Miura Shion Interview Part 5: The Meaning of “Creating a Dictionary”

Miura Shion is the original author of Fune wo Amu (2011) otherwise also known as The Great Passage. The anime adaptation started airing from October 16 on Fuji Television’s noitaminA block. The interview consists of eleven parts; this is the fifth part on the creation and revision of dictionaries. Please go to part one “Encountering a Dictionary” to start reading the interview from the beginning.

The Meaning of “Creating a Dictionary”

Many people’s thoughts and views enter [the dictionary’s] production process, and it is completed in a series of silent discussions so to speak. We polish it repeatedly, like top-quality brewed sake, it truly is a work of… polishing.

It’s not good thing if a dictionary can only be read by experts even if it becomes about as big as the “Daijirin”. The saying that it should be easily understood no matter what kind of person uses it, makes me think that it might be near to the intention to entertain.

A dictionary is a practical guidebook, isn’t it? The ultimate one. It’s not an academic book. A dictionary is created with a background in expert knowledge, so the expertise is high. But, it’s an extremely popular dictionary among the general public. Usually, there’s no way that expertise and popularity mingle, but I think that the object called the dictionary might be a uncommon publication which mingles those two things into one point that’s useful by nature.

I think that a teacher and anyone who has a specialization can become involved in dictionary creation, carry out their respective cutting edge research, and try to interpret the words with the fruits of their effort. However, it won’t be understood by a layman even if they have read specialized books that the expert has written. But the accumulation of studies, is reflected in the dictionaries in a form which is understood by many people. Even when reading a new copy of Iwanami, people have said “Sorry, I don’t understand”. Those kind of things pop up in the middle even though it was aimed at everyone. It’s amazing that dictionaries create explanations of cutting-edge research in a form which is properly easily understood and used by everyone.

In my role as an editor of dictionaries, the feeling of “examining whether it will become a dictionary understandable to many people” is incredibly huge. Each and every interpreted word may have many authors, but one could say that making a correct former manuscript written by a specialized scholar easily understandable is the editor’s chance to show off….

The editor is the first reader. In the case of novels, I’ve often been told the same, but it’s the same for dictionaries. The editor is the dictionary’s first reader and user, so they can point out different opinions with the author. Due to that it will be kneaded into a form that will reach even more people.

In the case of specialized books, the editor will say less opinions on the finished manuscript if those contents are specialized. However, in the case of dictionaries it’s the opposite. It will be crossed out in red from the very starting point of the manuscript. If the editor is asked what he did there, he will say that it should be made easily understandable.

Is it only the editor who does those kinds of content inspections?

Many people, such as the editor, proofreaders, and the editorial committee members who revise the contents, examine the contents assigned respectively to them. As someone who is involved in dictionary creation, what I want to convey the most to the readers who are using dictionaries is: even a dictionary with a clear personality like the “Shinmeikai Kokugo Jiten” is not created by merely one individual. Actually, many people’s thoughts and views enter its production process, and it is completed in a series of silent discussions so to speak. We polish it repeatedly, like top-quality brewed sake, it truly is a work of… polishing. Please view a dictionary with that kind of image.

And then many people run their eyes through it, after it is published openly. What follows are the opinions from people who are using it. They gradually come in, and the dictionary increasingly becomes more polished, won’t it?

Yes.  That’s why the contents of a dictionary are polished in the editions that follow. Although any dictionary will be completed within time, the first edition is after all over the place and unbalanced sides will appear. Speaking of which, that might be a ‘personality’.

Including the “Daijirin”, the dictionary editor who creates the new edition will make plans for doing it ‘that way’ in the next edition. As a user, I think something like “Huh, isn’t it too much to redo all of that!” But it feels like you think very earnestly like “But doing it that way is more precise, and the usability will be good too…”

In “Fune wo amu”, the editor said “Let’s begin revision work starting tomorrow” at the celebration party of the publication of the “Daitoukai” dictionary which they worked on, but it really is like that. When it’s completed, I couldn’t be anymore happier and it’s not a terrible moment. But to be honest, I can’t view a recently completed dictionary sincerely. If I think I can find misprints or bad parts, I can’t look at it. However, labels are tagged as early as the next day. When we talk about it, I’m told ‘so there was a mistake like that in there’, ‘isn’t this awful?’, parts show up that I want to correct even if there are no mistakes.

Do you see parts that you might want to deepen out the explanation a little more then?

Yes. All dictionaries enter the revision process as soon as they’re finished. Everyone truly thinks like that, unconsciously starting the revision.

How amazing. In my case, I generally won’t reread it even after my novel is turned into a book. I receive word from the editor-in-charge “It’s done!”. In the end I’m happy that it turned out in that form. But I don’t open it at all because it’s scary.

Hoshi Shinichi-san rewrites his own works the whole time apparently.

Yes, I can’t believe it already. There are also people who make big improvements when a book is turned into a paperback book. But I basically don’t do it. It’s bad for my heart.

Miura-san, you don’t correct your works when they’re turned into paperbacks?

I correct it to the best of my ability. I won’t correct it even if I think ‘whoa’. It’s bad to make people who read the tankoubon feel “The paperback volume somehow made a different impression on me.” Mentally, I can’t stand it myself as well.


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