Member of the Month: Arshad Shaheen

We have received some fantastic contributions to the living dictionary this month. - second version

We wanted to celebrate by profiling our Member of the Month - this is the user who has contributed the most words to the Urdu living dictionary.

Name: Arshad Shaheen

What attracted you to be part of the Urdu Living Dictionary?

I feel that I owe a lot to Urdu language because I use Urdu to exchange thoughts in the society. I feel I also ‘think’ in Urdu and ‘live’ in Urdu. I also owe a lot to OUP where I, being the first editor of then HEAT Urdu (OUP Pakistan) and in charge of bi-lingual dictionaries, developed a love for Urdu and its lexicography.

During the last six years I have translated thousands of news stories, features etc. from Urdu into English for The Express Tribune (partner of New York Times). The meanings of Urdu words highly interest me. The background and the journey of words into Urdu (etymology) attract me. I also tried to learn Urdu’s major contributing languages and succeeded to an extent where I can guess the source language of an Urdu word (Arabic, Persian, Hindi, English) without looking into a reference.

Having said this all, do I really need to answer this question, “What attracted you to be part of the Urdu Living Dictionary?”; Why I should not have been attracted! Here is, for the lexicographer inside myself, something to do and also here is an opportunity to pay back, which I have been longing for.

I sadly noticed that we are failing to make our next generation able in Urdu. Students study one or two subjects in Urdu against all others in English. They have a false feeling that they ‘know’ Urdu but actually they don’t. There is kind of a hidden “Urdu illiteracy’. One can easily feel that young people are increasingly uncomfortable with Urdu because their understanding level of the language is getting very low. I wish to help them by compiling a corpus-based ‘Living Urdu Dictionary for Schools’. I have started work on this. I hope getting involved in OGL’s Urdu living dictionary project will prepare me to become a lexicographer for children because compiling a dictionary for children is, I feel, a more challenging task than compiling a regular dictionary.

How do you think Urdu speakers can benefit from it?

I feel that Urdu is undergoing a big change. It is swaying fast from what we have been considering as ‘acceptable standard Urdu’. There are not enough arrangements for bridging this gap; no corpus, no registration of new words entering Urdu and new meanings of the existing words. The Urdu Living Dictionary under the umbrella of world’s trusted name in lexicography, the Oxford University Press, is giving an opportunity for the Urdu Community, and I am sure the serious members of the community will take full advantage of this opportunity by:

  1. Contributing new Urdu words, their examples (preferably real life sentences/ excerpts of present day spoken or written Urdu), their meanings and their grammatical status etc. 
  2. Using it more and more; and 
  3. Introducing it to friends by word of mouth and social media etc.

Do you have a favourite Urdu word or saying? Why?

I like all the Urdu words, idioms and proverbs etc. that I understand. The deeper I understand a word or phrase, the more I like and enjoy it. For example شش و پنج میں ہونا means to be uncertain or in confusion. I knew this. But when I realized that it is like ‘being in confusion for whether it is sush (six) or punj (five)’, my level of understanding and liking increased. Similarly پس و پیش is also about confusion of ‘whether to pus (go back) or paish (move forward). Some words/ phrases create pictures of their meanings in in my mind. They are my favourite ones.

Are there any other features you would like to see on the Urdu site?

We should also have a row/column where the Partners are asked to feed real-life spoken or written sentences (quotations) and then one more space where they enter the relevant meaning (in Urdu) of the word they have chosen to contribute. Thus the work of our Partners will be parallel to that of OED Readers who sent in Quotation Slips to James Murray. This will help us build a corpus necessary for the Living Urdu Dictionary.

The Urdu lovers want to contribute to this good venture. Requesting them for feeding examples of current Urdu (spoken from TV and radio etc., written from newspapers, books, magazines etc.) will channel their contributions, which could culminate at a Dictionary of Current Urdu. This is important because we already have dictionaries of old Urdu like one by John T. Platts.

An Urdu-English dictionary of current Urdu that is continuously being updated will help the Urdu community a lot.

Mr. Shaheen has also been championing the Urdu living dictionary and spreading the word about it among his colleagues and network of contacts: