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

By Gabriele Stein | Go to book overview

9
How Things were Done with Words

The examples used by Palsgrave in his table of verbs tell us much about sixteenth-century life as well as language use. When reading the table of verbs we cannot but feel transposed into a Renaissance society, with its people, their daily preoccupations, their beliefs, their worries, their pastimes. The picture provided by Palsgrave is so immensely rich and colourful that here we shall be able to get only some selective glimpses. We shall focus on the example sentences together with Palsgrave's metalinguistic comments on language use. Occasionally, the whole dictionary entry may be taken into account. References to the grammar and the tables of the other parts of speech may complement the insights gained from the verb illustrations.

In Chapter 9 we shall look at what an Englishman or a Frenchman actually said or was expected to say in a specific situation, Chapter 10 will provide a picture of Palsgrave's world and thus sixteenth-century society as it emerges from the verb illustrations.

Let us briefly visualize Palsgrave at work. In order to catch as adequately as possible the meaning or particular sense of a verb to be matched by a French equivalent, he paraphrases the English lemma in English or describes it in such a way that it becomes unambiguous. His first achievement is thus the linguistic analysis of his mother tongue. Very often, as we have seen, this analysis is not a simple listing of synonyms or a straightforward linguistic analysis of the type I Moyst a thing I make it moyst. Rather, his creative imagination tried to call up typical situations or contexts in which the meaning was used, to make it unmistakable -- for example, I Latche I catche a thyng that is throwen to me in my handes or it fall to the grounde, I Leche I heale one of a sore woŨde as a cyrurgyen dothe. For the English lemma a corresponding French equivalent was then given. This may have triggered off a metalinguistic comment on how to use it properly, and thus, depending on the particular item provided, have influenced his mind in his search for an appropriate example, or determined his choice in those few cases where he seems to have remembered something from his reading of French literature. But in most cases he must just have depended on his

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