Lexicography, Printing Technology, and the Spread of Renaissance Culture

By November 17, 2016,
AuthorPatrick Hanks
TitleLexicography, Printing Technology, and the Spread of Renaissance Culture
AbstractHistorians of lexicography in the English-speaking world have implied that Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall (1604) is the first English dictionary. Landau (1984, 2001) makes this claim, adding that it is ‘the least inspiring of all seminal works’. In this paper, I agree that the Table Alphabeticall is uninspiring, but I deny that it is a seminal work. Landau overlooks the rich 16th-century tradition of Renaissance and Humanist lexicography in Europe, in particular the Dictionarum, seu Thesaurus Linguae Latinae of Robert Estienne (1531) and the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae of his son Henri Estienne (1572). These seminal works are astonishing achievements—breathtaking innovations—in terms of both scholarship and technology. They set standards for subsequent European lexicography. Two technological innovations made these great dictionaries possible: the invention of printing by Gutenberg in Strasbourg in about 1440 and the typography of Nicolas Jenson in Venice in 1462. These technological developments and the lexicographical achievements that were made possible by them contributed, in the first place, to the Renaissance programme of preserving the classical heritage of ancient Greece and Rome and, in the second place, to the role of dictionaries in spreading Renaissance culture and Humanism across Europe. The paper goes on to briefly outline the emergence of bilingual lexicography, replacing the polyglot lexicography that was standard in the 16th century. A comparison is made between the influence of printing technology on 16th century lexicography and the potential influence of computer technology on 21st century lexicography.
SessionHistorical and Scholarly Lexicography and Etymology
author = {Patrick Hanks},
title = {Lexicography, Printing Technology, and the Spread of Renaissance Culture },
pages = {988-1006},
booktitle = {Proceedings of the 14th EURALEX International Congress},
year = {2010},
month = {jul},
date = {6-10},
address = {Leeuwarden/Ljouwert, The Netherlands},
editor = {Anne Dykstra and Tanneke Schoonheim},
publisher = {Fryske Akademy},
isbn = {978-90-6273-850-3},