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

2.2. Historians of Language

The historians of linguistics are primarily interested in the types of information provided, the historians of an individual language need to know and be able to sort out the detailed information. An historian of linguistics wants to gather from the database the type and distribution of morphological information included in verb entries, the historian of the language wants a list of all variant verb forms for each verb. The structure of presentation is less important than the raw data. One studying the history of French morphology might want to isolate all instances of variation in conjugational pattern (e.g., switches between -i- forms of the passé simple, and -u- forms). For the history of syntax, one might wish to identify examples which show certain types of complementation. For the history of vocabulary one might tag first occurrences of certain definitions or equivalencies, as well as the author's own indications of usage ('vulgar', 'archaic', etc.)

These semantic features can be isolated in a largely mechanical way, using the search for metalinguistic vocabulary described above. In some cases simple string searches can simplify the identification of morphological characteristics. The variation in conjugational pattern can be extracted from searches for strings -is, -ist, -ismes, -istes, -irent and equivalent forms in -u-. However, the analysis of syntactic constructions cannot be so simplified, and requires tagging by experts not just for major constructions (transitivity, types of complementation), but also for features within the constructions (e.g., animate/inanimate). This is time-consuming, and although useful, perhaps best done for basic research through the analysis of other types of texts (continuous prose). However, the classification of the types of information provided in the dictionaries might provide a counter-weight to the evidence of those other texts. The selection of which information the lexicographers chose to present, compared to the variety of structures extant in the language at the time could be extremely useful to the historian of linguistics.

As in the case of historians of linguistics, historians of individual languages have specific external sources which, linked to these databases, would be useful for their research. In particular, the historian of a language needs to be able to compare the data extracted from these lexicographic sources to standard analyses of such information found in such reference works as historical dictionaries and modern dictionaries constructed on historical principles (FEW, OED), standard histories of the languages involved (Brunot, Fouché, Pope, etc. for French), period dictionaries (Godefroy, Huguet, Middle English Dictionary, etc.), and histories of orthography (Beaulieux, Catach). Of these, only the OED, so far as I know, is available in machine-readable form.

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