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The Monier-Williams Dictionary

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Photo of Monier Monier-Williams
by Lewis Carroll

Monier-Williams Dictionary

The Monier-Williams Dictionary was first published in English in 1872.

It is a brilliant work that we find very useful in the study of Sanskrit.

This project first began with the aim of translating the content of the dictionary into other languages, so as to make it available to students of Sanskrit whose mother tongue is not English. It is now available online in English and is being translated into Spanish. We also intend to add further information of a technical, etymological and philological nature in a separate +info module, so that the relevance of Sanskrit to the lives of every human being can be more easily seen and experienced.

The Escuela de Filosofía Práctica, associated with the School of Economic Science and other schools worldwide, has chosen the Monier-Williams dictionary because:

  • it is etymological, which means that it refers to and is ordered according to the root of the words, the dhatu, which offers a better understanding of the meaning of the words.
  • it has references to words in other Indo-European languages that derive from Sanskrit; this shows the connection between our modern languages and this original language.
  • gives the particular meaning of words in the main works of Sacred Vedic literature, which is very helpful when studying these scriptures.

Other useful on-line resources

We would like to express our gratitude to Mr. Richard Mahoney for the original DICT file on which we worked as well as to Dr. Thomas Malten for making available the Cologne source files so helpful to us all.

Monier-Williams - a few biographical details

Monier Williams was born in Bombay on November 12th, 1819. In 1837 he went to the University of Oxford to study Sanskrit , where he subsequently became a professor of Sanskrit, Persian and Hindustani languages. In 1851, on the suggestion of Prof. H. H. Wilson, and whilst holding the post of Professor of Sanskrit at the East India Company College in Haileybury, Monier started working on a scientifically arranged Sanskrit-English dictionary in his spare time.

The idea was to produce a dictionary where all the words in the language were scientifically arranged under the 2000 or so roots from which they came. In 1860 he was elected as Wilson's successor to the Boden Chair of Sanskrit, and decided to dedicate his time to the production of this dictionary. Reluctantly he decided to abandon the initial scholarly aim of the wholly root-arranged dictionary in favour of a more practical compromise that would not end up being "inaccessible to ordinary English students of Sanskrit". He writes in the introduction to the dictionary:

"Nevertheless I could not quite renounce the idea which my classical training at Oxford had forcibly impressed upon my mind - viz. that the primary object of a Sanskrit Dictionary should be to exhibit, by a lucid etymological arrangement, the structure of a language which, as most people know, is not only the elder sister of Greek, but the best guide to the structure of Greek, as well as of every other member of the Aryan or Indo-European family . A language, in short, which is the very key-stone of the science of comparative philology."

The first version of this dictionary was published in 1872, meeting with both praise and criticism, the thousand copies selling out in a few years. A few years later, he decided to produce a new enlarged and improved edition, taking into account the pertinent criticisims. But since there had been so many advances in the translation of Sanskrit texts and Sanskrit scholarship since the first edition was put together, he realised that it would not be possible to just add new information to it... the whole dictionary needed re-writing from start to finish!

The layout of the dictionary was made clearer and easier to use, about 60,000 new Sanskrit words were included, and references and quotations for the use and specific meaning of every word in different Vedic literature texts were added. This mammoth undertaking, with the help of assistants and fellow workers, was completed by Monier Williams in April 1899. He died a few days later, before seeing it published, but satisfied with his final corrections and happy in the knowledge that the University Press was going to issue it in a few weeks time.

He was knighted in 1886, and made Knight Commander of the order of the Indian Empire (KCIE) in 1889, when he adopted his Christian name of Monier as an additional surname, thus becoming Sir Monier Monier-Williams. Hence the name of the dictionary.