant and animal names where it would be helpful to have species names, such as with ngulinguli, which is simply defined as ‘a herb’, and rota ‘plant species’, without any other details. (Recall also eku was simply ‘a species of fish’.) Line drawings or some other illustrations would be helpful to identify terms more specifically.

Despite the unevenness of entries, this is a valuable and informative book for researchers. One could wish for a price affordable for the Màʹdí people themselves.