John Palsgrave as Renaissance Linguist: A Pioneer in Vernacular Language Description

By Gabriele Stein | Go to book overview

3
Linguistic Provenance: What are the
Languages Palsgrave is Describing?

Having outlined the compilation, the production,and the overall structure of Lesclarcissement de la languefrancoyse, we shall now look at the kind of English and French which Palsgravedescribes in his grammar and his dictionary. At the time when hewas compiling Lesclarcissement, English and French, like otherEuropean vernaculars, were still in the process of establishingthemselves on a par with the classical languages, Latin and Greek.Supraregional prestige norms, in the spoken as well as the written vernacular,were gradually emerging, and the printing press played aconsiderable role in the development and spread of a particular socialand regional form of the language. There is a concurrent crucial factorfor the period which we have to bring back to our minds: there wereno agreed rules for spelling and there was wide variation. Apart fromhaving no existing word lists to hand from which to compile theirown word lists, the early vernacular lexicographers were thus facedwith the further burden of selecting the spellings for words. Theusers of these early vernacular dictionaries, on the other hand, hadto be imaginative and flexible enough to check in different places of thedictionary (still only imperfectly alphabetical) when the spelling whichthey had assumed for a word did not coincide with that chosen bythe lexicographer.


DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ENGLISH AND
FRENCH

Palsgrave was competent in several foreignlanguages, one of which was the vernacular of a growing political powerin Europe, France. His keen observational and linguistic powersmade him note down a good number of challenging and insightfuldifferences between the use of French and the use of English, his mothertongue. These embrace all the different levels of contrast whentwo languages are compared, as can be seen from the followingfew illustrations.

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