English Dictionaries, 800-1700: The Topical Tradition

English Dictionaries, 800-1700: The Topical Tradition

English Dictionaries, 800-1700: The Topical Tradition

English Dictionaries, 800-1700: The Topical Tradition


Between the beginnings of European lexicography and 1700, many glossaries and dictionaries were arranged not according to the alphabet, but in a topical order which followed the influential paradigms of theology, philosophy, and natural history at that time. Together with related text genres like treatises on terminology, didactic dialogues, and thesauri, they constitute the topical (or onomasiological) tradition which is an important lexicographical tradition in its own right. This book discusses the tradition's principles and origins, and by way of illustration draws upon early glossaries, treatises for the learning of foreign languages, and didactic dialogues. Later comprehensive works are presented as detailed in-depth studies. Professor H¿llen demonstrates that the English tradition is embedded in a complex Continental tradition whose important representatives, such as Adrianus Junius and Comenius, had a great influence on the English scene.


In 1989 I published my monograph on the Royal Society (Hüllen 1989), the last chapter of which, dealing with John Wilkins' universal language scheme, was entitled 'In search of the onomasiological alphabet' ('Suche nach dem onomasiologischen Alphabet'). It was then that I became interested in the phenomenon of the non-alphabetical arrangement of words, and since then I have been researching what I now call the topical (or onomasiological) tradition. The present book is the result of this work.

As is natural with a project lasting almost ten years, I presented provisional results and findings when called upon to read papers at conferences and to contribute to collected volumes and journals (see Bibliography). I acknowledge with thanks the permission given by publishers to use some of this material. As a rule, I do not give references to these papers in my book, unless there is a special reason for doing so.

As is also natural with a project lasting almost ten years, I discussed my topics, my queries, and my findings with many colleagues, with the students in my seminars between 1989 and 1993 (when I resigned from my teaching obligations), and with the members of the Henry Sweet Society, whose annual meetings I attended fairly regularly. Much of their advice and knowledge has gone into my deliberations. I cannot do otherwise than to thank all who helped me generously.

There are some colleagues, however, who deserve more than this. Vivien Law of Cambridge shared with me her knowledge of post-classical linguistics and medieval glosses. David Cram of Oxford made available to me his as yet unpublished check-list of nomenclators and classified vocabularies (Cram 1991b). Moreover, he read and commented on Chapter 8 of the book. Gabriele Stein (The Rt. Hon. Lady Quirk) of Heidelberg read a first version of the whole book and stimulated countless improvements. Jana Přívratská, of Prague, to whom I owe my introduction to the complex world of Comenian thought, read Chapter 10 of the book and, together with Vladimír Přívratsky, pointed out some of its original shortcomings. Finally, Richard Brunt of Essen went through this non-native author's English text with untiring attention and gave it its last linguistic touch. I thank them all for their generosity. It goes without saying that all shortcomings and blemishes of the book remain my own.

Most of my research work was done in several of the great European libraries. I wish to thank the German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) for providing a travel grant which allowed me to carry out long-term work . . .

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