CHWP B.15 Merrilees, "Medieval Dictionary Entry"

"The history of lexicography in the Middle Ages", Olga Weijers tells us (Weijers 1989: 152), "is much less interesting for its matter than for its form." There are of course many aspects to dictionary form but the one that shall interest us here is the form of the dictionary entry and its development in medieval lexicography. Even within the nascent entry form of the earliest medieval dictionaries there develops an association between the information conveyed and the location in which it is to be found. It is true that the options for ordering the material are limited, yet it appears that many of the early choices made for the form of the medieval dictionary entry would have far-reaching effects on the organisation of later lexicons.

Every dictionary entry has as its base two poles, the headword and the definition, or lemma and gloss, reflecting the origin of all glossaries. But around these two poles other information is soon added as dictionaries take on a more formal pattern. Some of that information qualifies the headword, some expands the definition, while some relates to both. For convenience we can call that information which is non-lemmatic and non-definitional metalanguage. In a recent study of metalanguage in medieval lexicography, I drew attention to the privileging of three positions in the dictionary entry besides the headword and definition where metalinguistic terms might be found, namely the post-lemmatic, the post-definitional and the marginal (Merrilees 1991). That study was based on a fifteenth-century bilingual, that is Latin-French, dictionary, the Dictionarius of Firmin Le Ver. In his layout and organisation, Le Ver was drawing on a long tradition of medieval dictionary-making and it will be the purpose of this paper to look at the transmission of some of that tradition. The implications for the shaping of the modern dictionary should be self-evident.

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