After three decades and lost years, linguist finally completes Chinese-Pashto dictionary

Started in 1978, Afghan language lexicon will see the light of day this year -- but is only expected to benefit a niche audience

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 2:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 2:39pm

A mainland linguist has completed a Chinese-Pashto dictionary – 36 years after it was commissioned, Chinese magazine Profile reported.

Che Hongcai, 78, who is now retired, set out to compile the dictionary in 1978 while he was a professor at the Beijing-based Communication University of China. He secured a deal with The Commercial Press, one of the mainland’s oldest publishers.

The dictionary, which contains 50,000 entries and 2.5 million characters, is finally going to print this year and, according to his contract, Che will be paid 80 yuan (HK$101) for every 1,000 characters – amounting to 200,000 yuan.

Che told the magazine: “Making a dictionary requires a kind of resilience, a kind of persistent, unwavering will to continue.”

Che was chosen to study Pashto – the official language of Afghanistan and a dialect in western Pakistan – while he was a student at the Beijing Foreign Studies University as part of a government initiative in 1955 to increase their expertise in minority languages in order to strengthen ties with allies in Asia, Africa and South America.

Making a dictionary requires a kind of resilience, a kind of persistent, unwavering will to continue
Che Hongcai, linguist

Less than 100 people have studied the language in China since 1949 and only about 30 people will have use for the dictionary, most of whom work at state-owned China Radio International, state news agency Xinhua, or defence and customs departments, according to editor Sun Dunhan.

Sun was in charge of editing the dictionary when the project started.

Che said he initially thought the dictionary would be finished within two or three years, and by 1981 had completed 70 per cent of the work.

But he was suddenly assigned to work as a government researcher at Chinese embassies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and then as a language instructor at the Communication University.

The 100,000 cards on which Che wrote the dictionary entries were locked in a filing cabinet for more than 20 years.

After he retired, Che revisited his life’s work. It took him four years to type up the cards and another two to finish the rest of the entries.

Profile is a general interest magazine that focuses on interesting people or celebrities. According to Amazon listings, Che has previously published two books on the Pashto language: one on understanding syntax and another on advanced reading.