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Far East Pinyin Chinese-English Dictionary
The Far East Book Co, Taipei, 2001
ISBN: 9576124638
Cost:NT$450 at PageOne Bookstore, Taipei

One of the best things about this dictionary is its compact size. It is easy to handle and not too heavy or bulky so you can easily carry it round and refer to it. All the characters are arranged in alphabetical order according to Hanyu Pinyin. There is a Hanyu Pinyin index at the front of the book. It seems a little redundant, but it might be useful if you are not sure about the exact pronunciation of a character. There are also radical indexes and stroke number indexes at the back of the dictionary.

The format of the entries is very easy to read and particularly useful for someone who has a good knowledge of pinyin, but not characters. The entry for each character begins with the pinyin followed by the character in red type. There is then a definition or definitions of the character in English. Following this there is a list of words that begin with that character. The list is arranged with the word written in bold in pinyin first, followed by the character and a definition in English. The definitions given are clear and concise, but there are no example sentences and it does not state whether the word is noun, adjective, particle, etc.

There is an appendix with a table of countries and their capitals in pinyin. However, there is not always a corresponding entry in the dictionary so you cannot know the characters used for the name of the city or country. Another appendix contains a comparitive chart of Hanyu Pinyin and Zhuyin Fuhao (also called bo po mo fo).

Only traditional characters are used in the dictionary. When there is an alternate or simplified form of a character used in Taiwan this is noted in brackets. A table of simplified characters would make a useful addition to this dictionary.

On the back of the dictionary it says that, “Beijing dialect is used as the standard pronunciation. The pronunciation used in Taiwan is also provided if there is any difference.” However, in the text it is not really made clear where differences exist. Some characters have multiple pronunciations and these are noted, but the addition of some notation to clearly indicate differences in pronunciation between Taiwan and China is really needed.

Similarly the dictionary includes words from both Taiwan and China, but doesn’t make the origins clear. For example, jìchéngchē and chūzūchē are both defined as taxi. The former word is used in Taiwan and the latter in China. In Taiwan chūzūchē means hire car, but someone using the dictionary without this knowledge could easily be confused. Another example is tóngzhì. In the text it is defined as comrade. However, in Taiwan it is most commonly used to mean gay or homosexual.

Overall this dictionary is useful but it could be improved. In particular the differences in usage between Taiwan and China need to be made more clear. It is probably a good dictionary to carry around and use on the run, but it is not a definitive reference.

Review originally published on the author’s site, David on Formosa.