CHWP B.7 Kibbee, "16th-Century Bilingual Dictionaries (French-English)"

0. Introduction

The dictionaries of earlier periods are gold mines of information for a variety of types of research. Dictionaries are repositories of the 'word-hoard' of the languages included, providing unique 'holistic' insights into the languages themselves and the cultures those languages are a part of. Dictionaries are also most difficult sources to utilize for these broad spectrum studies. In the past, studies of lexicographic technique have depended on small portions of extant dictionaries, studying all words beginning with ba for example,[1] or ferreting out all references to dialect (but omitting or ignoring all other types of reference to register, style, etc.) Faced with that alternative, computers are not only a means to avoid some of the mind-numbing aspects of the study of dictionaries; they are more importantly the tool to open new ways of viewing the text. They permit us to try textual explanations and interpretations that surpass the best efforts of human memory. This line of research can make these dictionaries, viewed as complete and semi-discrete compositions, key pieces in ever more abstract intellectual discussions of the nature of lexicography and linguistics, the nature and uses of history, the nature of knowledge and/or understanding. The databases comprising these dictionaries, therefore, need to be constructed so that the large questions, as well as the small, can be answered.

We are used to considering dictionaries as tools, yet they are something more as well: these texts bear, as a sort of summa of the cultures they represent, many similarities to a canonical literary text; the use of the analytical tools and theoretical viewpoints of literary and cultural history should bring these documents new attention from a variety of scholarly approaches. Beyond the information contained we need to consider the textual traditions. We need to ask ourselves what choices the authors made and why they made them. In short, to borrow a concept from illocutionary semantics, what was the author doing in saying what he said (and in omitting what he omitted)?[2] Each of the scholarly disciplines that has something to learn from these texts shares some needs in terms of the computerized analysis of the text, and each has certain peculiar needs; yet all interested disciplines stand to benefit from the holistic approach to their contents. To answer important theoretical questions through computerized access to these peculiar texts demands a variety of search and retrieval strategies. Performing those searches, in turn, requires a more complicated structure of the database than we have heretofore accomplished, including cross-referencing to external materials and the ability to retrieve 'negative' tokens (instances in which a feature might have been included or marked, but was not).

The creation of such a structure is beyond the requirements of the preparation of an edition by a single scholar, and therefore has implications for the distribution of these databases as well. Those features which describe formatting and basic structure are part of the electronic edition which can be distributed in fixed-state media: on diskettes or CD-ROMs. Those features which are essentially for interpretation presuppose ideally an interactive network where scholars can insert their interpretative feature markers for other scholars to use, discard, or discuss as they will.

What I propose to do in this article is to present an inventory of the lexicographic features of dictionaries that include French and English in the 16th century,[3] and then to outline the needs of different scholarly disciplines in approaching this genre of text. The basic structure is necessary for those wishing to do research using the dictionary as a tool; the interpretative structure is necessary for studying the dictionary as a cultural and scientific production.

In these texts, we can start with a study based on five criteria,

  1. What languages are included and what is the order of presentation?
  2. What is the source and nature of the word list? (Relationship between this dictionary and others in its textual tradition; changes in the concept of 'hard word'.)
  3. What is the organizational principle of the word list and the entries within the word-list?
  4. How has the author/printer availed himself of the new technology of that day, printing?
  5. What information within and beyond translational equivalent is given, either for the word in the source or in the target language?

each considered from explicit and implicit evidence:

The sum of the answers to these questions responds to the primary problem we have set for ourselves: What was the author doing (lexicographically, pedagogically, practically and culturally) in composing his dictionary? Lexicographically, the author must justify why a new dictionary is necessary, and why he has made the choices he has in terms of the lexicographic tradition. Pedagogically, most of these authors conceived of their works as part of an instructional programme in one of the languages, although the degree of integration varies widely, from inclusion within a grammar (Palsgrave, Du Wes, Hollyband 1573 and 1576), to independent part of an instructional series (Hollyband 1580a and 1593), and ultimately to those more independent yet (Veron, Baret, Huloet-Higgins, Junius-Higgins). The relationship between the dictionary and language instruction influences many of the decisions on lexicographic practice.

Practically, many of the authors saw their works as aids in translation. In some instances the translation activity was professional (Palsgrave -- for work as clerk in the Inns of Court or Chancery), in some educational (as part of the instructional program -- Baret and Hollyband), in others yet part of a higher intellectual calling (as in the case of Stephanus himself). Baret demonstrates his interest in providing a tool for translation, from Latin or French into English, right on the title page:

In the introduction to the reader Baret goes on to explain that the dictionary grew out of the translation exercises he used to give his Latin students (the 'busy bees' remembered in the title of his work).

Hollyband's dictionaries are also organized to facilitate translation from French into English, so that students might take advantage of the pearls of French literature that Hollyband recommends: Commines, Amadis de Gaule (already translated into French from Spanish), Marot, Rabelais, Boaistuau. In addition to the basic disposition of the languages (French headwords -> English equivalents), Hollyband explains in his introduction "to the Students of the French tongue" that he has included the principal parts of the French verbs, because the infinitive alone does not help one much when faced with a conjugated form:

In another motivation which Palsgrave regarded as practical but which we might regard as cultural, he explicitly recognizes the social force of the grammar/dictionary he prepared, as a definer of acceptable usage. He is the first, on either side of the Channel, to bring French under the control of "rules certaine", in accordance with the wishes of Geofroy Tory (Champ Fleury).

Finally, culturally these works define the relationship between the languages involved, define linguistic authority, and express a broad range of views about history, literature, religion and a host of other topics. The lexicographers are both reflections of and commentators upon the society represented by the languages of their texts. This richness is a source both of our fascination with their works, and of the complexity of devising an adequate computerized information-retrieval system.

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[1] See, for example, Stein (1985). This is not a criticism of her work, which is often brilliant and always extremely useful. Rather it is an acknowledgement of the inherent problems in research limited by human memory.

[2] This approach draws on Quentin Skinner's writings on the history of political ideas, summarized and defended in Tully (1988).

[3] This limitation is artificial, based on the languages whose tradition I am most familiar with. A complete study would have to include the history of Latin lexicography in particular, and quite possibly other bilingual traditions. Wooldridge (1992) has elaborated on the Latin-French tradition in the 16th and early 17th century. Merrilees (1990, 1992) is bringing to light the Latin-French traditions of the late Middle Ages. The modern language bilingual tradition that is most directly related to this study is the French-Flemish tradition represented by Le livre des mestiers in the Middle Ages and works by Gabriel Meurier and others in the 16th century.