We have followed Latin lexicography through seventeen centuries of progress,
hesitation, trial and error, from Varro's De lingua latina to
Estienne's Thesaurus, and we have also observed three centuries of
development in Latin-French lexica. From this survey we are able to identify
some important trends.
- Elevation in the status of lexicography vis-à-vis grammar, from
subordinate to equal, while still retaining essential ties.
- Expansion in the composition of the macrostructure of lexica, from
difficult or foreign words through progressive compilations to the large
collections of Balbi, Nestor, Calepino and Estienne.
- Reduction in the size of the nomenclature, first through abridgement,
to produce Latin schoolbooks and Latin-vernacular lexica, and then through
elimination of outdated and bizarre lemmata, firstly to retain recognizably
medieval forms, later to return Latin to its classical purity.
- Related to this later purge is the recognition that an encyclopaedia and
a dictionary are two distinct works (Brandon 1904: 29).
- Change in the arrangement of the macrostructure from local order in
collections of interlinear and marginal glosses, through increasingly
sophisticated alphabetical order, to a combination of alphabetical and
- Visual support for both manuscript and printed texts, through marginal
notations, page layout, text division, and size and style of characters.
- Increasing uniformity of article structure, that is, the type, quantity
and location of information, both definitional and linguistic.
- Change in definitional procedures, from equivalents to paraphrases and
definitions. This is the first stage in the recognition that the role of a
definition is not merely to translate a word but rather to explain it
(Quemada 1972: 100).
- Change in the nature and function of citations. In medieval lexica,
citations tend to be drawn from previous compilations (e.g. Isidore, Papias,
Hugutio), from Latin grammarians both ancient and contemporary, and from the
Vulgate. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, citations are more
numerous and they are usually drawn from classical Latin works. Their
function is changing from illustrating the meanings of Latin words to
teaching their use through good examples (id. 1972: 100).
- The nomenclature of bilingual dictionaries is based on that of Latin
lexica, and their metalanguage, whether in Latin or in French, usually
relates to Latin forms.
- The original purpose of bilingual dictionaries - translating, teaching,
learning Latin - is still virtually unchanged in the first half of the
9.2. Sources and transmission
We find that there is a limited number of sources in medieval Latin
lexicography. Chiefly, these are the Vulgate Bible, Latin grammarians, and
Latin glossaries. Concerning the latter, Laistner (1931: 177) notes that
there are only a few early glossaries which must be regarded as basic.
We also see that the close interdependence among Latin lexica
it impossible to trace their transmission except in the broadest terms. For
example, when the author of a dictionary in the Catholicon line of
descent cites Hugutio or Papias, we cannot know whether he drew his material
directly from those sources or by way of the Catholicon. As Buridant
(1986: 27) accurately observes:
"La lexicographie médiévale, comme la science
médiévale dans son ensemble, vit de compilation,
qu'il s'agisse de sommes lexicographiques
latines ou bilingues".
Relationships among medieval and pre-Renaissance Latin-French
dictionaries are somewhat easier to trace than those of Latin lexica because
of their smaller numbers. However, as we have seen, their sources represent
a wide range of Latin dictionaries, and there are some surprising borrowings
among the bilingual texts.
9.3. Early Printed Latin-French Dictionaries
The first printed dictionaries (whether Latin or bilingual) closely
resembled their manuscript predecessors, in both content and form. Even a
new compilation, such as Nebrija's Latin-Spanish Lexicon and its
Latin-Catalan and Latin-French adaptations, is very much like other
contemporary bilingual dictionaries.
Estienne's Thesaurus represents a new stage in Latin
lexicography because Estienne is the first lexicographer to break entirely
free of the medieval tradition. Kibbee (1986: 140) affirms:
"Estienne has as a primary goal cleaning up the
Latin dictionaries of his medieval predecessors,
ridding them of the medieval barbarisms by
substituting classical sources for medieval
sources, and expunging medieval usages for which
no classical examples can be found."
Equally important, of course, is the fact that Estienne evidently
valued French as a means of access to the Latin language, and regarded the
vernacular as an integral part of his lexical works.
Brandon (1904: 26) claims that Estienne was unaware of medieval
manuscript lexica, although he knew the printed Latin dictionaries from 1460
to 1530. We feel it is rather unlikely that Estienne, as a student in the
first two decades of the sixteenth century, would not have had some exposure
to manuscript dictionaries. In any case, he must have retained some
impressions, both positive and negative, from earlier compilations, whether
manuscript or printed. His early experience with dictionaries, even before
Calepino's Dictionarium, probably contributed to his resolve to
create a new work.
There is no evidence that Estienne knew or used other bilingual
dictionaries. What is clear, however, is the supremacy of Latin in all of
them, including Estienne's. Wooldridge (1977: 23) tells us that "although
the essential form of the French dictionary is established" in the
DFL of 1539, "the intention will only be born later", in the second
edition of 1549. Brandon (1904: 73) affirms that the seed of a true French
language dictionary may be seen in the second edition.
9.4. Future Opportunities
Our work in this study identifies some areas which we were not able to
explore fully, and which seem to us to present opportunities for future
research. These relate to:
- French lexicography.
There are untapped resources of Middle French in the Aalma
series of manuscripts, in all editions of the Catholicon
abbreviatum, and in all editions of the Vocabularius
nebrissensis/Epithoma vocabulorum. A database of the text in
these dictionaries would complement the work of the
REFLEX  Group in
the Department of French Language and
Literature at the University of Toronto. One of their databases
contains the entire text of the Dictionarius of Firmin Le Ver,
the Glossarium gallico-latinum and the Vocabularius
familiaris et compendiosus, and another the works of Robert
Estienne (beginning with the Thesaurus of 1531), and his
successors up to the Thresor of Nicot (1606).
- Latin lexicography.
We do not believe that a database has been created of the monolingual
Latin editions of Ambrogio Calepino's Dictionarium. Such a
database, which might also include the Latin text from the three
groups of bilingual lexica mentioned in 1. above, would provide an
excellent record of late medieval and pre-Renaissance Latin language.
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