October 16, 2008

RID99 in retrospect: don't judge a book by its cover ... or thickness

Here's a blast from the past. A headline from Matichon Online, August 25, 2003 (click for the full article):

ร้อนๆ "พจนานุกรมราชบัณฑิต 2542" เพิ่มคำศัพท์ใหม่ 2 เท่าตัว

Hot of the presses: "Royal Institute Dictionary 1999" doubles number of entries

The dictionary is called the Royal Institute Dictionary 1999, despite being first published in 2003, because it was supposed to coincide with the king's sixth-cycle (72nd) birthday, but was years behind schedule.

Just one thing--the 1999 edition nowhere close to double the number of entries.

From the article:
ก่อนหน้านี้ ราชบัณฑิตยสถาน ถูกวิพากษ์วิจารณ์อย่างหนัก ถึงความเป็นพวกหัวโบราณ เก่าเก็บ คร่ำครึ ไม่ปรับปรุงแก้ไขเพิ่มเติมคำศัพท์ต่างๆ ในภาษาไทย ให้ทันกระแสโลก คนไทยจึงทนอยู่กับพจนานุกรมฯ พ.ศ.2525 ซึ่งมีการแก้ไขและพิมพ์ใหม่ถึง 6 ครั้ง โดยครั้งที่ 6 พิมพ์เมื่อปี 2539 จำนวน 60,000 เล่ม รวมพิมพ์ 6 ครั้งเป็นทั้งหมด 280,000 เล่ม แต่คำศัพท์ต่างๆ แทบไม่มีการเปลี่ยนแปลง

พจนานุกรม ฉบับราชบัณฑิตยสถาน พ.ศ.2542 กลายเป็นพระเอกขี่ม้าขาว มาช่วยแก้ภาพพจน์ของราชบัณฑิตฯ เพราะมีคำศัพท์ใหม่ๆ บัญญัติไว้อย่างทันยุคทันสมัย ถึงแม้ไม่ใช่ทั้งหมด แต่ยังมากกว่าฉบับที่แล้วๆ มา


พจนานุกรม ฉบับล่าสุดนี้ จะเห็นว่ามีรูปเล่มหนามากกว่าเดิมถึงสองเท่า เนื่องจากมีการบัญญัติศัพท์ใหม่ๆ เพิ่มคำนิยามใหม่ๆ มากขึ้นเกือบเท่าตัว ...

My translation:
Prior to now, the Royal Institute has been severely criticized for being old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy, antiquated, failing to revise and expand the number of words in Thai at pace with the real world. The Thai people have put up with RID 1982, which has been revised and reprinted six times, most recently with a print run of 60,000 copies in 1996, bringing the total number of copies printed to 280,000. The lexical content remained virtually unchanged, however.

The Royal Institute Dictionary 1999 thus comes as the knight in shining armor to rescue the reputation of the Royal Institute, because there are many newly coined words that bring it up to date. It doesn't include every word, but it has more than past editions.


This latest edition of the dictionary is more than twice as thick as its predecessor, because there are nearly double the number of entries and definitions. ...

I don't think that RID99 really proved to be the savior they had hoped it would, and that this article so optimistically claimed. One of the comments on the Pantip thread this article is archived on is: น่าจะมีแบบ CD ROM นะ "there should be a CD-ROM version".

Indeed, there should have been. There still has never been, although a web version of RID99 was finally released in February 2008, four-and-a-half years after the paper edition came out. (A web version of RID82 was available prior to that.)

The new RID was too large to become widely used. It is more than 1,400 pages, but it's also a solid four inches thick. Twice as thick as RID82.

So how about all the new words that RID99 supposedly had? I've written about wordcounts in RID before. By my count, the net increase in headwords from RID82 to RID99 was a mere 922 words: 19,526 versus 20,448. That represents an increase of less than 5%.

RID made more gains in subheads, however. RID is organized such that a word like ใจ is a headword, and ใจดี is one of its subhead. All subheads come within the particular headword entry, and begin with that headword. RID99 contains 18,753 subheads, compared to 14,387 in 1982, representing a 30% increase.

The combined total of heads and subheads grows from 33,913 to 39,201 or just 15%. Unless RID was suddenly writing much longer definitions, something else had to account for the increased thickness in RID. The answer is simple: the paper is thick.

I believe that this fact has been more of a detriment to its widescale adoption as a standard reference than the Royal Institute would like.

Think about it: over the course of 21 years, 280,000 copies of RID82 were printed and sold. The first print run of RID99 was a massive 200,000 copies. More than ten times the print run of a typical commercial book.

Five years later, the first printing has still not sold out. If they had printed a modest first run, they could have fixed this problem by now. Unfortunately, they invested millions of baht in the huge first printing, and surely can't justify reprinting before they've completely sold their stock.

Among the other comments on the Pantip thread are several reference to how darn huge the book is. At least commenter said she had planned to pick up a copy, but changed plans upon seeing its massive girth: "ไม่รู้จะยัดไว้ตรงไหนของบ้านอ่ะ" ("I don't know where on earth I'd put it.")

Compare that with the Matichon Dictionary. Publishing empire Matichon debuted its own dictionary in November 2004, barely a year after RID99, containing far more new words, including much more slang and colloquialisms. And despite being 1100 pages, it's less than half the thickness of RID99. It's attractively printed on so-called 'bible paper'.

Matichon wasn't trying to make a quick buck with its dictionary. Their dictionary had its origin in 1997, the year of the big "bubble burst"--ฟองสบู่แตก. Writer ขรรค์ชัย บุนปาน started Matichon (มติชน) with พงษ์ศักดิ์ พยัฆวิเชียร in 1978, when both men were in their early 30s. It took time to build up their publishing empire, but by the late 1990s, things were going well. And so, ขรรค์ชัย decided he was finally going to scratch a longstanding itch: to create a dictionary of his own. It would come to rival that of the Royal Institute, which in 1997 was 15 years into revising its latest edition.

He put together a team, including his childhood friend and longtime collaborator, writer สุจิตต์ วงศ์เทศ, literary scholar and professor ล้อม เพ็งแก้ว, Thai language scholar สันต์ จิตภาษา (pen name ภาษิต จิตภาษา), and others. สุพจน์ แจ้งเร็ว, editor of ศิลปวัฒนธรรม (Art & Culture Magazine), and who I had a chance to talk with about the origins of the Matichon Dictionary in early 2005, was appointed editor of the project.

The first fruits of their labor was published in 2000, a slim dictionary with a few thousand entries, พจนานุกรมนอกราชบัณฑิตฯ "Dictionary of Words Not in RID".

Interestingly, Matichon began its work in the same way that RID has produced its dictionary for 75 years: by having all the experts sit together and discuss each word. They discovered, of course, that this is an impossibly slow way to work, so they modified their method. Something RID could learn from, frankly. In the end, the project cost Matichon ten million baht, according to media reports.

How does Matichon wordcount weigh against RID? According to Matichon, the total number of words in the dictionary is 39,515. (I counted slightly differently and came up with 40,502, because Matichon uses numbered senses under one entry where RID uses separate entries.)

My count puts Matichon with 1,301 more entries than RID99. Where RID is heavy on the literary vocabulary and archaisms, Matichon eschews many of these in favor of more modern colloquialisms and slang, including words like กิ๊ก, many of which were finally recognized by the Royal Institute in their supplementary volume, พจนานุกรมคำใหม่ เล่ม ๑ (Dictionary of New Words Vol. 1), published October 2007.

I wish there were more worthy rivals like Matichon for the venerable RID. Not because I want it to fail or be superceded, because I don't. I refer it to nearly every day (online, of course). But competition breeds innovation, and necessity brings about change. The greater the competition, the better Thai dictionaries will become. And it's folks like us--Joe the Dictionary User--who are the winners in that scenario.

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