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  • Francisco Varo's Glossary of the Mandarin Language. Volume I: An English and Chinese Annotation of the Vocabulario de la Lengua Mandarina. Volume II: Pinyin and English Index of the Vocabulario de la Lengua Mandarina
  • John W. Witek S. J.
Francisco Varo's Glossary of the Mandarin Language. Volume I: An English and Chinese Annotation of the Vocabulario de la Lengua Mandarina. Volume II: Pinyin and English Index of the Vocabulario de la Lengua Mandarina. By W. South Coblin. [Monumenta Serica Monograph Series, LIII/1 and LIII/2.] (Sankt Augustin, Germany: Monumenta Serica Institute. 2006. Pp. 1,033. €115,00.)

The role of missionaries as compilers of grammars and dictionaries is well known in the history of North and South America during the seventeenth century and later, but much less known are similar efforts in Asia and Africa. Even today languages spoken in some of these areas of the world have not yet been transcribed in written form. Michele Ruggieri (1543–1607) and Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), the Jesuits who opened the first permanent presence of Christianity in China during the modern period, realized the need of a dictionary for effective discussions and preaching. Their Portuguese-Chinese work, probably compiled in 1583–1588, remained in manuscript form until its recent publication.1 Later in his writings Ricci significantly improved this initial step in acquiring Chinese by adding tone marks which are commonly used today.

When the Dominicans first arrived in the province of Fujian in 1632, they faced the need not only to know Mandarin but also the local Fujianese dialect that native Mandarin speakers from Nanjing or Beijing found quite difficult to understand. Francisco Varo, O.P. (1627–87), a native of Seville, Spain, entered the Dominican Order in 1643, was sent to the Philippines three years later, and was ordained in Mexico in 1648. He returned to Manila, where he focused on studying Chinese, and then went to Fujian in 1649, the site of his missionary apostolate until his death there.

Although Varo's first known lexicographic work of Mandarin was a Portuguese-Chinese glossary in 1670, he produced the Spanish-Chinese Vocabulario a few years later as a means for his Spanish-speaking confreres to propagate the Gospel. Two extant manuscripts in Berlin and London form the core of this publication with the Berlin text as the base and the London text as an ancillary one. Recognition is given to another copy in the archives of the Missions Étrangères de Paris. Since this entire Paris codex was discovered as this book was going to press, only its introduction was translated, while the rest could not be included in its preparation. With meticulous care, the editor, W. South Coblin, has provided ample coverage of all the insertions necessary for transcribing from the manuscript to its printed form. One example can illustrate the contents. Varo's original entry reads: "Abaxar Dios a encarnar–kiáng [End Page 187] sēng." This entry is drawn from the manuscript with the English translation in brackets ":[for God to come down (to the world) to assume a physical body]," then the Chinese characters are added. With approximately sixty entries per page in the manuscript of 228 pages that are printed with the added data for each entry in this published version of more than 1,000 pages, there is no doubt that students of Chinese language and historians of the China mission in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have a significant reference work due to the prodigious efforts of a prominent scholar of Chinese linguistics.2 It is hoped that other manuscript dictionaries by missionaries in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century China might also be published. These can fill in vernacular expressions that are usually absent in Chinese literary sources. Such data are vital for the comparative and historical analysis of spoken and written Chinese in that period. Toward that goal the editor has provided scholars with an invaluable exemplar.

John W. Witek S. J.
Georgetown University


1. John Witek, ed., Dicionário Português-Chinês. Portuguese-Chinese Dictionary, by Michele Ruggieri, S.J. and Matteo Ricci, S.J. (Lisbon: Biblioteca Nacional, 2001). Most of the Portuguese entries...


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