05 September 2010

agak (again)

In my previous post, I discussed the dictionary entry for the Malay word agak and suggested that 'pretty' was not a very good gloss for it.

In fact, there are some further issues regarding this entry; and for this, I should show the entry in full:This shows that, with the appropriate prefix, agak means 'to guess'.

The issue here is that the core meaning of agak is 'guess' or 'estimate'. (I have confirmed this by asking various Malay colleagues at UBD.) But the most common meaning of the word is 'quite' or 'very' (or 'pretty', if you go with my dictionary). So, which should be shown in the dictionary: the core meaning, or the most common meaning?

This is a conundrum encountered by all lexicographers. For example, Judy Gilbert, an American pronunciation teacher and writer, has suggested a similar issue with the English word summit: its core meaning is 'the top of a mountain'; but its most common meaning nowadays is 'a meeting between national leaders'. So, which of these should be given priority in a dictionary?

My own belief is that they should both be listed, with 'top of a mountain' clearly shown as the core meaning, but 'important meeting' also listed.

However, one way or another, the gloss of agak as 'pretty' is pretty bad!