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Learning Chinese
Biggest Chinese-Foreign Language Encyclopedia Published in French

The "Big Ricci", the biggest Chinese encyclopedia to be published into a foreign language -- in this case French -- will be launched Thursday with its 9,000 pages and seven volumes.

Representing half-a-century of labor mobilizing 200 specialists, the dictionary, co-published with Desclee de Brouwer, costs 762.25 euros and comprises 13,500 characters and 300,000 Chinese expressions.

That compares with the biggest Chinese-English dictionary which has 170,000 characters and expressions.

The dictionary is named for Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary who went to China at the end of the 16th century.

The Ricci Institute in Paris said the dictionary was a unique creation that Jesuits launched in 1949, first in Macao and then in Taiwan.

"This publishing enterprise has no equivalent in any European language, covering more than 3,000 years of the history of the Chinese language," the Ricci Institute said.

There have been some phonetic transcription problems, with the dictionary favoring Wade Giles transcription, to the detriment of pinyin used by China, but the institute has begun negotiations for publication in China.

The dictionary is aimed at specialists -- linguists, translators and teachers -- but also those interested in "the Chinese language and thought and the evolution of graphics and meaning," the institute said.

The Shorter Ricci, with its 6,000 characters and 50,000 expressions, dates from 1976 and has been published in Spanish and Hungarian versions. The Dictionary of Chinese Characters (13,500) was published at the end of 1999.

The Big Ricci represents the culmination of the work of the Paris and Taipei Ricci Institutes, with the participation of more than 200 specialists, including the top names in French sinology and among Chinese lexicographers.

In the beginning, in the mid 20th century, Hungarian Jesuit Eugene Zsamar had a gigantic plan for an encyclopedia between Chinese and five languages -- French, English, Hungarian, Latin and Spanish.

But that ambition soon shriveled to an encyclopedia into just one language -- French -- after the launch of the Paris Ricci Institute in 1971.

The new dictionary incorporates many expressions that have become current in recent years in Chinese mainland and Taiwan, not to mention constantly evolving technical vocabulary.

Some old usages also had to be pruned, some going back to the beginnings of Chinese writing 3,500 years ago. Out of the 8,000 expressions used to denote the imperial administration, only 3,000 were retained.

The Ricci Institute is also planning an edition in the form of a CD-Rom.

(China Daily January 22, 2002)

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