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

2.1. Historians of Linguistics/Lexicography

The historian of linguistics will analyze these texts to see how changes in the dictionaries reveal changes in linguistic theory and practice. These 16th-century dictionaries are particularly important for they are often the first lengthy commentaries on the vernacular languages in question, and they occur at a time when the study of the classical languages was undergoing a significant change. The first key to the lexicographers' attitudes towards these languages and the inherited linguistic practice comes in the introductions. The special significance of this for the purposes of computerized databases is that those factors which seem to have been given prominence on the title page and in the introduction (e.g., treatment of dialect, source of authority, specific subject areas treated, potential uses for the dictionary) must be tagged as such when they are followed up on in the text. Take, for example, the title of Huloet-Higgins 1572:

Higgins specifies, first of all, that he has corrected Huloet's dictionary (1552); therefore we need to be able to distinguish those entries which appear in both dictionaries but do not match (and then subdivide them according to how they do not match). Secondly the work has been "set in order": in what ways has the order been changed (and ultimately why)? Next Higgins lists subject areas that have been added. Words that fall within these categories need to be marked, and the sets of entries so marked compared to the set of such entries in the 1552 dictionary. Higgins claims also to have expanded the citations using the "best Latin authors". Who is cited in Higgins that is not cited in Huloet? Do the citations serve the same purpose(s)? Higgins states that the French has been annexed to the English and Latin, inviting tagging of the full extent of French words included (are any entries lacking a French equivalent?) and the nature and source of the French equivalents proposed. Thus the introductory materials, including the title page, are guides to at least part of what needs to be tagged in each dictionary. For the purposes of comparison of dictionaries, all dictionaries need to be tagged for all the criteria included in any one. For instance, even though Palsgrave doesn't mention "beastes, foules, fishes", etc., in particular, to compare his dictionary to Huloet-Higgins we need to be able to compare his list of words in those categories to Higgins'. This may sound like an infinite list, and it may turn out to be so; however, the minimum tagging of this sort, drawn from a master composite list of such features specifically mentioned by the lexicographers is not so long (perhaps a dozen semantic fields). Even if one adds the categories specified by Matoré, there are only 27 main subject headings (107 subheadings).

The author's stated intentions are only one of the aspects that must be noted. In addition the historian of linguistics will need to recover the organizational scheme both of the whole and of the individual entries and sub-entries. The organization of the entries can be quite diverse; for this type of study we need to be able to separate, for example, dictionary entries in which related words are sub-entries under the (perceived) root word; dictionary entries in which alphabetic ordering has been violated; dictionary entries in which morphological, syntactic, or semantic information is provided only for the target language, only for the source language, or for both; dictionary entries in which different meanings of the same head-word are included in a single entry, and those in which they are given separate entries. These are but a few examples of the types of distinctions that the tagging of the database should be able to capture.

In some instances other tags or other search methods could be used to find the positive tokens, particularly through the comparison of intersecting and non-intersecting sets. Suppose a historian of linguistics were interested in the history of historical linguistics. Subcategories within the set of all metalinguistic vocabulary could be used to determine the distribution of secondary information -- which French words are cited as being derived from Greek, for example (a question with political overtones; see Kibbee, 1991b). Here one could search for the set of entries in which key phrases for the introduction of etymological information is used (e.g., "come of" in Baret's derivation of attaynted cited above), and then for the entries in which those phrases occur in proximity with either the word Greek or a Greek etymon. Finding this list, and comparing it with other dictionaries lists of this sort, gives us a sense of what the author might have tagged as of Greek origin, according to the prevailing ideas of the day (exemplified by Henri Estienne's Conformité du langage françois avec le grec (1565), Perion's Dialogorum de linguæ Gallicæ origine eiusque cum Græca cognatione libri IV (1555), and Trippault's Celt-Hellenisme (1580)). The tagging of the negative tokens is more complex, and requires greater expertise. The first group of this sort, those words that have been attributed Greek origin by other grammarians and lexicographers of the day is fairly straightforward (assuming their works are available in machine-readable form). The second group, words for which modern etymological dictionaries have furnished a Greek etymon, would be greatly simplified by the creation of electronic versions of the great etymological dictionaries (such as the FEW). The negative tokens are just as crucial to determining the changes in linguistic theory and practice as the positive. Until they have been identified we cannot recover the intentions of the author.

As these examples illustrate, ultimately we need to link the primary documents we are interested in to a variety of external documents that will help us determine the meaning of the internal information. The external documents important for the historian of linguistics include (but are not limited to) other dictionaries and grammars, source materials (literary and otherwise), biographical information about the authors (e.g., Dictionary of National Biography for England, Biographie universelle for France), historical documents from the period (government records, etc.), much like the Renaissance knowledge database being developed by Ian Lancashire (1992).

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