Weakly codified languages and lexicography in the sixteenth century

Because the cryptolects of late medieval and early modern Europe were, by definition, used by a small fraction of the population of a given country, they began to be registered in curiosity-driven wordlists before other language varieties. This was because cryptolectal words contrasted with everyone’s normal usage. The same was true of Romani, the language of a small and conspicuous minority group. However, the curiosity about language which led to the making of wordlists of the cryptolects and of Romani soon led to the making of small curiosity-driven wordlists of other, more generally spoken, language varieties.These language varieties tended to be weakly codified, taking codified in the sense in which the sociolinguist Einar Haugen used it when he wrote that ‘The typical product of all codification has been a prescriptive orthography, grammar, and dictionary.’1 There was, after all, no point in going out with a notebook to record a few words of the standard varieties of French, Spanish, or English, which were well documented already.

So, in this chapter, we will make a basic distinction between the strongly and weakly codified languages of sixteenth-century Europe, in order to see which languages might be the objects of lexicographical fieldwork. The advantage of thinking in terms of codification is that it allows us to use contemporary evidence to establish a class of languages which invited the making of records out of curiosity, and from speech rather than from writing. By contrast, categories such as minority language are clearly inappropriate in some cases: Russian, which was documented in curiosity-driven small dictionaries, was weakly codified in the sixteenth century, but it was by no means the language of a minority.

By the middle of the sixteenth century, a small group of European languages had undergone, or were undergoing, a significant degree of codification, associated with their use in high-level administration and elite culture. By 1550, for instance, there were printed grammars of Spanish, French, Portuguese, Czech, German, and Tuscan. The first five of these were the languages of royal chanceries (in the early sixteenth century,

1 Haugen, ‘Implementation of corpus planning’ 271-2.

Small Dictionaries and Curiosity. First edition. John Considine.

© John Considine 2017. First published 2017 by Oxford University Press.

Czech was not only used in the kingdom of Bohemia but in those of Poland-Lithuania and Hungary, all of which were ruled until 1526 by kings of the Jagiellonian dynasty whose Bohemian bureaucrats moved from kingdom to kingdom), and Tuscan was not only the language of the city of Florence and what became the duchy of Tuscany, but also had widespread cultural prestige.[1] In the next fifty years, printed grammars of English, Dutch, Polish, Church Slavonic (in a variety coloured by Ruthenian), Welsh, and Slovene appeared.[2] The first three of these were likewise the primary languages of sovereign states: a manuscript grammar of Dutch had been written before the independence of the Dutch Republic, but the first printed grammar was published in Leiden shortly after independence, and as for Polish, it had been gaining ground over Czech, German, and Latin in Poland since the 1530s.[3] The Slavonic language variety Ruthenian was an official language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the printed grammar of Ruthenized Church Slavonic was published in Wilno (Vilnius) for official use in the Grand Duchy.[4] Welsh was by far the most important minority language in the sixteenth- century kingdom of England, and Slovene was an important minority language in the archduchy of Austria; both languages were also religious battlegrounds in the sixteenth century, and so it was that the Welsh grammar was the work of a Roman Catholic (the Queen of England was a Protestant), and was printed in Milan, the place of his exile, while the Slovene grammar was the work of a Protestant (the Archduke of Austria was a Catholic), and was printed in the Protestant hotbed of Wittenberg.[5]

Another way to look at the progress of codification in sixteenth-century western and central Europe is to see the languages which were included in the major international dictionaries, namely the polyglot dictionaries in the tradition which begins with the Latin Dictionarium of Ambrogio Calepino: these were Italian, German, Dutch, and French before 1550, and Spanish, Polish, Hungarian, and English between 1550 and 1600.[6] All of these apart from Hungarian are among the languages for which printed grammars had been published before 1600—and in fact Hungarian is a special case, since although the first grammar of Hungarian did not appear until 1610, a Latin grammar for Hungarian use, published in 1539, is quite rich in information about the Hungarian language.[7]

This is not to say that there was a strong and simple contrast between the languages listed above and the other language varieties of Europe. Danish and Swedish, for instance, were neither the subjects of early grammars nor included in printed polyglot dictionaries in the Calepino tradition, but they were the languages of substantial monarchies, and they underwent standardization in printed texts of the sixteenth century.[8] There were early printed texts in Catalan, and it appeared in polyglot dictionaries at the beginning of the sixteenth century.[9] A special case is that of Turkish, which in the sixteenth century was spoken in the extensive and expanding tracts of southern and eastern Europe which were under Ottoman rule. Although it was used in administration and in a strong tradition of poetry and prose, sixteenth-century Europeans outside the Ottoman empire encountered it largely as a spoken language: we have already seen the occurrence of Turkish lexical items in early pilgrims’ wordlists, and these are surely of oral origin. Nor did such Europeans have convenient access to texts in Turkish, unless they travelled to Constantinople or handled such texts for diplomatic purposes, since the language was not disseminated in print until 1729.

If, then, we try to distinguish between, on the one hand, those European languages whose grammars had been printed or whose vocabularies were registered in the polyglot Calepino tradition, and on the other hand, all the other language varieties of Europe, we find that the distinction is not dramatically clear. But we can say that thirteen languages, namely Church Slavonic, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovene, Spanish, Tuscan, and Welsh, can be placed together in a class of comparatively strongly codified languages; that a handful of other languages, namely Catalan, Danish, Ruthenian, and Swedish, were well enough established to be unlikely targets for curiosity-driven fieldwork lexicography, and that the other language varieties of Europe, including Turkish, were likelier to attract the curiosity of lexicographers.

Now we can ask which of the languages in this last class were well enough known to be of interest to learned persons beyond the immediate areas in which they were spoken. A set of answers is provided by Conrad Gessner’s Mithridates of 1555, at which we have already glanced. Gessner’s first book had been a revision of a Greek dictionary, and he went on to be an outstanding compiler of works of reference, notably in bibliography and zoology. He was a collector of botanical, zoological, palaeontological, and geological specimens, which he arranged in a museum and a small botanical garden.[10] His last work was a compendium on rocks, minerals, and fossils which included the first published description of a collection of natural objects, the ‘Catalogus rerum fos- silium Io. Kentmani’ which described the collection of Johannes Kentmann of Dresden.[11] Mithridates is a collection too, of information about languages, gathered to support their comparative study, an interest which Gessner shared with other Zurich humanists, notably his friend Theodor Bibliander (Buchmann), who had written a De ratione communi omnium linguarum et literarum commentarius seven years earlier, itself influenced by the Lexicon symphonum of Gelenius.[12] It provided texts by means of which they might be compared, notably twenty-two versions of the Lord’s Prayer. This was a short text of which every reader would know a version by heart, so that translations did not need to accompany the texts; it was Bibliander who had pioneered its use in the comparison oflanguages.[13] The Latin edition ofSebastian Munster’s Cosmographia had already presented versions of the Lord’s Prayer in Sardic and the Catalan of Sardinia, Swedish and Finnish (both these pairs were for contrastive effect), and Latvian, but these are a minor feature of a huge book, like the fifteen versions of the Lord’s Prayer spread across the four large volumes of Andre Thevet’s Cosmographie of 1575 and his unpublished Grand insulaire: it was Gessner who took up the use of the Lord’s Prayer from Bibliander and made it part of a large-scale systematic comparison of languages.[14] Mithridates is not a collection of wordlists, but it is an example of curiosity-driven scholarly inquiry into languages, and an early one: nobody before Gessner had surveyed the languages of Europe as extensively as he did.

Gessner naturally discussed German, his native language, of which he took Dutch, Frisian, and the Scandinavian languages to be varieties.[15] Naturally as well, he discussed the other languages whose codification we have observed. English, French, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, and Welsh have their own entries, Portuguese is taken to be a variety of Spanish, and Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, and Slovene are all taken to be varieties of an Illyrian (in modern terms, Slavonic) language, a judgement with which many of Gessner’s Slavonic-speaking contemporaries would have agreed.[16] The other European languages to which he gave significant attention, either in the form of a separate discussion or of a specimen of the Lord’s Prayer, were more weakly codified.

Two or three of these languages were not recorded in any known dictionary or wordlist before the end of the sixteenth century. The first of these was Romanian, of which Gessner reprinted a description from Pope Pius II’s cosmographical Asiae Europeaeque elegantissima descriptio, a work of the previous century; he probably did not know that a Lutheran catechism had also recently been printed in Romanian.[17] A couple of fragmentary Church Slavonic-Romanian glossaries have been dated to the sixteenth century, but even by the end of the century, the lexicography of Romanian was still in its earliest beginnings, and a contemporary of Gessner’s working outside the area in which Romanian was spoken could not have hoped to find any documentation of its vocabulary.[18]

One of the sources quoted in the account of Romansh in Mithridates, an account of ancient Rhaetia by the Swiss historian Aegidius Tschudi, identified it as an extremely corrupt variety of Italian, which had suffered from the boorish and isolated way of life of its speakers, and Gessner repeated this judgement.[19] But whereas Tschudi regarded the language as too garbled to be reduced to writing, Gessner knew that a Protestant catechism in Romansh had just been produced, the work of Jachiam Bifrun, whose treatise on dairy products Gessner would edit in the following year.[20] The version of the Lord’s Prayer from Bifrun’s catechism therefore appears in Mithridates. There was a vigorous tradition of manuscript wordlists of Romansh in the seventeenth century, and since the earliest extant example is no later than 1616 and runs to 420 octavo pages, it may have had sixteenth-century predecessors, but if so, they appear to have been lost.[21]

Gessner’s treatment of Sardic and of Sardinian Catalan came from a text by the Sardinian humanist Sigismondo Arquer, first published in the Latin edition of Munster’s Cosmographia, which included the Lord’s Prayer in both those languages.[22] Like Romansh, Sardic does not appear in extant sixteenth-century wordlists, even though unlike Romansh, it appears in official documents.[23] Another Italian-speaking island under Spanish rule, Sicily, did have a functional dictionary of its own language, Cristobal de Escobar’s Latin-Spanish-Sicilian adaptation of Nebrija’s Latin-Spanish Lexicon, published in 1519 and 1520, so it was a matter of chance and not of fate that there should have been no Sardic dictionary.[24]

The other weakly codified languages which received special attention in Mithridates were Basque, Croatian, modern Greek, Irish (with an overlapping treatment of Scots and Scottish Gaelic), Lithuanian (including Latvian and Old Prussian), Russian, and Turkish. A way to get a sense of the diversity with which these languages were treated in sixteenth-century lexicography is to look briefly first at Gessner’s treatment of each of them and then at the wordlists.

  • [1] Burke, Languages and Communities 90; for Czech and the Jagiellonians, see Kamusella, Politics ofLanguage and Nationalism 101-2 and 136.
  • [2] Burke, Languages and Communities 90.
  • [3] For the first grammars of Dutch, see Van der Sijs, Taal als mensenwerk 417-19; for Polish, seeKamusella, Politics of Language and Nationalism 109-11, 137.
  • [4] Kamusella, Politics of Language and Nationalism 154; Stankiewicz, Grammars and Dictionaries 147describes its language as ‘Church Slavonic with an admixture of Ukrainian forms’.
  • [5] For the grammar of Slovene, see Dimnik, ‘Gutenberg and the emergence of the Slovene literary language’ 158; for that of Welsh, see Gruffydd, ‘Welsh language in scholarship and culture’ 365.
  • [6] Labarre, Bibliographie 7-8.
  • [7] For both treatments of Hungarian, see Hakkinen, ‘Early grammatical descriptions of Finno-Ugric’806-7.
  • [8] Haugen, Scandinavian Languages 323-9.
  • [9] Burke, Languages and Communities 84-5; Rossebastiano, ‘Tradition des manuels polyglottes’ 691.
  • [10] Wellisch, Conrad Gessner 9-11, 90; some further information in Leu et al., Conrad Gessner’s PrivateLibrary 5-7, 26 and Ogilvie, Science of Describing 160; Gessner mentions his own garden in ‘HortiGermaniae’, fo. 238r.
  • [11] See Wellisch, Conrad Gessner 99 and Findlen, Possessing Nature 37.
  • [12] For Bibliander and the comparison of languages, see Metcalf, On Language Diversity 57-64 andSmitskamp, Philologia orientalis 251; for his friendship with Gessner, see e.g. Leu et al., Conrad Gessner’sPrivate Library 3, 16 n 13, and 73. For Mithridates and comparativism, see Borst, Turmbau von Babel1086-7, Droixhe, La linguistique et lappel de l’histoire 51, and Considine, Dictionaries in Early ModernEurope 128-30; further references at Van Hal, Moedertalen en taalmoeders’ 10 n 26.
  • [13] Bibliander, De ratione 232-5; for his predecessors, see Smitskamp, Philologia orientalis 115.
  • [14] Munster, Cosmographia (1552) 249 (Sardinian languages); 847 (Swedish and Finnish, already inMUnster, Cosmographia [1544] 519-20); 789 (Latvian). Cf. Thevet, Cosmographie 1: fo. 339v (Arabic,Turkish, and Syriac) and 2: fos. 668v (English and Scots), 778r (Croatian), 882v (Polish, German, Swedish,Finnish, and Latvian, the last two identified as ‘Lappon et Finnois’ and ‘Liuuonien’ respectively), and 925(Tupi-Guarani, identified as ‘Sauuage’); for the versions in the Grand insulaire (Irish, Basque, Hungarian,and Tupi-Guarani again), see Boyer, Vocabulaire fran$ais-russe 7.
  • [15] Gessner, Mithridates (1555) fos. 27r-44r (‘Germanica’), esp. fos. 37v-38v (‘lingua Germanica communi, uel Heluetica’), 39r (‘Flandrica’) and 44r (material in the Dutch of Gelderland), 39r-40r (material onFrisian), 40r (‘Islandica’), and 43v (material on Norwegian). See Metcalf, On Language Diversity 77-84.
  • [16] Gessner, Mithridates (1555) fos. 8v-9v (‘Anglica’), 25v-26v (‘Gallica . . . recentiore’), fos. 50r-52r(‘Hungarica’), 57r-57v (‘Italica’), 49v-50r (‘Hispanica’), 12v-13v (‘Britannica vetere’). Portuguese is mentioned in passing at fo. 12v, specimens of Czech and Polish are at fos. 55v-56r, and the list of speakers ofthe lingua Illyrica at fos. 54v-55r includes not only Bohemi and Poloni but also Carniolani and Carinthii(speakers of Slovene) and Russani, alias Rutheni (speakers of Ruthenian, as opposed to the separately mentioned Moscovitae, who would have spoken Russian). For early modern ideas of Slavic unity, seeStankiewicz, Grammars and Dictionaries ix-x.
  • [17] Gessner, Mithridates (1555) fos. 69v-70r (‘Valachia’), reprinting Pius II, Asiae Europeaeque elegantissima descriptio (1534) 299-300; for the printed catechism, see Rother, Siebenburgen und der Buchdruck 35.
  • [18] Coseriu, Von Genebrardus bis Hervas 31-42, 129-32; Harhata et al., ‘Lexicon of Buda’ 289 n 8.
  • [19] Tschudi, De prisca ac vera Alpina Rhaetia 9: certain former speakers of the Rhaetica lingua ‘Italiceloquebantur, si modo coruptissima eorum lingua Italicam est censenda, qu[a]e ... usqueadeo deprauata estob hominum illorum rusticam et incomposita[m] uitam, quoted in part by Gessner, Mithridates (1555)fo. 65v, and also paraphrased ibid. fo. 65r ‘sermone Italico omnium corruptissimo utuntur’.
  • [20] Tschudi, De prisca ac vera Alpina Rhaetia 9 ‘Rhaetica lingua tam perplexa et impedita est, ut scribinequeat’; for Bifrun’s treatise on dairy products, see Wellisch, Conrad Gessner 94-5.
  • [21] Dazzi and Gross, ‘Bundnerromanisch: Lexicographie’ 898-9.
  • [22] Gessner, Mithridates (1555) fos. 66r-67r; from Munster, Cosmographia (1552) 249.
  • [23] Marongiu, ‘Language maintenance and shift in Sardinia’ 136-9.
  • [24] Niederehe, Bibliografia cronologica 1: 59-62.
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