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  • A Comprehensive Manchu-English Dictionary by Jerry Norman
  • Stephen Wadley (bio)
Jerry Norman with the assistance of Keith Dede and David Prager Branner. A Comprehensive Manchu-English Dictionary. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series: 85. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013. xxvi, 418 pp. Hardcover, $45.00, isbn 978-0-674-07213-8.

Back in 1966, when Jerry Norman began work on a Manchu-English dictionary, there were hardly a handful of people in the United States who had studied Manchu, and almost without exception, they were all transplants from Europe. In [End Page 162] Europe during the days of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), nearly every European who studied Chinese also studied Manchu. With its phonetic script, Manchu was much easier to learn to read than Chinese, and nearly everything of importance had been translated into Manchu from Chinese. Thus, these early European scholars used the Manchu translations as a crib in their study of Chinese writings. But in America, study of Chinese had hardly begun before the Qing dynasty was overthrown. Though it would still have been useful to study Manchu at that time in conjunction with the study of Chinese, at the beginning of the Republic, Manchus and the Manchu language were out of favor in China. Western scholars of Chinese, perhaps influenced by the anti-Manchu sentiment in China, no longer approached Chinese through Manchu. In the United States, Francis Cleaves at Harvard, though born in the United States, had studied Manchu in Europe. He passed his knowledge on to Joseph Fletcher who offered Manchu classes at Harvard. A couple of professors at Berkeley, who had also studied in Europe knew Manchu but did not teach it. Jerry Norman came upon Manchu, not as a means to study Chinese but because of his interest in Classical Mongolian, which shares a similar script with Manchu. James Bosson had just begun teaching Classical Mongolian classes at Berkeley and agreed to teach Norman Manchu when the latter discovered Bosson knew this language as well. There were no textbooks or dictionaries for English speakers, and so Bosson collected materials, made a few vocabulary lists, and held a class.

After obtaining a Fulbright in 1965, Norman traveled to Taiwan and did work on Min dialects. He also had the good fortune to continue studying Manchu with Guang Lu, a native Sibe, who knew Manchu very well. Using what materials to which he had access—Haneda’s Manwa jiten, Hauer’s Handwörterbuch der Mandschusprache, and a couple of Manchu-Chinese dictionaries: the Qingwen zonghui 清文总汇 and the Wuti Qingwenjian 五体清文鉴—he put together the first (and only) Manchu-English dictionary and published it at his own expense in Taiwan in 1967. Joseph Fletcher caught wind of his efforts and asked if he might obtain a copy since he was just beginning to teach a class on Manchu at Harvard. From that time, as a young man in Taiwan up until he passed away this last year, Jerry Norman has been constantly making corrections, adding entries, adding definitions, and generally improving this work. The University of Washington Press published the first commercial version of the dictionary in 1978, A Concise Manchu-English Lexicon. A Comprehensive Manchu-English Dictionary is a revised and enlarged version of that dictionary, which is now long out of print. The new Dictionary will certainly be welcomed by all English speakers who study Manchu. As I mentioned, it represents literally a lifetime of additions, corrections, and refinements of Norman’s original Lexicon. Norman, unfortunately, passed away just before the new Dictionary came to press. As mentioned in the foreword to the work, the Dictionary is larger by a third than the original Lexicon. Though there are some entirely new entries in the dictionary and many added definitions to entries that [End Page 163] already existed, the bulk of the increase is the addition of new compounds as subheadings under the entries. For example, the entry boo, 1. “house, room” 2. “family,” has eight new compounds added to its original twenty-one as subheadings. The entry hahi, “urgent, hurried,” had one compound listed under it in the Lexicon; the Dictionary has nine subheadings. The work has been carefully edited...


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