Filipino Dictionaries We Use: Do they Meet our Need?

What dictionaries do Filipino translators use? Many translators use online dictionaries to solve their linguistic problems; but with their scant exposure to the Filipino language,they often come up with unidiomatic transfers. Some native speakers on the other hand - confident of their exposure to the language - do not bother to consult dictionaries, and come up with very free over or under translations.

What Filipino Dictionary To Use

Admittedly, Filipino dictionaries have not yet fully explored the equivalents of most medical, legal, business, and technical jargon. Meanwhile, the target users that translation agencies aim to reach are skilled overseas workers who may find technical legal memos, employee survey questionnaires, and other business-related documents simply confusing in English. 

The Local Media

Local broadcast media have long realized that unless they use the language of the common person on the street, they will not win in the ratings game. While only a minority of the educated population patronize the major Filipino newspapers in English, a greater number would listen for hours to news analysis on TV, and read tabloids in Filipino or Tagalog mainly for entertainment. Words introduced by modern technology, computer games, MTV and others are obvious sources of new words that in time become part of everyday conversation.

Hence, popular Media's use of the language have become the benchmark of what Tagalog or Filipino is commonly spoken and used. In their attempt to bring to the masses the news and issues of the day, broadcasters and columnists often introduce new words that will become bywords in due time. Filipino dictionaries will follow suit and include those words in the listings. 

But dictionaries may not always have the last say on popular preferences - popular in the sense that more young people use them. The word "mahanap" for example is often used to mean "to be found" (after being lost), but the Tagalog word should be "makita" as most Tagalog native speakers would insist. The word "kaganapan" is often used now to mean "events" or "happenings" but the Tagalog would say that the right word to use is "pangyayari". Even the spelling of aspeto and aspekto (for aspect) is always a matter for debate, yet, depending on context, the Tagalog dictionary lists many equivalents for the word: 

aspect: (1) n. look; appearance; Asta. Anyo. Ayos. Hitsura (Sp. hechura). The judge has a severe aspect. Ang hukom ay may anyong mahigpit. Angry aspect: Anyong (Ayos na, Hitsurang) galit. (2) side fronting in a given direction: Harap, harapan. Patsada (Sp. Fachada). The eastern aspect of the house: Ang silangang harapan (harap) ng bahay. (3) one side or part of a subject: Panig. Bahagi (broadly translated). We must study the various aspects of this plan: Dapat nating pag-aralan ang iba't ibang panig (bahagi) ng panukalang ito. 

(4) a selected view of a subject: Palagay. Kuro-kuro. Opinyon (Sp.) Pananaw. What he said changed my aspect of the case. Ang Kanyang sinabi ang bumago sa aking opinyon (kuro-kuro, palagay) tungkol sa usapan. from English - Tagalog Dictionary by Leo James English C.Ss.R.

Most translators will use either aspeto or aspekto and would not bother to exhaust the equivalent. They often resort to this choice when the client or agency demands a very literal back translation.

How Many Dictionaries?

Filipino dictionaries are here to guide translators and other linguists toward finding the nearest exact equivalent. Since all translations are interpretations, there is no avoiding the chance that a word as the source text has used it, might get lost in translation. But once the translator becomes lazy and resorts to transliteration, the target readers will likely have a problem understanding the Tagalog text. 

However tedious or time consuming, translators can't do away with at least two English-Filipino dictionaries and a Tagalog or Filipino to English dictionary as well. It would be good to have a medical, legal, and otherwise specialized dictionary offering near-exact but idiomatic usages such as what the Oxford Learners or the Oxford Advanced dictionary does, where often, the word nuances are made clear by their many uses in sentences. Translators, teachers and other users of Filipino or Tagalog need to be sensitive to the language and demand that it be used correctly and with respect.