Western missionaries contributed largely to Chinese lexicography. Their involvement was basically a practical rather than a theoretical one. In order to preach and convert, it was necessary to speak Chinese. A missionary on post needed to learn at least two languages, the national Guanhua, the “language of the officials” or “Mandarin,” and the local vernacular. The first lexicographical work by missionaries was a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary compiled in the late 1500s
Francisco Varo (1627–1687), a Spanish Dominican based in the province of Fujian, was legendary for his superb mastery in Mandarin. His Vocabulario de la Lengua Mandarina, a Spanish-Chinese dictionary, is made available to modern readers in the present study, which is based on two manuscripts held in Berlin and London. Volume 1 contains the text of Varo’s glossary, with English translations offered for all Spanish glosses and Chinese characters added for all Chinese forms. Volume 2 includes a pinyin index to all Chinese forms in the text and a selective index to the English translations of the Chinese glosses.
The Vocabulario is mainly devoted to the spoken language, but includes literary forms as well. Varo was also sensitive to other matters of usage, e.g., questions of style, new expressions coined by the missionaries, specific expressions in Chinese and in European culture, Chinese customs and beliefs, and aspects of grammar.
The Vocabulario is recommended for readers interested in Chinese linguistics, lexicography, Sino-Western cultural relations and the history of Christianity in China.
"Durch die Bearbeitung und Neuauflage der Vocabulario de la Lengua Mandarina hat der Herausgeber W. South Coblin eine empfindliche Lücke in der Geschichte der chinesischen Lexikographie geschlossen. Nicht nur, wer sich mit der Geschichte der chinesischen Mission in China beschäftigt, sondern auch, wer sich für die Entwicklung der chinesischen Sprache interessiert, wird das Werk jederzeit mit Gewinn zur Hand nehmen."
Volker Klöpsch in Oriens Extremus