Miura Shion Interview Part 2: Comparing Dictionaries

Miura Shion is the writer of Fune wo Amu (2011) otherwise also known as The Great Passage. Starting from October 14, an anime adaptation will be broadcast on the noitaminA block. For this reason I decided to translate an interview with the author over the course of the next couple of months while the anime is airing. The interview consists of eleven parts; this is the second part on comparing dictionaries. Please go to the previous post “Encountering a Dictionary” to start reading the interview from the beginning.

Comparing Dictionaries
A still from Fune wo Amu (The Great Passage) film (2013) directed by Ishii Yuya.

Comparing Dictionaries

I released myself from rigidly perceiving words and having thought patterns like “There definitely has to be an answer. There must be a right answer”. In a good way I got over it myself too and became more at ease.

In the present, are you drawn to dictionaries while writing stories?

Actually, I often write in the heat of the moment when I’m writing. However, during proofreading I’ll pull out a dictionary at times when I’m like: “Huh? Am I okay with this? It doesn’t feel very precise. Let’s check the exact meaning”. I often become unable to tell the difference between intransitive verbs and transitive verbs. So there are plenty of times when I open a dictionary and make my judgment after seeing the examples.

Which dictionaries are you currently using for your work?

“Daijirin”, “Kojien”, “Iwanami kokugo jiten”, “Shinmeikai kokugo jiten” and “Nihon kokugo daijiten”. I use these five dictionaries in accordance with the situation. Generally, I look at both “Daijirin” and “Kojien” as a set. After that, I work with the notion of “Does it appear in a dictionary of this size if it is this word?”.

There are scarcely any people who compare multiple dictionaries, so it is surprisingly unknown: the method of explaining words (interpretation of a word) varies considerably depending on the dictionary.

They truly differ. I think that’s another interesting point. I didn’t use any dictionary other than the “Daijirin” in my student days as well, so I wasn’t aware of it very much. However, I understood it after I used it together with a different dictionary. The way of arrangement is also different. I though it was interesting that each respective dictionary has its own personality, or perhaps I should say, individuality. Once I understood “Each dictionary respectively places an explanation and interpretation which is thought to be good; It’s not like there is one sole correct interpretation with regard to the definition of a word’s meaning,” I increasingly started to think of dictionaries as human being-like.

Miura Shion
Miura Shion
When comparing dictionaries, you will understand that the angle and attitude of the way of explaining words with words differs between each dictionary. From those differences, you will come to understand the expansion of the meaning of those words even more. So it’s very interesting to make comparisons between the dictionaries. You may be mislead if you were learning, but at the very least you can say it’s a very stimulating pastime, which you enjoyed from childhood until adulthood.

That truly is the case. I think I gradually made a dictionary of my own liking, which includes having my preferred paper color and typeface of characters among others. But perhaps I should say that it would be fun to already have one copy at hand of a dictionary of my own liking which is a dictionary with different viewpoints…

There was a teacher who taught you how to use dictionaries in elementary school. But rather than using the same dictionary, everyone in class brings together dictionaries from different publishers, and tries to look up the same words…

It would be fun to have quarrels like “In my dictionary it’s written like this!”

So you are able to verify the expansion of the meaning of the words while making comparisons, such as “Which dictionary interpretation is good?” and “Why would the explanation be different?”

Indeed. We put trust into dictionaries with thoughts like “There shouldn’t be any mistakes in a dictionary” “A dictionary tells us the right meaning of the word.” Dictionaries are books which answer that trust with facts, but it unintentionally leads to misunderstandings as it seems like there is only one correct answer. I ended up thinking something like ‘what is written in this dictionary surely is the absolute answer’. However, that’s not the case in reality.

When I became aware of things like ‘this dictionary is saying this’ by comparing various dictionaries, I released myself from rigidly perceiving words and having thought patterns like “There definitely has to be an answer. There must be a right answer”. In a good way I got over it myself too and became more at ease. I think this is not just limited to words. Broadly speaking, it might be a problem of how one perceives the world.


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