John Shakespear’s Dictionary, Hindustani and English

I’ve been looking at Hindi dictionaries to get a sense of the information provided within each entry. Of the dictionaries I’ve looked at, the oldest so far is John Shakespear’s Dictionary, Hindustani and English, which was published in 1817. As the name of the dictionary suggests, it deals with Hindustani (which is not necessarily the Hindi we see in the books of today). Shakespear introduces about this “dialect” and its many names in the preface—

The dialect called zaban-i-urdu, rekhta, hindi or Hindustani, was formed through the intercourse of the Muhammadan invaders of India with the people they found in the country: and though its structure is chiefly Indian, yet the materials of which it is composed are taken abundantly, almost at pleasure, from the Persian, Arabic and other foreign languages, as well as the various dialects peculiar to the Hindus. Being thus derived from many sources, and as a living language, so constructed, liable to continual increase and alteration, it is extremely copious, and very indeterminate both as to the words which may be used and the sense in which many words are adopted.

All headwords are in Perso-Arabic, the meanings in Latin and wherever the word origins are from Sanskrit the word and/or its etymology is repeated in Devanagari. Before every word its origin has also been explained by using the initial letter of the language it comes from.

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3 comments
  1. Dennis Anthony said:

    I have just come across Shakespear’s dictionary for the first time, as a source used by Edward B. Eastwick for his translation from the Urdu of ‘Bagh o Bahar’ which I’m now reading.

    His critical remarks about Duncan Forbes has led me to be a little wary of my 1866 copy of his copious Hindustani Dictionary but it’s all great fun.

  2. Dennis Anthony said:

    By the way Eastwick also mentions the source, ‘Kanun- Islam’ but I can find nothing about it – can anyone help please?

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