MANSEL Longworth Dames (1850-1922) was a strange type: he learned several oriental languages, like Balochi and Pashto; wrote books on the Baloch race, Baloch history, Baloch language and folklore; took part in the Second Anglo-Afghan War; studied Buddhist art; collected Buddhist relics (although he eventually took these relics to the UK).
Dames was a scholar of Portuguese but as an Indian civil service officer during the Raj he was posted to Punjab. In Dera Ghazi Khan he met Balochi speaking people who fascinated him a lot and he started to learn the language. Later he wrote about the Baluchis and the language they spoke.
After his retirement, Dames contributed several articles to the Encyclopedia of Islam. He became an active member of several organizations and societies in the UK, including the Royal Asiatic Society, which researched the history, relics, folklores, religions and languages of the Orient. Dames was instrumental in the reorganization of the British Museum’s Buddhist enclosures.
His contributions to several fields were remarkable, but what Dames did for Baloch language and literature can never be forgotten: he wrote at least six books on Baloch language and literature at a time when Baloch literature consisted mainly of oral tradition and written specimens of the language. were hard to find.
The books written by Dames are considered among the earliest works on Baloch language and literature.
In his book A Sketch of the Northern Balochi Language (1881) he also included grammar, vocabulary, and specimens of the language. In 1891 Dames published A Textbook of Balochi Language and it included Baloch stories, poems and legends. More importantly, it contained “Balochi-English vocabulary”.
Another important work of Dames is the popular poetry of the Baloches [sic]. Published in 1907, it has preserved valuable samples of Baloch poetry.
Dr. Riazat Burro, a scholar from Larkana, mentioned in one of his articles that despite these pioneering efforts in the writing of Baloch dictionaries by Dames, Baloch lexicography could not make much progress for several reasons and at except for a few small Baloch dictionaries. The Balochi dictionary was compiled over the next few decades.
Based on the Balochi-English vocabulary included in the two Dames books, a new book titled Vocabulary of the Balochi Language was published by Government of Punjab Printing Press in 1922 i.e. the year of death of ladies.
According to Dr. Burro, this 216-page book contains Baloch vocabulary spread over 100 pages. Some believe that this 1922 book was the first Balochi-English dictionary, but the fact is that the vocabulary of Dames included in his 1881 book was, in some way, the very first Balochi-English dictionary.
Some Balochi scholars have criticized The Vocabulary of the Balochi Language (1922) for its limited scope as it largely covers Eastern Balochi dialect vocabulary and words from other Balochi dialects were generally left out. But Dr Burro defends Dames, saying Dames mentioned in the intro that the “Baluch language belongs to the Iranian branch of the Aryan family. [of languages]. It is found in two distinct forms: the northern dialect referred to here; and the southern or makrani dialect which has recently been treated in Major Mockler’s grammar”.
But Baloch lexicography has not received as much attention as it deserves. Some efforts were made to capture Baloch vocabulary, but a few Baloch dictionary projects were either abandoned or the manuscripts remained unpublished.
In 1978, Haft Zabani Lughat (Seven Language Dictionary) was published by Urdu Science Board, Lahore, and it included Balochi vocabulary. Now this book has been revised and appeared in the form of No Zabani Lughat (Dictionary in Nine Languages).
But the need for a more comprehensive Balochi dictionary has always been felt. Fortunately, a new dictionary in four languages - Balochi, Sindhi, Brahvi and Urdu – has just been published and since it is a 1300-page tome, it may rank among the most comprehensive Balochi vocabularies.
Compiled by Panah Baloch, the dictionary is called Lavz Ganj, or, literally, the treasury of words.
It has four columns and the first column lists Baloch words with their given pronunciation in Urdu script, allowing readers to pronounce Baloch words correctly. The second column gives the Sindhi equivalent in Sindhi script. The pronunciation of Sindhi words is also given in Urdu script. The third column gives the Brahvi equivalents and the last column lists the Urdu synonyms of the three languages.
Admittedly, this is a labor of love and a lot of backbreaking effort must have gone into it. The Baloch Academy in Quetta, which has been working for the promotion of Baloch language and literature since 1961, is to be commended for publishing such a remarkable book.
Posted in Dawn, July 25, 2022