I.1. Lexicography

Lexicography has occupied the main part of my professional activity from 1968 to 2005. The Lexicon Latinitatis Nederlandicae Medii Aevi had been started by Dr. J.W. Fuchs; the first fascicle appeared in 1970 at Hakkert Publishers (first in Amsterdam, afterwards in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria), but the whole enterprise was soon taken over by Brill Publishers (see List of publications, Book 1). Publication proceeded by fascicules, twice a year. The final result consists of 8 volumes, 5505 pages and an Index Fontium, 119 pages.

The dictionary contains terms coming from medieval Latin texts written in the Netherlands (within the actual borders) or by Dutch writers living elsewhere. The chronological limits are ca. 800 to ca. 1500. As the project was part of an international project under the auspices of the Union Académique Internationale, the general rules, such as the geographical limits, were fixed in advance, but each national dictionary could adopt its own organisation and style of redaction. In our dictionary, the Latin terms are followed by a translation into Dutch (the dictionary was conceived foremost as a national enterprise) and a translation or interpretation in Classical Latin, to make the work useful for foreign readers.

The organisation of the articles concerning each lemma is determined principally by grammatical and semantical aspects. Each article is of course primarily based on the distinction of the various significations and usages; and each signification or usage is illustrated by at least one and generally several quotations, but we did not (and indeed could not) aim to give the totality of known occurrences. Apart from the useless space this would have occupied, it would also have created false illusions, because we know that very few sources have been preserved in comparison to the mass of writings that have been lost in one way or another. Thus, we used all the occurrences attesting to different significations, shades of signification, usages, grammatical constructions, etcetera, but when we had dozens of quotations of the same word in exactly the same use and context, we chose some examples, discarding the rest.

Here are some illustrations taken from the first and last volumes:

Cliquez sur les images pour les agrandir


Writing the dictionary was a huge enterprise, which took an enormous amount of time of various people: first, the ‘excerpters’ to whom dr. J.W. Fuchs had entrusted the sources and who wrote or typed quotations on cards (they selected the terms showing differences with Classical Latin, in signification, grammatical use, orthography, etc.); then the ones who organised all the cards that came in into one alphabetical order (this was my first task for the dictionary, during holidays of the university). Afterwards, the ‘redactors’ (at first only one: dr J.W. Fuchs, later two, Fuchs and me, still later Marijke Gumbert and me) composed the articles; finally, the ‘revisers’ (the same as the redactors but in inversed order) corrected end completed the articles, making them ready for publication. At some stage the ‘correctors’ checked the correctness of the articles, a sometimes lengthy but useful phase, especially for specific terms (historical, philosophical). Before the age of computers for text writing, a secretary typed all the articles out and after a final correction the typescript was sent to the editor. Later, we composed the text directly on our computers, but that meant only one phase less. On the whole, a countless number of hours was put in by a large number of people. The essential word here is ‘people’: from the first to the last phase humans were in control, not machines; and these humans rationally, not automatically, selected, organised, translated, interpreted, discarded, etc. The result may be imperfect, but it is a product of human research and as such, it answers the need for information in a reasoned and practical way.


Articles on modern and medieval lexicography


Apart from the dictionary, I published some articles on Latin terms and expressions: see List of publications, Articles 1, on fides; 2. on natura naturans, 11. on spiritus, 18. on imaginatio.

Others concern the method of modern lexicography, particularly article 6 on the traditional method of lexicography, in opposition to the mechanical listing of words and their immediate context, as provided by the modern system, which had started to be applied to Medieval Latin by Paul Tombeur and which would have an enormous development in later years. Some articles describe or own dictionary (Art. 8; 50).

Finally, some articles concern medieval lexicography and medieval lexica (Art. 4; 12; 20; 29; 49). My article Lexicography in the Middle Ages (1989; art. 20), is the most complete: it contains three parts: 1. a short historical survey of medieval Latin lexicography, 2. an analysis of the techniques involved, and 3. Some notes on the vocabulary used by the lexicographers to describe their own work.

Medieval lexicography is a fascinating subject, because of several particularities: first, orthography was not fixed; it fluctuated throughout a text and even on one and the same page one can find words written in different forms. Clearly, to make a glossary (a collection of glosses) or a dictionary one had to determine first the correct orthography of the terms. Also, the order in which to put the lemmata was not evident from the outside: in the beginning the composers of glossaries often followed the systematic order, that is to say is by subject, mostly with a pedagogical aim. However, most glossaries were alphabetic, although the alphabetical order was rudimentary, in the beginning mostly limited to first-letter order. The great eleventh-century lexicographer Papias still found it necessary to explain in detail his alphabetical arrangement, going on to the third letter of each word. Moreover, the alphabetical order of the lexicographers was much disturbed by the method of the derivatio, that is the arrangement of terms under one basic word from which they were considered to derive (a grammatical feature, based on the origin of words and aiming to create families of terms, of which one was considered as the original and all the others as ‘derivations’). Only at the end of the thirteenth century the lexicographers rediscovered absolute alphabetical order and even then, some authors of glossaries did not use this, but proceeded for instance only until the first consonant after the first vowel. This can hardly have been a matter of ignorance. Apparently, people did not attach the same importance to absolute alphabetization as we do, oriented as they were to systematic order.



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