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

2.3. Literary Scholars

Literary scholars will be interested in the source and use of literary examples, the dedicatory or laudatory verses which often precede the works, the definitions of literary genres and practices. The literary sources, and the examples taken from them, are noteworthy not only for which ones are included, but for which ones might have been included but were not. We can verify, with the Short-Title Catalogue, what translations of French works would have been available to Palsgrave by the time he was composing Book III (the dictionary) of Lesclarcissement (1523-30). Which ones did he use, and how did he use them? What manuscript sources were used? Palsgrave tells us that Gilles Du Wes introduced him to the Roman de la Rose, showing him an old manuscript. Palsgrave's examples taken from that source might help us determine which of the manuscripts of that work was available to him. Knowing that would allow us to judge Palsgrave's use of the potential examples. Once we have identified Palsgrave's sources for the examples he provides for alternative translations for downe,

we can judge (1) which works he was aware of among the list of authors he mentions; (2) which examples of these words he selected and which he chose not to use; (3) (possibly) what translation of the works he found the equivalent phrases in. In the case of examples drawn from manuscript sources, the literary examples cited in these dictionaries might provide interesting variants, or point to manuscript versions now lost.

The dictionaries also provide definitions of and commentary on literary practices and genres of the day. While Hollyband's definition for théatre seems unexceptional:

it might be worth noting that the French definition is in the past tense. This gains further importance when one considers the example he provides for apprentissage:

The preparation of Hollyband's dictionary coincided with Marlowe's most productive dramaturgical period, and this description of the theatre may have been inspired by Marlowe's numerous brushes with the law (culminating in arrest on a charge of atheism one month after the publication of Hollyband's dictionary). Protestant attitudes towards theatrical productions are manifest both by this positive evidence, and by the negative evidence that the words jeu, scène, pièce (de théâtre), etc. are all absent.

To use the dictionaries in this way, literary scholars need not only for the dictionaries to be tagged so that examples are clearly marked as such, but they need to relate the examples to outside information, starting with the full texts of works that can be identified as sources. Another useful connection is to period dictionaries (Huguet, Middle English Dictionary), and to collections of usage from the period (such as the database of the Trésor de la langue française). In this way literary scholars can use the dictionaries to determine how the dictionaries determined meaning and equivalence, how the dictionaries came to be authorities, limiting variation in usage -- in short, how the dictionaries used the authors and how the authors used the dictionaries.

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