CHWP B.15 Merrilees, "Medieval Dictionary Entry"

6. Conclusion

In looking at the four lexicographers mentioned so far, I am conscious that a concentration on Papias and Le Ver, four centuries apart, is an over-simplification and that more needs to be done on other early lexicographers such as Osbern of Gloucester, and that a means of dealing with the very complex Hugutio and Balbus texts also needs working out. I need hardly add that any attempt to encode dictionaries within a database framework is likewise fraught with oversimplification.[7] But there do seem to be conclusions to be drawn even from our simple samples. Firstly, with each successive lexicographer in the medieval transmission there is an increasing amount of metalinguistic information to be found. Secondly, the arrangement of this information becomes more ordered with each lexicographer. By the end of the Middle Ages, a lexicographer such as Le Ver had produced a dictionary the ordering processes of which may be observed at several levels. In this paper I have treated the dictionary as a database with a set of records each of which has a certain number of fields. One might also have chosen to treat the entry structure as a form of grammar with the headword as subject or theme and the rest as parts of the complement. Whatever model is appropriate, it is difficult to deny that a very sophisticated framework has been provided for the information to be conveyed.

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[7] As William Kent reminds us (Kent 1978: vi): "Information is too amorphous, ambiguous, elusive to be pinned down precisely by the processes of computers."