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

1.5.4. Semantic Information

Here we need to look at the types of equivalency provided, the use of synonymy in the source as well as the target language, and the definition of terms in the source or target language.

In the source language the presence of a definition may represent the fact that the initial word-list was one based on another language. Thus, when Hollyband inserts the definition of the French headword, it is usually because Estienne gave this French word a French definition, after a Latin headword:

Similar suspicions must be raised if the 'headword' is a relative clause or present participle used as a noun.

Another possibility, sometimes of similar origin, is the use of synonyms in the source language as the headword, or in the target language, where it may represent sociolinguistic variation.

In the target language, a simple equivalent is the ideal goal of the bilingual lexicographer, but it is an elusive goal. If it does not exist, or if the lexicographer fears that the simple equivalent might be unknown to the reader, then some explanation is in order:

Sometimes the synonymy simply means that the single word in the source language represents several different concepts in the target language, as in the case of clavus mentioned earlier, or graisse here:

Occasionally in the tri- or quadri-lingual texts both the source and one of the target languages include lengthy expositions, most often of the single Latin word.

Such phenomena help us to draw the links between successive generations of the same dictionary, but the selection of one or two examples can be misleading and this is where the computerized dictionary can be extremely useful. Only by comparing complete lists of entries, with sorting by a variety of possible components of the entry, can we understand these changes, these lexicographical choices. Then we can identify all the times Estienne's list provides a definition or explanation instead of a translational equivalent, and we can determine what choices subsequent lexicographers made: to omit the concept because it did not have a simple term in the language of the headword; to admit a latinate neologism to serve as headword; to place the explanatory phrase in the position of the headword, etc. These choices, viewed over an entire dictionary, not in the kind of small samples we are currently limited to, permit us to relate the dictionary to broader intellectual and cultural movements within the society. This is where the historiography of lexicography becomes an integral part of the history of ideas.

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