History of the written word: On some principles of 16th century etymology

Authors

Keywords:

history of linguistics, history of philology, etymology, 16th century, humanism, German, Latin

Abstract

The article covers some of the new tendencies in 16th century etymology, comparing them with the practice of ancient and medieval authors. These novelties were called forth by the expanding linguistic horizon of European scholarship, the emergence of “neo-philologies”, and the application of classical philological methods to the study of vernacular languages and their history. Remarkable evidence of the influence of humanist philology on linguistics is provided in 16th century reconstructions of the earliest testimonies of vernacular vocabulary in the heritage of Roman authors (i. e., Caesar, Pliny the Elder and Tacitus). Their texts contained a number of German and Gaulish “glosses”, as well as terms and names of presumably Germanic origin, which required etymological explanation. The “etyma” were sought in the vocabulary of modern Germanic languages and among historical forms available to scholars at the time, while the formal discrepancies between the reconstructed and the attested forms were often explained by the deteriorated state of written testimonies or circumstantial interferences that might have accompanied the composition, recording, and copying process of the literary text under consideration. Thus, etymologies relied on philological arguments based on the principles of humanistic editing, which included a collation of several manuscripts or emendation “ope ingenii” in the cases of text corruption. The author discusses this type of argumentation based on several examples of 16th century etymologies, namely the explanation of Gaulish personal names ending with -rix and the term “siloduni” by Swiss and German humanists (Aegidius Tschudi, Conrad Gessner and the author of the anonymous dictionary of German proper names).

References

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Published

2019-10-02

Issue

Section

Making the Complicated Simple