Lexicography and Physicke: The Record of Sixteenth-Century English Medical Terminology

Lexicography and Physicke: The Record of Sixteenth-Century English Medical Terminology

Lexicography and Physicke: The Record of Sixteenth-Century English Medical Terminology

Lexicography and Physicke: The Record of Sixteenth-Century English Medical Terminology

Synopsis

Medical practitioners of the sixteenth century had their own body of special terms, just like the doctors of this century. McConchie here examines medical terminology used in a selection of thirteen medical works published between 1530 and 1612, and compares it with the treatment of these words in the OED and other dictionaries of today. His study reveals errors, omissions, and biases that raise important questions for lexicographical tools in general.

Excerpt

The tendency to regard the lexicon as a part of the language with an existence independent of its other components or of the conceptual structure of the society of which that language is an expression should be resisted. The very existence of dictionaries may of course conduce to such a notion, but word and concept are, if not always coextensive, at least inextricably connected. Separating them leads to much fruitless historical speculation as to the 'adequacy' of the lexicon of the language, a linguistic phenomenon which is virtually as large as the capacity of its speakers to conceptualize, and practically as large as it needs to be at any one time; hence what is at stake is not the adequacy or the inadequacy of its wordstock, but the nature of the lexicalization of concepts, whether through metaphoric substitutions, description and periphrasis, the various forms of neologism, or through borrowing or calques. The limits to the process will be largely those consequent upon the pre-existing semantic webs already established in the language by its users.

Attention has frequently been drawn to a perceived lack of lexical resources in sixteenth-century English in the medical, technical, and scientific areas. The belief has been persistently repeated that the English language was inadequate for the expression of the higher matters of knowledge and science at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and that it gradually acquired the appropriate terminology as it limped along behind advances in knowledge in various areas of endeavour, and the writers and translators redoubled their efforts in advancing its resources. This view was repeated quite recently in the introduction to Jürgen Schäfer's splendid record of the glossaries of the sixteenth century and the new data for OED derived from them.

Around 1500 English was incapable of providing a linguistic medium for traditional scholarship and for the rapidly developing scientific disciplines since it lacked the necessary terminologies. This deficiency was remedied during the sixteenth century. . . and by 1600 there was virtually no field of . . .

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