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from the PALI edition of the Marshallese-English Dictionary
(in which references to the MRG have been updated)

Preface     History     Entry     Grammar     Sounds     Places     Flora     Using     Finder     Biblio    


Although this work represents the most complete collection of information on the words of Marshallese yet compiled, it is still far from a complete listing of all the words of the language. Nor is the information given for the words that have been included always complete or entirely accurate. But interest in the study of the language is probably greater today than ever before, and rather than delay publication any longer in the interests of completeness and precision, the authors offer it in its present form in the hope that its appearance may stimulate others to join in producing a more nearly complete future edition.

Many of the words will appear in their usual form, while others will look familiar but changed slightly in various ways—by the inclusion of marks beneath some letters, by the use of one or two new letters, or by the use of different letters that more regularly and accurately show the sound of a word than others that have sometimes been used. These changes follow the recommendations made by a committee of Marshallese in 1971. Basically there are four changes:

  1. Two consonant letters that have always been in the Marshallese alphabet but seldom used have been put to work to represent their intended sounds wherever they occur. These are the light p, and the light d (without an accompanying and redundant r), as in ḷap 'big' and dik `small' (instead of lab and drik).

  2. Two vowel letters that were not in the alphabet but were nevertheless sometimes used have been added to share the burden of representing the many vowel sounds of the language. These are the of tọ 'sugar cane' and the ū of ūlūl 'adze'. Although the letter ā was included in the alphabet to represent the sound of the vowel in a word such as 'breadfruit', this sound has also sometimes been written with e. Only ā is used for this sound in this dictionary, since e is needed for two other vowel sounds, those of me 'which' and me 'fortress, fish weir'.

  3. Double consonants and double vowels are written with double letters, so that a double t now distinguishes bōtta 'to bat' from bōta 'butter', and a double a distinguishes maañ 'pandanus leaf' from mañ 'brown coconut'.

  4. Special marks beneath the letters l, m, and n are used to show when they have a heavy (eddo) sound as opposed to a light (emera) sound. Thus ḷe 'Sir' is distinguished from le 'Ma'am', aṃ 'your' from am 'our', and ṇe `that by you' from ne 'leg, foot'.

It is not the authors' intention to propose one and only one correct spelling for each word. In fact, common alternative spellings are given for many words. Rather, they have attempted to show what the language would look like if the recommendations of the committee are eventually adopted. The final decision as to how the language should be written remains appropriately with those to whom this book is dedicated.

The names of many places in the islands have been included in a special section at the end of the volume. (The names listed in this section are spelled as they might have been if the early mapmakers had themselves been speakers of Marshallese rather than some other language. But the intent is not to change the spellings on the maps, for Bikini, Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Majuro, Ebeye, and so forth, will no doubt remain the official spellings of the names of such places for many years to come.) On the other hand, very few names of people are included. This contrast in treatment of the names of places and the names of people seems appropriate for a society in which land is held dearly and each small tract named, while people's names are treated with great delicacy and seldom mentioned in their presence.

The authors are deeply indebted to a number of organizations and people who have been of great help in compiling the lexical file on which the dictionary is based. Early work was supported in part by University of Hawai‘i Peace Corps Micronesia training projects, and by a grant from the University of Hawai‘i Office of Research Administration. The College of Arts and Sciences and the Social Sciences and Linguistics Institute (formerly the Pacific and Asian Linguistics Institute) have helped support the use of the University of Hawai‘i Computer Center from year to year. The participation of Lañlōñ Alik in 1971 and of the third author in 1971–1972 was made possible as part of the Pacific Language Development Program of the Culture Learning Institute of the East-West Center, under the coordination of Gregory Trifonovitch. Publication of the dictionary in this form has been made possible through a grant from the Government of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

The scientific identification of flora and fauna was assisted by the scientists mentioned in section 6. Keypunching for the computer and other editorial tasks were carried out by Olga Caldwell, Cindy Dalrymple, Melody Moir Actouka, and Doreen Yamamoto. Their participation was supported by the Social Sciences and Linguistics Institute and the Department of Linguistics of the University of Hawai‘i.

The authors are especially indebted to Donald M. Topping for organizing and guiding the overall project in which this and other reference works on Micronesian languages could be produced, for the help and encouragement received from him over the years, and for his editorial assistance as we approached publication. Finally, this dictionary could never have reached or appeared in its present form without much time, effort, and creative thinking on the part of Professors Robert W. Hsu and Ann Peters, who mediated between the authors and the computer. Lexicographers everywhere would do well to learn from them.

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