Published May 14, 2017 09:12am

Multivolume Urdu dictionary set to go online

The Urdu dictionary website.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
The Urdu dictionary website.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

When a few years back, research work on the 22-volume Urdu dictionary came to a successful end and its last volume was unveiled, officials of the Urdu Dictionary Board, despite the celebratory atmosphere, knew that the job was not yet finished, as the world of words is an infinite one and so is the scope of technological developments.

Urdu lexicographers are aware of the fact that we now live in a world where we meet people online, read books online and even take exams online.

“There are 22 volumes carrying 22,000 pages and 264,000 words. We have decided to upload it on our website udb.gov.pk."

Keeping in view the modern global trends in education, the board earlier this year announced that it would put on the Internet all the 22 volumes of the dictionary. The project was to go online in the month of May.

Highlighting the enormity of the task to Dawn, UDB’s chief editor Aqeel Abbas Jafri said: “There are 22 volumes carrying 22,000 pages and 264,000 words. We have decided to upload it on our website udb.gov.pk. The website wasn’t functional until recently. Now it’s up and running.

“It will have two features: one, the lughat [dictionary] will be accompanied by a search engine, that is, you can search for words individually and listen to their correct, or different versions of, pronunciation; two, we used to publish a journal Urdunama whose 54 editions were published. Their scanned editions will be available online as well. Apart from that, we have 1,500 rare books printed as far back as 1920 that we intend to scan and upload on a website like Rekhta’s. We have sent the proposal to the authorities concerned for that.

“Mind you, this online activity will benefit not only Pakistani readers but readers and lovers of the Urdu language all across the world.”

Also read: I picked up a few new Urdu words, says Umer Naru of the Mor Mahal experience

It all sounds good and ambitious but when is it going to happen? Mr Jafri said: “May 20 is our deadline. The reason for this is that all of it is being done properly. Tenders were invited through a transparent process. Tenders were submitted, bidding took place and the one with the lowest bid and the best profile got the job. Now in the first phase, the 22 volumes were composed. In the second phase, proofreading needed to be done. The software for the project was made word-wise, not volume-wise, so it took some time in developing the software. Bear in mind, in the published volumes quite a few entries of words were not correct and we need to revisit them. Here [online], unlike published works, we have that comfort to rectify mistakes.”

When did it actually all start? He said, “On Feb 7, the tender documents were completed after which it was decided that the project would be launched on May 20. Practically, the project began on March 1 and on May 5 the composing process was taken care of.”

Mr Jafri took charge of the board as its 15th chief editor on Dec 14 last year. The previous 14 editors included some of the giants of Urdu literature and language, the first one being none other than Baba-i-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq who held the post from 1958 to 1961. The first volume of the momentous dictionary was published in 1978 three decades after the board had been set up. It goes to show the kind of painstaking efforts made to put the volumes together.

Read more: This Delhi artist is trying to popularise Urdu by putting Faiza and Chughtai on T-shirts

According to Mr Jafri, a great many words have been added ever since 1978, therefore, they need to be re-examined. But he also felt a little under constraint due to insufficient funds and the long process of getting things approved. When he assumed office, six of the 22 volumes were out of stock. Volume 14 has been published and work on the 15th is under way. The budget issues, he said, didn’t allow them to work as speedily as the board wanted.

Poet Liaquat Ali Asim, who once served in the board as a senior editor, welcomed the idea but highlighted the need that a great deal of caution (ahtiaat) should be exercised in putting things online. “The work related to the lughat is to do with research. These days the Internet is treated like a sanad (authentic source). I always say do not just pay heed to what’s being said but also pay attention to who’s saying it. I believe whatever has been published so far [volumes] they should transfer it as it is.”


Originally published in Dawn, May 14th, 2017

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Comments (27) Closed



Abdullah May 14, 2017 10:01am

Website (udb.gov.pk) taking hours to load the front page.

Mudassar May 14, 2017 10:50am

I don't know why but the dictionary web is not loading for me. Any help?

Aslam mir May 14, 2017 11:06am

Great effort!!!

Wasif May 14, 2017 11:16am

Webpage not opening ......................? one of the slowest hosting in today's era

Ghulam Sarwar khan May 14, 2017 11:31am

A commendable effort by Pakistanies. This will help many to learn URDU.

Malik Saab May 14, 2017 12:32pm

This is a state sponsored project. Kindly do not abandon local languages for the love of one language. Conservation of other languages other than Urdu is also the state's responsibility.

I am a Taxpayer of Pakistan and I expect that my taxes will will be utilized to promote my mother tongue as well. I am not paying taxes to spend on one language only. i am a citizen and I want equal rights for my mother tongue along with the state sponsored Urdu.

Arif May 14, 2017 01:21pm

It is a big fiasco and a nd big disppointment. The website doesnot load fully even in fifteen minutes. Then you cannot writr the required word in the search box. A premature work.

Arif May 14, 2017 01:38pm

A killer of excitement. A premature product that does not work.

M. Emad May 14, 2017 01:48pm

Pakistan's (major) Regional Languages dictionaries should also go online.

Ali Asghar May 14, 2017 02:48pm

The website is taking too long to respond.

Dost Mohammed May 14, 2017 02:54pm

Excellent !!! my only problem is with the web host who claim " NETSAT has been providing state-of-the-art solutions " it took exactly 105 minutes to load the home page. Have yet to check the dictionary

sharjeel May 14, 2017 03:07pm

The website it too slow!

khan May 14, 2017 03:25pm

site is not loading???

Princess_of_DHUMP May 14, 2017 04:30pm

@Abdullah Must be your internet. Works fine here

Tarik May 14, 2017 04:55pm

@M. Emad Time has come to grow up and think big in 21st century! Think on global scale!

Khalid May 14, 2017 04:57pm

@Wasif Poor technical design!

Khawaja May 14, 2017 04:58pm

@Arif A very poor design indeed!

Hassan May 14, 2017 07:16pm

Ye hui na baat! Please keep it up!

flipflop May 14, 2017 08:58pm

Good, and same should be done with other integral languages such as Sindhi, Pashto, Saraiki, Balochi etc. I think, public schools must provide language courses options as well, as it would give people some encouragement to learn other local languages apart from Urdu and English. Just a thought and this would bring people together a bit closer. It's in our interest to preserve these languages.

voiceofreason May 14, 2017 11:12pm

@Malik Saab Take a chill pill Mr. Malik. I am sure you dont have any issues with English. its just urdu that makes you irk.

Dr. Doctor May 15, 2017 02:54am

@Malik Saab

Your point is valid but you haven't expressed your desire in words that would suit this forum; of course English is not your native language and that explains it.

Labeling Urdu as 'state-sponsored' leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Rather than creating animosities, try indulging in bringing people together for a change.

You should appreciate the propagation of your national language and while praising the government's efforts, highlight your legitimate desire/demand for equal attention to your regional language.

Such an approach will definitely be instrumental in your legitimate request being heard.

Remember its "GIVE and take, not TAKE and give" that works wonders in every situation.

Dr. Doctor May 15, 2017 02:56am

@flipflop

What a nice response. Well said!!!

HONEST OPIONON May 15, 2017 07:10am

@Malik Saab State should sponsor Urdu as this is the NATIONAL language, having said that, other regional/local languages should also be sponsor and should be done by Provincial govt.

ahtsham May 15, 2017 10:49am

There should be now some mobile application. But this work is also remarkable.

SOMETHINGFISHY May 15, 2017 11:51am

@PrincessofDHUMP here where? please check other people's comments too.

It is not loading in Islamabad, using Nyatel fast connection, where dawn loads in a fraction of a second.

SOMETHINGFISHY May 15, 2017 11:53am

Site? Tech. Design? Resources? Whatever, who cares. Self sabotage?
What else do you expect from sarkari Babu's despite some academics may have poured their blood in this effort.

Abdus Salam May 15, 2017 11:54am

This is such a disappointment. The website loads super slow and the UX is horrible. I think the website does a better job at displaying the portraits of PM and his aides than achieving what it's supposed to serve!