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

2.4. Historians of Culture

More general historians may be interested in these dictionaries for particular or general reasons. The particular information is the type of encyclopedic information documented through the vocabulary itself or through the examples. This has been exploited in a light-hearted and impressionistic way in articles like Perrin (1972), more systematically and seriously in Matoré (1988). Following Matoré, the historian can choose to look at the vocabulary of the 16th century in a global fashion, uniting all the dictionaries, and adding to them the studies of usage in authors of the period. An alternative approach is to consider each dictionary in its own right, as a snapshot of the author's view of the 16th century. Matoré complains of the "absence de véritables dictionnaires" (1988: 13) either in the 16th century or of 16th-century language. I think this emphasis on the gaps and mistakes (lacunes, erreurs) of the dictionaries in question misses the point; modern dictionaries which try to include all vocabulary in the collective word-stock of native speakers provide just as false a view of modern vocabulary, masking the gaps in each individual speaker's personal lexicon. The OED and the TLF describe a vocabulary far beyond the range of any single native speaker; how is one to know or guess what portions of these collections of vocabulary are in active or passive command of any one speaker? Perhaps one reason Matoré missed that point is that the type of analysis of the dictionary as a text that I have emphasized throughout this article is simply impossible without a computerized database of the material. The single-author dictionary, however indebted it may be to previous lexicographers, captures a singular yet global vision of the society whose words it describes. Displaying what these lexicographers captured to the modern scholarly public requires tagging semantic fields and other encyclopedic information as completely as possible. (There is no doubt that this will demand ongoing additions and corrections by later scholars.) The database that will include a number of these dictionaries must be so constructed that compilation of lists of words within a given semantic field can easily be accomplished, and also comparison of such lists across several dictionaries. The compilation within a single author could supply a particular view of society at a given time. That Palsgrave, an ordained priest, would provide the following equivalent for prestresse, and the following example to contrast the alternate orthography of avec might help explain the climate which favoured the spread of Reform in England:

The comparison of all the terms related to religion found in Palsgrave and in Hollyband would demonstrate the evolution of religious thought in 16th century England.

As in the case of the previous disciplines discussed, these studies that relate to the history of society itself would profit from links to a broad range of external documents. Those that come readily to mind are modern encyclopedias (some already available on CD-ROMs), government documents and non-literary publications from the period, the biographical sources mentioned earlier, etc. Whether one looks at the dictionary as a complete portrait of one man's vision of 16th-century society, or as an incomplete picture of the full range of the society, the database comprising a single dictionary or a series of dictionaries will be a powerful tool towards understanding the period.

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