Detail from the dictionary shows the entry “Dios” (God) with its Chinese character and equivalent “Tai-chi” being crossed out by the Dominican editor, who labelled it “erehia” or “heretical,” a trace of the Chinese rites conflict in the 17th century between the Dominicans and the Jesuits.
World’s oldest and largest Spanish-Chinese dictionary found in UST
It was found with the label, ‘vale muy poco’—‘of little value’—for contemporary use. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth’
Spanish and Taiwanese scholars have discovered the world’s oldest extant and largest Spanish-Chinese dictionary at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Archives.
The 400-year-old “Dictionario Hispanico Sinicum” (DHS) provides not only the Chinese characters and Mandarin terms to Spanish words, but also their equivalent in Hokkien, the language spoken in Taiwan and Fujian province in southeastern China where many of today’s overseas Chinese came from.
In the Philippines, many Chinese speak “Fookien” or “Philippine Hokkien.”
Ironically, the dictionary, cataloged in the UST Archives as “Vocabulario Espanol-Chino con caracteres chinos (Tomo 215),” was found with the label, “vale muy poco,” that is, “of little value” for contemporary use.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Henning Klotter of Humboldt University in Berlin. He explained the dictionary is “the most comprehensive collection of Hokkien lexical items” of its time. “[H]istorians will [also] find a wealth of information on the early history of the Spanish-Chinese encounter in the Philippines.”
The discovery is seen by scholars and cultural activists as helping counteract the Mandarin-only policy being enforced by the Chinese Communist Party, which critics call a form of cultural genocide directed against regional languages and communities such as the Cantonese in Hong Kong and Guangzhou.
Compiled and edited in the first half of the 1600s by Spanish Dominican missionaries in Manila, DHS is believed to be at least 70 years older than the Kangxi Dictionary, the standard Chinese dictionary ordered made by the emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynastly and first published in 1716.
UST archivist and ecclesiastical historian Regalado Trota Jose linked the dictionary to the Spanish occupation of Taiwan between 1626 and 1642.
Fabio Yu-Chung Lee from National Tsing-Hua University (NTHU) in Taiwan and José Luis Caño Ortigosa from the Universidad de Sevilla, who found DCS while researching at the UST Archives, agreed with Jose. They said an entry in DHS had a Spanish sentence as an example for the use of a term: “Tierra de Isla Hermosa ado estan los españoles”—“on the island of Hermosa, a land owned by the Spanish.” “Hermosa” is the Spanish equivalent of Formosa, Taiwan’s old name, which means “beautiful.”
DHS likewise used a certain term that indicated the Ming dynasty was still existing when it was being edited. The Chinese dynasty lasted from the 14th century till 1644.
“We were deeply impressed,” said Lee and Caño. DHS “consisted of a total 1,103 pages and 27,000 vocabulary.”
Kangxi may have 40,000 entries, but the UST dictionary is more linguistically diverse, since its entries are in Spanish, Chinese characters, Mandarin, Hokkien and even Tagalog.
Each page has four blocks left to right, containing Spanish phonetics, Chinese characters, and “Zhangzhou” (or Hokkien) and Mandarin phonetics.
Jose said DHS likewise contains Tagalog words, such as “arigue” (house post), “bahaque” (G-string), “camanguian” (incense), “mabolo” (a fruit), “paypay” (fan), “tangingue” (a fish), and “vilango” (prisoner). “Thus we get imperfect glimpses of what the Spaniards, Fujianese, Taiwanese and Tagalogs encountered with each other and among themselves,” the UST archivist explained.
Lee and Caño said the dictionary would aid in understanding Taiwan’s history.
“For example, there was this term ‘chaoyin’ that appeared in Qing Taiwan documents,” they said. “[DHS] actually showed that chaoyin was actually a translation of… ‘bahaque’ (‘cloth that covered genitals’).” They added that in his 18th-century work, “Taihai Shichalu (Records from the Mission to Taiwan and its Strait),” Qing dynasty official Shu-Jing Huang described the clothing of the Taiwan aborigines: “the rich wore dark cloth for garment and beige cloth for chaoyin.”
Founded in 1611 by the Dominicans, UST is the oldest university in Asia. Its archives and heritage library contain incunabula and rare books and historic documents, including one in ancient “baybayin” syllabary, declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines.
UST’s holdings also include ancient dictionaries and grammars made by the Dominicans and other friar-missionaries in their work of evangelization in the country and around Asia, including “Vocabulario de la Lengua Espanola y China,” much celebrated by scholars.
Scholars are now toasting the discovery of DHS.
Klotter said DHS should be “appreciated by linguists interested in the history of bilingual Chinese-Western lexicography, Hokkien language history, Hokkien writing traditions and related fields.”
Jose linked the dictionary to the ministry of the Dominicans among the Chinese in Binondo and the parian since their arrival in the Philippines in 1587.
“It shows how involved UST was with the Chinese community [in Manila]… This is a very important material for the study of Philippine-Chinese relations,” Jose said.
But the Dominicans could not have compiled the entries without the cooperation of Hokkienese in Manila. In a way they were coeditors of DHS, Lee and Caño said.
“In addition to the broadness of content, the most valuable part of these Hokkien-Spanish documents is the authorship,” said Yi Long-hua of NTHU. “Most works that resulted from Sino-Western interactions were usually written by Europeans from their perspectives… Hokkien-Spanish dictionaries coedited by both communities provide an exciting new avenue of inquiry.”
Chinese rites controversy
DHS should show the Dominicans were seeking to evangelize China, using Taiwan as a base to send missionaries to Fukien, then from there expanding to other parts of China. But this pitted them against the Jesuits, resulting in the Chinese rites controversy, in which the friars successfully pressured the Holy See to stop the Jesuits from condoning Chinese ancestral worship.
The controversy has traces in DHS, said Lee and Caño. “Amusingly the manuscript, which [is] 400 years old, was also a witness to the epic event and left behind its own historical traces: In the manuscript the word ‘Dios’ was originally translated into Chinese characters as ‘Tianzhu’ and ‘Taichi.’ But due to the effects of the Chinese rites controversy, a … Dominican, who was obviously against Chinese traditional culture, crossed out ‘Taichi’ and added next to it the term ‘[h]erehia’ (‘heresy’).”
Lee and Caño said that DHS should be included in the Memory of the World project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).
“[DHS] is a rare material that could verify the close ties between Hokkien migrants, Spaniards and Filipinos in the 17th century,” the scholars said. “It possesses extraordinary research value, and its significance matches the standards of the Unesco Memory of the World project. [It is an] asset that integrated the linguistic wisdom of the Hokkien, Spanish and Filipino peoples.”
A facsimile edition of DHS, edited by Jose, Lee, Caño and Tsung-jen Chen, has been published by NTHU Press with support from Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, Tsao Yung-Ho Foundation of Culture and Education, and Hispanic-Taiwanese Association of Cultural Exchange. —CONTRIBUTED