Are the abbreviations in the NCPED dictionary documented somewhere?


I have been spending a lot of time reading the data from the dictionaries (starting with the lovely JSON files at in the repo), and I have a question:

Are the abbreviations in the New Concise Pali-English dictionary documented somewhere? I’m rather perplexed by this☚, for instance:

mf(~ā ~ī)n.☚ who possesses supernatural sight.

I’m assuming that it means something like “it’s an adjective and can therefore take any gender’s endings” (the mfn. bit), but what does f(~ā ~ī) mean? That it can appear as a an ā adjective or an adjective?



Yup, so if qualifying a feminine noun, the adjectival stem would be dibbacakkhukā- or dibbacakkhukī-.


It is nice to meet someone who appreciates data!

indeed, that’s right. It’s an unusually complex construction, I’d like for them to be more articulate, but that’s basically it.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure why the modern tendency seems to be towards saying “mfn” rather than “adjective”. I’m guessing it’s because such terms can play grammatical roles other than adjectives? Anyway, that’s what Cone uses, and I’m sure she has good reason.

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I love JSON, and I love linguistic data, and I love Pali, so the well-structured data in the Sutta Central repos is nothing short of :exploding_head: to me. My own research is about structured data and application design for language documentation, but in my world corpora (usually of endangered languages) tend to be quite small. Just the scale of what is going on around here is amazing.

It’s weird, right? I have been trying to work through a lot of this stuff on my own and get the various word classes sorted in my head, and one of the things that eventually sank in was that the category of gender “lives” in two different places: noun stems, and adjectival inflections. One thing that really threw me for a loop (and I’m still not sure I grok it) is that a noun which “has” a specific gender may change that gender in certain compounds. So it’s almost like the compound has its own gender? I think?

The pithiest explanation I’ve found of this is Collins (p.17):

As single words, nouns have one gender and adjectives three, but as the final member in compounds where they act as adjectives nouns can also have three.

@Leon’s example is good:

It seems to me that the term adjectival would be a cromulent one as opposed to mfn. But as you say, Cone probably has reasons!


mfn. was used by Monier-Williams in the 1899 edition of his Sanskrit Dictionary. It was one of the economising measures adopted /improvement made on the 1872 edition.

Cf. the preface to the 1872 edition (apologies for very low res scan):

Here’s the entry for the adjective and substantive guru- in 1872:

Screen Shot 2021-01-21 at 16.42.25

and the more concise entry in 1899:

Screen Shot 2021-01-21 at 16.46.23


This is also how it would be listed in Pali-Thai dictionaries, following the conventions of the ancient Pali grammarians. With a nominal like dibbacakkhukā which can serve as either a substantive or an adjective, the substantival sense was considered primary and the adjectival sense derivative.

This is of course the opposite of how we tend to see things in English. We would say that “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is the nominalization of three adjectives. But the grammarians of old would say that “Clint Eastwood played the good cowboy” is the adjectivization of a substantive.


Well that’s really interesting. I’d really love to see some people making more creative applications with our data. There’s already SC-Voice and BuddhaNexus. I’m looking forward to seeing what other ideas people come up with.

Right, here we can see that it is a more condensed yet explicit form. Quite clever actually.

Wait, Monier-Williams revised his whole dictionary over a 27 year span? :mindblown: