Histories, museums and dictionaries: The forms of representing linguistic knowledge in the 16th century and the earliest linguistic handbooks

Keywords: history of linguistics, 16th century, dictionaries, handbooks, language history, language classification

Abstract

In the history of humanities the 16th century was characterised by a considerable increase in the amount of information on world languages in absence of linguistics as an institutionalised scientific discipline. The latter did not mean that European scholars were not interested in linguistic issues; yet linguistic data collected by them was included in volumes that represented a variety of genres and fields of knowledge, such as treatises on history and geography, handbooks of natural sciences, collections of alphabets and translations of the Lord’s Prayer, multilingual dictionaries, etc. The compilation and comparison of heterogeneous linguistic evidence collected from printed books and manuscripts, academic correspondence, and oral sources became possible due to the emergence of a new genre of scholastic literature — the multilingual books (or the polyglot-books), which consisted of language samples and short accounts of language history (e. g. the works by G. Postel, Th. Bibliander, C. Gessner, A. Rocca and C. Duret). Polyglot-books were, to a large extent, compilations of quotations, which preserved the formal diversity of their sources. The author proposes a classification of the main forms of presenting linguistic knowledge, namely (1) a history of a nation and its language; (2) a multilingual (comparative) dictionary; and (3) a collection of language samples. It is suggested (with a special reference to the «Mithridates» (1555) by C. Gessner) that these forms must have influenced the structure of the polyglot-books, thus allowing them to become a tool for solving several specific linguistic issues, such as multiplicity of language names and classification of languages and dialects.

References

SOURCES

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Published
2019-10-02
Section
Modern Lexicography