Two events marked the year 1539 as decisive in the history of the French language. On August 15, 1539 at Villers-Cotterêts, Francis I issued an ordinance dealing with judicial reform, of which Articles 110 and 111 required that thereafter all judicial acts were to be pronounced, recorded, and delivered to the parties in the French language only. [1] The Edict of Villers-Cotterêts (which extended the scope of an ordinance enacted in 1510 by Louis XII, requiring the use of French in criminal law) established the supremacy of French over both Latin and local dialects as the official language of administration.

Also in 1539, [2] Robert Estienne, Parisian humanist and printer, published his Dictionaire Francoislatin (DFL), the first printed lexicon in which entries appeared in French, followed by their Latin equivalents. Wooldridge (1989a: 177) observes that this dictionary, "produced to help young French scholars learn classical Latin, had the simultaneous effect of promoting the mastery of French."

The new status of French in the DFL, as well as other innovations in organization and presentation, ensured its recognition as the genesis of modern French dictionaries. In the DFL, declares Quemada (1967: 47), Estienne presented the first extensive inventory of the vocabulary of the French language, and thus took his place at the head of all French lexicography proceeding directly or indirectly from it. Robert Estienne was, at one and the same time, the predecessor of modern lexicographers, and the heir of countless medieval compilers and scribes.

Medieval Latin glossography and lexicography have constituted a major field of study throughout Europe since the nineteenth century. Modern French metalexicography is also an important academic discipline, and French dictionaries from the sixteenth century to the present day are the object of ongoing research. Unfortunately, the study of early Latin-French lexica has been sporadic, although closer examination would undoubtedly reveal their privileged position as a link between medieval Latin and modern French dictionaries. The debt owed by modern monolingual dictionaries to earlier bilingual versions is stressed by Wagner (1967: 120):

Gaston Paris announced in 1870 his intention to publish a corpus of French manuscript glossaries. [3] However, he did not carry out the project and it was abandoned until the 1930s, when Mario Roques, a former student of Paris, outlined a plan (1936a; 1936b: ix f.) for publishing a Recueil général des lexiques français du moyen âge. Roques identifies four categories of documents to be included in the collection:
  1. French glosses inserted into a text or added in marginal notes;
  2. glossaries, primarily bilingual, which assemble the glosses in lists which are independent of the work in question;
  3. topical or thematic dictionaries, often bilingual; and,
  4. alphabetical dictionaries, generally bilingual;
and organizes them according to the following types: Roques explains that he proposes to concentrate first on the large alphabetical lexica. Tome I of Lexiques alphabétiques, which appeared in 1936, comprises Roques' edition of five manuscripts, each containing a medieval Latin-French alphabetical glossary which he calls Abavus, from the first word in the glossary. Tome II, published in 1938, is an edition of one manuscript from a series of alphabetical Latin-French glossaries which Roques calls Aalma.

Unfortunately, Roques' plans were interrupted by the Second World War and the program was abandoned until the late 1980s, when it was renewed by Jacques Monfrin and Brian Merrilees. The first volume in the Nouveau Recueil des Lexiques latin-français du Moyen Age was published in 1994. It is an edition by Brian Merrilees and William Edwards of the Dictionarius of Firmin Le Ver (DLV), a large manuscript Latin-French dictionary (ms. Paris, BN 1120) compiled in northern France between 1420 and 1440. Editions of four other dictionaries are being prepared at present for the Nouveau Recueil: ms. Montpellier, Faculté de Médecine H236; the Catholicon latin-français in mss. Montpellier, Faculté de Médecine H110 and Stockholm, KB N78; the Glossarium gallico-latinum (GGL) in ms. Paris, BN lat. 7684; and the Vocabularius familiaris et compendiosus (VFC), printed by Guillaume Le Talleur of Rouen c.1490 and reprinted by his successor, Martin Morin, in 1500.

Detailed examination of the structure, organization, and metalanguage of the DLV, and of its links with the GGL and the VFC, [4] is expanding our knowledge of the evolution of French lexicography in the fifteenth century, while a critical edition of a bilingual incunable (VFC) will be an important addition to the study of printed dictionaries before Estienne. Apart from excellent studies by Lépinette (1992) and Lindemann (1985 and 1994), the area of early printed Latin-French dictionaries has been virtually neglected.

Buridant (1986: 33), in a summary of contemporary research on medieval glossography and lexicography, emphasizes the fact that the passage from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century in the field of lexicography remains relatively unexplored. The present study attempts to contribute to filling this gap by tracing the descent of early printed Latin-French dictionaries from their manuscript predecessors, examining their internal structure and methods, and defining the external relationships among them.

Collison (1982: 19f.) observes:

Although Collison may have intended his remarks to pertain to modern lexicography, they are especially relevant to the present effort to trace the transmission of early Latin-French lexica.

It should be noted that the scope of the present study extends only to glossaries and dictionaries containing Latin and French forms. It does not cover other French-vernacular lexica, e.g. Hebrew, German, Flemish, English, etc. Also, it is chiefly concerned with alphabetically-ordered texts. There is a short review of some local-order and thematic Latin-French lexica, but the study is by no means complete in these areas. Lindemann (1994) presents a comprehensive analysis of bilingual and multilingual lexica, manuscript and printed up to 1600, where French is either the entry or the exit language.

Pre-print glossaries and dictionaries are the subject of Part A of our study, which briefly reviews (in chronological order, according to evidence presented by various authorities) Greek and Latin grammars and lexica from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, and Latin-vernacular glossaries and dictionaries from the third to the fifteenth centuries.

Chapter 1.0 deals with Greek and Latin works, while Chapter 2.0 discusses Latin-vernacular lexica in general, and the Latin-French/French-Latin glossaries and dictionaries of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in particular. Among these, in 2.5.3. we examine the Aalma series first identified by Mario Roques in some detail, in view of its relationship to the first printed Latin-French dictionary, Catholican abbreviatum (see 4.0). We are fortunate to be able to add three manuscripts to the series (see 2.5.3.), in addition to the twelve originally identified by Roques. Chapters 1.0. and 2.0. describe the general characteristics, sources and transmission of these manuscript works, and Chapter 3.0. summarizes the methods used in their compilation and presentation, as well as the status of French in bilingual lexica.

Part B deals with Latin-French and French-Latin dictionaries printed up to 1539. Chapters 4.0. through 7.0. examine (in chronological order based on the first edition) the sources, general characteristics and transmission of the principal families: Catholicon abbreviatum, Vocabularius familiaris et compendiosus, Vocabularius nebrissensis, and the lexicographical works of Robert Estienne. The last three families of dictionaries are well-researched, but the Catholicon abbreviatum (CA) has received very little attention. For this reason, we have analyzed the CA in considerable depth in Chapter 4.0, establishing its descent from a manuscript source, and tracing its printing history as well as the links among the various editions.

Chapter 8.0. presents a typological summary of the structure and lexicographical methodology, and examines the importance of the French language in these early printed dictionaries.

The study ends with an overview of the transmission of Latin-French dictionaries from manuscript to printed tradition. We include our suggestions of some opportunities for future research.

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