Cornelius Rahmn’s Kalmuck dictionary

Cornelius Rahmn’s Kalmuck dictionary. Trans. and ed. by Jan-Olof Svantesson. (Turcologica 93.) Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz , 2012. Pp. 199. ISBN 9783447066907. $59.

Reviewed by Mikael Thompson, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Cornelius Rahmn (1785–1853) was a Swedish chaplain who between 1819 and 1823 worked for the London Missionary Society among the Kalmyks, the westernmost Mongolian people, who settled along the southern reaches of the Volga River beginning in 1630. He left three manuscripts about Kalmyk, which are preserved in the Uppsala University Library: this Kalmyk-Swedish dictionary, a Swedish-Kalmyk wordlist, and a Kalmyk grammar in Swedish (published in 2009 by Svantesson). This dictionary predates all published Kalmyk dictionaries and provides a largely independent source for the language, though there is some evidence suggesting that it was available to later missionaries in the region (10–11).

 In the manuscript, Kalmyk words are written in Oirat clear script, a script dating from 1648 that eliminated the ambiguities of classical Mongolian script through several new letter signs, and are translated into Swedish (and in some cases into German, with occasional Latin, Tibetan, Hebrew, Russian, English, and Greek words, 13); pronunciation is indicated specially for a few words (14). For this publication, Kalmyk words are transcribed and R’s Swedish translation is supplemented with the English. In some words, R’s handwriting is unclear (particularly the vowels o and u), and in a number of words distinctions that are made in Oirat clear script but not in classical Mongolian script are suppressed when ambiguity would not result (e.g. the frontness of rounded vowels in non-initial syllables), which might indicate interference from standard written Mongolian, but in many cases suggests rather that R was unaware of the principles of Kalmyk vowel harmony (4–7).

 The manuscript contains over 7,000 words, with an indication of word class and register. Many of the manuscript entries are derived forms of one stem, and the editor has mostly combined them with the main entry. Words and examples given in the grammar have also been included (13). R does not indicate many grammatical categories that are common currency of Mongolists, such as the causative voice or the reciprocal, cooperative (or adversative), and pluractional forms of verbs, though his translations show that he was aware of them (17). The fact that many causative forms are given suggests that R elicited words from native speakers (such forms are sparse in texts), and certain of his spelling variations point to dialectal variation as well. Variation in vowels in non-initial syllables suggests that reduction of post-tonic vowels had started (7–8); however, the spelling of such words as ali ‘any’ and morin ‘horse’ in which formerly back vowels have fronted suggests that this process had not advanced enough to interfere with the historical spellings.

 This book is a welcome addition to Mongolian dialectology and historical linguistics. It is highly recommended to scholars in these fields. It is not likely to be of interest to non-specialist readers, however.