Home > Rant > JMDict going downhill? – UPDATED

JMDict going downhill? – UPDATED

JMDict is a dictionary database. That is, a list of words in English (+some other languages), and their Japanese equivalent. This data is free for non-commercial use, maybe the only such big dictionary project for Japanese which is free.

I thought of writing something satirical about JMDict, the dictionary database behind zkanji, but I probably couldn’t express myself so well as to make it even slightly funny. JMDict is used in 99.999% of freely available online dictionaries and free dictionary programs, and as such, gives a lot to the students of the Japanese language all over the world. The trouble is, it is a bit difficult to criticize it, as many people think of it as The Authoritative Japanese Dictionary Database.

Unfortunately JMDict has many small glitches. Many English word definitions in it are ambiguous and anybody not knowing how to use those words will definitely make mistakes. You can say that this is unavoidable in a dictionary, and I agree. The problem comes up, when the definition could be better with simply a different choice of words. For example the English definition they give could only be used in 10% of all translations, in all other cases there is a better, more general translation which is not specified in the definition. I also started to wonder when I saw words with explanation as part of their definitions, why it is not possible to add explanation to others. Because of this, whenever I come up with something ambiguous, I use a Japanese-Japanese dictionary like goo 辞書 or SpaceALC’s 英辞郎 (which is not exactly a dictionary, but still great and very useful).

This doesn’t mean that JMDict would be full of such problems, and at every corner vicious ambiguousness and incorrect translations await the unsuspecting student. (Maybe it DOES mean that, but only for less common words. There are more than 150,000 unique definitions in the database after all.) Another positive aspect is that anyone can send in corrections to words. I have done it myself several times already.

I’m writing this rant right now, because this time it seems the maintainers made a mistake they don’t want to admit, and it made me slightly dumbfounded. The word 練る is godan (or -u verb). That means when the word is inflected, the る “changes” to another syllable from the r row of the kana table, or in the past tense it is replaced by った. But if we take a look at the verb inflection table at WWWJDIC (the “official” online dictionary that uses JMDict), it says the past tense of 練る is 練た, which is wrong. What is strange is that originally 練る was marked correctly as -u verb, but not so long ago it was changed to ichidan or -ru dropping. I have sent in a correction 3 days ago for this, and the answer? Well, I haven’t specified an e-mail address (and even if I did I doubt they would have sent an answer), the correction was simple refused and deleted from the system without a trace. It might be taken into consideration and we might see some change in the future, but for now it seems they simply removed it.

Though this is just a single case, but makes me think what the future of JMDict will be like, if things go on like this. The creator and original maintaner of JMDict is Jim Breen, though he is now probably not the one doing it. I’m considering sending him an e-mail explaining this situation, but I want to wait a few days to see if they correct this mistake or not.

UPDATE: I checked again today, and the verb information is now corrected. Someone from the maintainers is either reading my blog 🙂 or it simply took this much time till the changes in the database appeared on the dictionary server. In any case, I wish that they only removed the page of a suggested correction after the result was visible.

Categories: Rant Tags: , ,
  1. Jim Breen
    November 26, 2015 at 10:08 am

    I just noticed this, and thought I’d check the 練る entry. It looks like your correction arrived on 2011-09-05 and was approved the following day. The contributor who had made the earlier changed commented that he’d made a “stupid mistake”. You can see the saga at http://www.edrdg.org/jmdictdb/cgi-bin/entr.py?svc=jmdict&sid=&q=1559140



    • November 26, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Because of the layout of this blog, I always forget to click the “Reply” link first when I post something.

  2. November 26, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Thanks for taking the time and commenting even on such insignificant blog as this (I doubt that even 10 people were reading this blog at the time of writing,) and thanks for JMdict as well!

    I believe I did send the correction 3 days earlier like I wrote in the post, but it was 4 years ago and my memories about it are now vague. Either way, JMdict is a very useful and important resource and it pains me whenever I see mistakes in it.

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