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Introduction to Online Version

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Introduction for Online Version of “A Maranao Dictionary”

by Dr Jason Lobel

The dictionary contained in this website—“A Maranao Dictionary”, compiled by the late Howard McKaughan (5 July 1922–28 November 2013) and the late Batua al-Macaraya (d. 26 February 2010)—is significant to linguistics and language study for a variety of reasons.

As a lexicographical work, McKaughan and Macaraya’s Maranao dictionaries are impressively comprehensive compilations of lexicon for a language that was the subject of little serious academic study prior to the duo’s work, and has been the subject of equally little academic study since. In its 1996 second, revised edition, it contained 18,608 headwords in the Maranao-English section, 32,940 headwords in the English-Maranao section, and a 23-page introductory section with notes on phonology and grammar. The most significant improvement from the 1967 edition to the 1996 edition was the much more modern formatting, making it much more accessible by putting it in the format expected of a modern dictionary, rather than the first edition that looked like little more than bound printout from the type of primitive machine that passed for a “computer” in 1967.

Every publication is going to have its shortcomings, however, regardless of how masterfully it has been put together, regardless of however many hours have gone into compiling it, and regardless of the skill level and educational background of its authors or compilers. In this case, the Achilles’ Heel of McKaughan and Macaraya’s work was in the phonological analysis. Without rehashing the details (which are available in Lobel and Riwarung 2009 and 2011, and Lobel 2010), the Maranao language has the perfect storm of both diachronic and synchronic phonological and morphophonemic complexities, and McKaughan and Macaraya made a few methodological missteps that led them into the same trap that has snared every other scholar who has tried to analyze Maranao phonology (including even me, for the first few years). To make matters worse, the second, revised edition of their dictionary actually further convoluted the phonological analysis by switching from the earlier edition’s more accurate four-vowel analysis, to add a fifth vowel phoneme that simply doesn’t exist in the Maranao language. The end result is that, as impeccable a work as “A Maranao Dictionary” is from a lexicographical perspective, it requires a newly-revised third edition that will reconcile McKaughan and Macaraya’s expertly-compiled lexicographic work with the proper phonological analysis, which will ensure that future users get the most possible benefit out of the work that the duo put into the earlier editions of their dictionary.

Beyond simply being a dictionary, this work by American-born linguist McKaughan and his native Maranao counterpart Macaraya is also significant because it represents the vast majority of what the academic world knows about the Maranao language. Be it reconstructions of lexicon for Proto-Malayo-Polynesian or Proto-Austronesian by the likes of Robert Blust, or articles on language structure by Loren Billings or Dan Kaufmann, the source of the Maranao forms cited therein is invariably the work of McKaughan and Macaraya. In a recent article on the Maranao, I characterized McKaughan and Macaraya as “responsible for having introduced the Maranao language to the outside world”. Far from empty praise, this is more of a case where words fall short in describing the lasting legacy that an author will leave behind in their substantial body of work. It also says a lot that while Maranao scholars have little if anything positive to say about the work of other Western scholars on the Maranao language, McKaughan and Macaraya’s “A Maranao Dictionary” is highly-regarded throughout the Maranao community. This is without a doubt a testament to how significant the duo’s contribution was to Maranao lexicography and to giving Maranao what is arguably the most important and prestigious document that a language can have: a dictionary. Likewise, I have also visited all three of the areas in Sabah, Malaysia, where the Iranun (closely related to the Maranao) have historically lived, and I have found that, without exception, Dr McKaughan is universally held in high regard in the Iranun communities in Sabah, too.

On a personal note, it would be an understatement to say that I was touched by Dr McKaughan’s humble, open-minded, and supportive reaction to my work on Maranao. After having published an article in which I laid out the faults of his and Macaraya’s phonological analysis of Maranao in their original 1967 dictionary—as well as the analysis of Maranao verb affixes as presented in his 1958 dissertation—Dr McKaughan actually contacted my advisor, Robert Blust, in order to find out how he could reach out to me. Where many other members of academia would no doubt have taken offense at someone criticizing a good part of their life’s work, McKaughan had nothing but the kindest words for me, making clear that he “accepted” my criticisms and that he hoped that I would continue to work on the Maranao language and that he’d be happy to help me in any way he could. In fact, my advisor Dr Blust assured me that that was exactly the type of person that Dr McKaughan was.

In fact, perhaps Dr McKaughan himself, after reading my articles, realized that—methodological missteps aside—he and Macaraya could hardly be to blame for not having been able to properly analyze the Maranao phoneme system. As I discussed with him, it is telling that after five years of trying, I have been unable to find phoneticians confident enough in their own abilities to sign on to co-author a study of the phonetic factors underlying the now-transparent phonemic contrasts between what I have termed (for lack of a better characterization) the “heavy” consonants of Maranao and their “regular” voiced and voiceless counterparts. If, in 2013, with all of our modern software and computers, it is this difficult to find scholars with the expertise to determine the distinctive features underlying these contrasts, how could two non-phoneticians have been expected to do so 50 years ago, especially when—as I am thoroughly convinced—some of these contrasts are next-to-impossible for anyone but native speakers to hear? Perhaps more than anything else, that is the true witness to the undeniable difficulty of Maranao phonology that more than explains the shortcomings behind McKaughan and Macaraya’s analysis.

With all of its phonological and morphophonemic uniqueness and complexity, Maranao effectively threw researchers a fast ball, one that no one was equipped to handle in the middle of the 20th century, and one which few if any seem to be able to handle even a dozen years into the 21st century. Additionally, Maranao turns out to be one of those languages which is all-but-impossible to analyze synchronically without a solid knowledge of neighboring languages and the diachronic development of the modern speech varieties from the ancestral protolanguage. Unfortunately, over 45 years ago when the original dictionary was being compiled, scholarship on the Greater Central Philippine languages was still in its infancy, and so the only thing that could have helped McKaughan and Macaraya present an accurate analysis of the synchronic phonology and morphophonemics of Maranao was not yet in existence. Even when the 1996 edition was published, nobody in the world of linguistics even suspected that anything was amiss with the analyses of the dozen authors who had written about Maranao during the previous 100 years. Even in my own experience, it took three years before a combination of good luck and good native-speaker consultants clued me in to the fact that all previous phonological analyses of Maranao—including my own—had been rather mistaken.

As such, for linguists, “A Maranao Dictionary” is more than just a dictionary; it is also a case study in how to deal with languages that seem to do their best to defy analysis, reading almost like a cross between a mind-boggling mystery novel and a great science fiction work, drawing the reader in with just enough information to whet one’s appetite without giving away the ending. While Philippine-type languages are well-known for their extremely rich agglutinative morphologies, the Maranao language goes above and beyond by taking complex morphology to the extreme while at the same time possessing one of the most perplexing phonologies of any Philippine language, producing what may very well be the most complicated system of morphophonemics in the Philippines.

Sixteen years after its publication in print form, thanks to the efforts of Sue and Ian McQuay of SIL International–Asia Publishing, this important record of one of the Austronesian world’s most complicated languages is finally being made even more accessible in a way that could have hardly been envisioned by its two compilers in 1996, let alone in 1967. The hard work and long hours that the McQuays have put into converting the printed dictionary to a computer-searchable online format will no doubt serve as a fitting tribute to not only Dr McKaughan and Batua Macaraya, but also to the dozens of Maranao native speakers who contributed their time and knowledge to the compilation of the original 1967 dictionary. Also, since the original two editions of “A Maranao Dictionary” are long out-of-print, unavailable in stores, and a rare find even in the booksellers of cyberspace, it is hoped that online access to the second edition of “A Maranao Dictionary” will attract scholars who otherwise would not have had access to this dictionary, and encourage them to carry out their own research on this intriguing language.

Jason Lobel, PhD
Department of Linguistics
University of Hawai`i at Mānoa