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

1.5.5. Language Variation

With the first commentaries on many of the modern languages came the first efforts to restrain the wild variation those languages exhibited. That variation might be dialectal, either geographic or sociolinguistic, or it might be diachronic. In either case the comments reflect efforts to purify the ancient languages and to 'defend and illustrate' the modern languages. Higgins openly states that he is out to clean up the medieval Latin vocabulary of Huloet, and Palsgrave prides himself on the efforts to bring French under the control of rules. The interest in linguistic uniformity goes beyond the limits of these avowed purposes, and beyond these authors. Geographical variation

Palsgrave was just as likely to criticize English dialectal usage as French, condemning many words as "northen", particularly in the works of Lydgate.

Palsgrave and many of the other authors remark on dialectal usage in French, most often commenting on Picard or Gascon forms, since these two areas were the most active trade partners with England. Picard also had a more active literary output than other dialectal literatures after the 13th century.

Surprisingly, perhaps, given the importance of Normandy in English history, there are few references to the Norman dialect, and even fewer to the Anglo-French dialect that remained the language of the law at this time, and this in spite of the fact that many of the lexicographers had contacts or training in the legal community. Sociolinguistic variation

Less frequent than dialectal information is commentary relating to class distinctions in the use of language. Palsgrave distinguishes between two different counting systems, one more prestigious (septante, octante, etc.), the other the language of "voulgar people" and "marchante men" (soixante-dix, quatre-vingts). Hollyband notes a few words "used mockingly" and Palsgrave includes many words and examples that shock us by their crudity, but neither specifies in those instances that these are terms limited to any class or segment of society. In the following example Palsgrave distinguishes not only between classes, but also between written and oral registers.

Huloet-Higgins' proverbial example includes an explanation of the proverb for all the higher-class folk whose delicate ears had never heard such blasphemy, and an interesting feature is that the French explanation is more explicit than the English. Diachronic variation

Chronological variation is all important for a language that according to Tory changed so quickly that pieces written fifty years before were incomprehensible. Palsgrave decided that Alain Chartier, whose work was almost a century old at the time Palsgrave was writing, was the limit of acceptable usage:

Sometimes, as he notes in the case of 'turning' the disappearance of the word can be ascribed to the disappearance of the practice it was used to denote.

The only problem was not archaisms, however; neologisms were equally unacceptable, and especially neologisms drawn from languages viewed as threatening the integrity of the author's native language. Thus Palsgrave attacks the borrowings Lydgate introduced, generally calqued on French usage, and Hollyband attacked Italianisms creeping into French.

Palsgrave is the only one I have found to criticize French expressions for being too latinate, as when he rejects ie vous propine for 'I drink to you'. Hollyband's selection of Italian words shows that he subscribes to Henri Estienne's judgment that French must borrow Italian words for certain forms of vice and scoundrels because those vices and those scoundrels simply do not exist in France.

A final recognition of linguistic variation is the insertion of etymological commentary into the articles. This is exceptional, not regular, and can serve several purposes. For Palsgrave, the historical formation of the word is often used as a means of determining what correct usage should be, but his deference to age is sometimes tempered by practical considerations, as when he criticizes the Roman de la Rose for using the etymologically correct but practically confusing ung voylle for une voylle ('a sail'). Baret includes long etymologies that direct the attention beyond the French to the underlying Latin:

Stein (1985: 283-4) notes (following Sledd, 1947 and Starnes, 1954) that in Baret derivations are not offered for words of Germanic origin. Their explanation is that most of the derivations included are taken from the Stephanus tradition. To this Stein adds that the primary interest was in synchronic contrast of two contemporary languages, and not the historical contrast within one language. These explanations have a certain validity, but do not explain all the cases, and present a logical inconsistency. If Baret is "a lexicographer who contrasted different languages and not different stages of one and the same language" (Stein, 1985: 283) why would he contrast different historical stages of French? Still, she is on the right track, but we need to look beyond the lexicographic to the broader historical context. The French words cited are almost always traced further back to the Latin. In this way the use of French words is not subject to the complaints of the anti-Normanists who were gaining sway in English intellectual circles (cf. John Cheke's attempt to eliminate non-Saxon words from his rendition of the Bible). Germanic words need no justification for inclusion; French words need to be traced back to Latin to gain acceptability. "Feyned French", which may be a reference to Law French or to earlier periods of Anglo-French, definitely lacks prestige.

Veron often notes historical change within Latin, consistent with the Humanist desire to purify that language. A further use is to show derivational morphological developments, as the creation of the noun bacchatio from the verb bacchor. Another use of such familial relationship is to explain non-obvious connections, as between a bird and bees:

The interest in word families may have been part of the conservative movement on the orthographic questions. One of the consistent arguments for maintaining antiquated etymologizing spelling is that it helps the learner recognize the relationships between words of the same origin. Thus once again, lexicographic decisions are often based on broader issues, ones that can be ascertained with more certainty only through computerized analysis of full texts rather than impressionistic analysis of partial texts.

[Return to Table of Contents] [Continue]