The Dic­tionary­ist

China Pictorial (English) - - Peo­ple - Text by Ru Yuan

On July 28, Lu Gusun passed away in Shang­hai at the age of 77. A trans­la­tor, es­say­ist, Shake­spearean scholar, pro­fes­sor at Fu­dan Univer­sity, and mem­ber of CP­PCC Na­tional Com­mit­tee, (a po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sory body in China), Lu was best known as a lex­i­cog­ra­pher.

In China, al­most ev­ery­one en­gaged in English trans­la­tion, English lan­guage stud­ies or any other hu­man­i­ties has heard of Lu. Ev­ery col­lege grad­u­ate or English learner must rely heav­ily on one, if not all, of Lu’s dic­tio­nar­ies. As ed­i­tor-in-chief of the widely-cir­cu­lated A New EnglishChi­nese Dic­tionary, The English-chi­nese Dic­tionary, The Chi­nese-english Dic­tionary (Unabridged), Lu be­came a lex­i­cog­ra­pher for A New English-chi­nese Dic­tionary as early as 1970, when he was only 30 years old. When he died, Lu was still work­ing on the sec­ond and fi­nal vol­ume of The Chi­nese-english Dic­tionary (Unabridged). It would be no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that Lu spent the vast ma­jor­ity of his days work­ing on com­pil­ing dic­tio­nar­ies.

Birth of AnewenglishChi­nese­dic­tionary

Lu Gusun was born in Shang­hai in 1940. His fa­ther, Lu Dacheng, worked as a French trans­la­tor, Lu Gusun fol­lowed in his foot­steps by en­rolling in Fu­dan Univer­sity’s Col­lege of For­eign Lan­guages and Lit­er­a­tures in 1957. The son ended up choos­ing the English lan­guage as the fo­cal point of his stud­ies and re­search.

In 1965, Lu be­gan teach­ing English at Fu­dan Univer­sity. In 1970, he was cho­sen for the editorial team tasked with draft­ing A New English-chi­nese Dic­tionary. Five years later, the dic­tionary hit book­shelves. Although the ref­er­ence book was com­piled dur­ing China’s “cul­tural revo­lu­tion” (19661976), young Lu boldly in­cluded “new words, new mean­ings and new us­ages.” “Many of my views on new words, new mean­ings and new us­ages formed dur­ing my work on A New English-chi­nese Dic­tionary,” Lu re­called in an in­ter­view dur­ing his later years. “As the ‘out­er­wear’ of hu­man think­ing, lan­guage devel­op­ment isn’t fet­tered by pol­i­tics. Lan­guage has its own laws of change and devel­op­ment. The fun­da­men­tal task for dic­tio­nar­ies is to show­case lan­guage ob­jec­tively, and dic­tio­nar­ies’ so­cial func­tion is to faith­fully record lan­guage. So, the draft­ing group of A New English-chi­nese Dic­tionary in­sisted on adding new words.”

Thanks to their ef­forts, although the dic­tionary still had a long way to go and “po­lit­i­cal English” still could be found in it, the 1975 edi­tion helped the West­ern world no­tice China’s changes. The New York Times com­mented that the dic­tionary kept up with the times and showed that China was pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the U. S. In those days, the nearly-2,000-page dic­tionary served as the only medi­um­sized bilin­gual ref­er­ence book for English learn­ers in China. Dur­ing China’s craze for go­ing abroad in the 1980s, it was scrip­ture and kept on-hand at all times for many stu­dents abroad.

Keep­ing the Soil Mov­ing

In 1975, the same year A New English-chi­nese Dic­tionary was pub­lished, Shang­hai was awarded the na­tional key sci­en­tific re­search project to com­pile The English-chi­nese Dic­tionary. Lu em­barked on a 15-year jour­ney with this dic­tionary: Prepa­ra­tions be­gan in 1976, he be­came ed­i­tor-in-chief in 1986, and the dic­tionary was fi­nally pub­lished in 1991.

“If the soil keeps mov­ing, a moun­tain will form,” Lu wrote in the for­ward of The English-chi­nese Dic­tionary, quot­ing renowned Chi­nese Con­fu­cian philoso­pher Xun Zi (313B.C.- 238B.C.) to cel­e­brate the tire­less ef­forts of the editorial team.

The English-chi­nese Dic­tionary is the first com­pre­hen­sive English-chi­nese dic­tionary in­de­pen­dently re­searched, de­vel­oped, and com­piled by China. None of it draws on trans­la­tions of a for­eign dic­tionary — a com­mon prac­tice in com­pil­ing English-chi­nese dic­tio­nar­ies in the past. Af­ter the dic­tionary was pub­lished, it soon be­came the most­widely used English-chi­nese ref­er­ence book. The dic­tionary also won an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion and served as a stan­dard EnglishChi­nese ref­er­ence for trans­la­tors work­ing at the UN. West­ern dic­tionary ex­perts deemed the dic­tionary one of the best bilin­gual dic­tio­nar­ies in the world.

In the 1980s, with China’s deep­ened re­form and open­ing-up, de­mand for China to com­pile a new Chi­nese-english dic­tionary that could fa­cil­i­tate spon­ta­neous com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a for­eign au­di­ence be­came huge. The English-chi­nese Dic­tionary was fi­nally pub­lished in 1991, and then am­bi­tious Lu be­gan to work on The Chi­ne­seEnglish Dic­tionary (Unabridged), which was even larger in scale. Over the fol­low­ing years, China wit­nessed rapid devel­op­ment, and the Chi­nese lan­guage also changed sig­nif­i­cantly along­side so­cial devel­op­ment. Lu in­vested his heart and soul in ex­pand­ing the cul­tural win­dow lan­guage cre­ates and in­spir­ing greater num­bers of peo­ple to learn about the world.

He and his team cre­atively pro­posed the “ac­cul­tur­a­tion” prin­ci­ple when com­pil­ing this dic­tionary. Specif­i­cally, this prin­ci­ple em­pha­sizes that a dic­tionary should not ex­plain too much about a word or phrase. In­stead, it should help users un­der­stand a cer­tain word via pro­duc­ing dif­fer­ent phrases

and build­ing sen­tences. At the same time, this dic­tionary in­cluded some trans­la­tions from Hong Kong, Tai­wan, Ma­cao, and over­seas Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties.

The first vol­ume, with more than 20,000 sin­gle-char­ac­ter en­tries, was first pub­lished in 2015 to great ac­claim from users and the aca­demic cir­cles alike. In its in­flu­en­tial commentary pro­gram “Time of Chief Ed­i­tor,” Phoenix Tele­vi­sion used “awe­some” to praise the dic­tionary, and spoke highly of its in­flu­ence in China and be­yond.

Study­ing For­eign Lan­guages and Chi­nese

Lu had been look­ing at the devel­op­ment of lin­guis­tic phe­nom­ena, em­pha­siz­ing that study­ing a for­eign lan­guage, in a sense, is study­ing an­other way of think­ing. He as­serted that English as lin­gua franca could help China bet­ter un­der­stand the world and vice versa. He op­posed putting the Chi­nese lan­guage in op­po­si­tion to English or any other for­eign lan­guages. “In learn­ing both Chi­nese and English lan­guages, the re­quire­ments of mem­o­riza­tion, com­par­i­son, con­ver­sion, and id­ioms are the same. How­ever, when study­ing a for­eign lan­guage, we should never for­get Chi­nese. Chi­nese peo­ple must mas­ter our mother tongue, keep and pass on our tra­di­tional cul­ture, of which our lan­guage is the car­rier.”

In re­cent years, many newly-coined words that show­case chang­ing Chi­nese so­ci­ety have emerged in China, draw­ing at­ten­tion from the West. Lu be­lieved that China’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment and in­creased in­ter­na­tional ex­changes are the causes of this phe­nom­e­non. For ex­am­ple, the in­ter­net buzz­word “ge­liv­able” which means “cool,” “awe­some” or “ex­cit­ing,” was re­ported by The New York Times. And the word “guanxi,” a translit­er­a­tion of the Chi­nese word mean­ing net­works or con­nec­tions, is now widely rec­og­nized and even used by the West­ern world. Although such words face a long road be­fore be­ing adopted into stan­dard English, their ex­is­tence shows that Chi­nese cul­ture is un­der­stood by more for­eign­ers and is be­com­ing more in­te­grated with other world cul­tures.

Af­ter 2013, re­al­iz­ing each day was even more pre­cious, Lu de­voted al­most all his time to The Chi­nese-english Dic­tionary (Unabridged). Huang Yun­ing, head of the lit­er­a­ture editorial of­fice of Shang­hai Trans­la­tion Pub­lish­ing House, has known Lu for years. “Many peo­ple wear dif­fer­ent masks in life. But Mr. Lu had been con­sis­tent. His writ­ing has a strong Bri­tish and Amer­i­can style. If God gave him more time, I would have urged him to trans­late works from writ­ers such as E.B. White.”

Lu Gusun (cen­ter) in the 1980s. Lu be­came chief ed­i­tor of The English-chi­nese Dic­tionary in 1986. Since then, he had stayed at the front­line of lex­i­cog­ra­phy un­til his death. IC

A page from The Chi­nese-english Dic­tionary (Unabridged) edited by Lu.

Lu at a lec­ture ti­tled “To­ward Bet­ter English.” In his class, Lu em­pha­sizes learn­ing English with pres­sure and plea­sure. by Zhou Wei/ China Daily

Au­gust 19, 2015: Lu speaks at the launch cer­e­mony for the first vol­ume of The Chi­nese-english Dic­tionary (Unabridged) in Shang­hai. Lu had worked on the sec­ond vol­ume of the dic­tionary un­til his pass­ing. CFP

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