ABC E-C C-E Dictionary finally out

The ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary finally appears to be available at Amazon and other booksellers. Announced on in October last year (here), it was pretty hard to get copies of this dictionary until a few days ago, when Amazon finally started stocking it. I’m not sure why this took so long, but I’ve just received a copy, and it looks like it was definitely worth the wait. Let’s take a look at this new dictionary.

Firstly, as you may have guessed from the title even if you weren’t previously familiar with the excellent ABC series from the University of Hawai’i Press, all entries in the C-E section of this dictionary are sorted alphabetically by pinyin. This makes it a lot easier to look up polysyllabic words you encounter in spoken Mandarin. The 1999 ABC Chinese-English Dictionary, also edited by John DeFrancis, did the same, but it didn’t include an E-C section. This new dictionary does, although it’s not quite as comprehensive as the 1999 dictionary. As the blog says,

The new dictionary, which is 1,252 pages long, has 29,670 entries in its English-Mandarin section and 37,963 entries for Mandarin-English (total 67,633 entries). (The much larger ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary has some 196,000 entries — all Mandarin-English).

Despite being 1,252 pages long, the new dictionary is pocket-sized, making it convenient to take this with you wherever you go in China, if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t go anywhere without a paper dictionary. I am that kind of person, and I think this dictionary is about to replace my previous favourite, the Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary. Here’s why.

Firstly, you’ll find basically all the important words you could expect to come across in daily life in this dictionary. It seems to me the editors have made an excellent selection of headwords. While the 1999 comprehensive C-E dictionary obviously had far more entries, this dictionary appears to contain an awesome amount of material for a book its size.

Secondly, there’s an abundance of example sentences, which is great for learners. More importantly, the sentences appear quite natural. They’re also translated idiomatically, rather than literally. Also, pinyin is provided for all example sentences, in addition to simplified characters. (For headwords, both simplified and traditional characters are given in the C-E section.)

Where the new ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary really stands out, however, is the sheer amount of useful extra information that’s provided in entries and in the appendices. For example, in the C-E section, bullets indicate the grade level of words as determined by the PRC State Education Commission, while the dictionary also points out parts of speech and measure words. Also, an asterisk is used to indicate which is the most frequent entry among a group of homographs if pinyin is ignored. This makes it easier to look up words if you’re not sure about the tones (who hasn’t been there?). The dictionary also indicates bound forms, and possible érhuà forms. In all, so much more useful information is provided in entries than in my previous pocket-sized favourite.

Then, there’s the appendices, which are great as well. In 146 pages, they cover the basic rules of pinyin orthography, Chinese historical chronology, a comparative table of a lot of romanisation systems, a list of major administrative divisions in the PRC, ethnic minorities in the PRC, the PRC State Education Commission graded word lists and a list of standard and variant character forms. There’s also a Kangxi radical chart and a comprehensive radical chart, along with a radical index and a stroke index so you can look up characters. Unlike in many Chinese dictionaries, you’ll find the pinyin for the characters, not the page number or the character number, in these indices.

Of course, there’s also an E-C section, which is much the same as the C-E section, complete with graded word lists and grade level indicators. All definitions are given in both pinyin and simplified characters. The dictionary also indicates the West Coast American English pronunciation of headwords using the International Phonetic Alphabet. Again, plenty of example sentences to help you pick the right word in Chinese.

In my opinion, the editors have done a superb job, and I think learners will love this dictionary. Yet curiously, while tone sandhi is indicated, the editors appear to have decided not to do so in the case of words such as xiáojiě ~ xiáojie ‘Miss’ where a neutral-tone syllable follows the syllable whose tone is affected by tone sandhi. Hence, in this new dictionary, as in many (all?) others, xiáojiě ~ xiáojie ‘Miss’ is found under xiǎojie instead. It’s unclear to me why this should be the case, but then again, this is only a problem for the very limited number of words of which the original one structure is 3-3 and where the last syllable is now pronounced in the neutral tone instead.

And I won’t let that spoil the fun I’ve been having with this dictionary, merely flicking through it and looking at headwords and the example sentences. It’s only $20 and available from all good booksellers, including Amazon, so if you’re the paper-dictionary kind of person, be sure to get a copy, I’d say. Comments are open for those who have questions about this dictionary, or for others who’ve also bought a copy and would like to do a bit of gushing as well 😉

P.S. Mike of Plecodict points out the graded word lists from the PRC State Education Commission are available as a free download here, and that most of the front matter is available freely here. Take a look!

2 responses to “ABC E-C C-E Dictionary finally out”

  1. Daan says:

    Just to clarify: where I said xiáojie is listed under xiǎojie, I should have noted that there is a small dot under the first syllable of xiǎojie, indicating this should be pronounced as xiáojie.

  2. It’s also worth mentioning that you can download the dictionary for Pleco. It’s two separate downloads, one for CE and one for EC, which are unfortunately $30 and $15 respectively. I’m a big fan of paper books but I’ve not been buying them lately.

    Gotta love appendices.

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