Politics, War and Spanish/English Lexicography in Tudor England

Résumé de la conférence prononcée par Heberto Fernandez (maître de conférence – Université McGill) le 7 avril 2011.

Lexicography has existed in various cultures for more than 4000 years, from the 1st wordlists written on clay tablets to modern computerized databanks and online dictionaries. Historically, the forces giving rise to lexicographic activity are related to several fields of endeavour, including commerce, politics, education, religion, etc. Bilingual lexicography developed under the weight of various factors that continue to have an influence on it even today. During the Middle Ages in Europe, Latin was the prestige language alongside other vernacular dialects, such as Spanish, Italian, and French, which were derived from Vulgar Latin. Vernaculars were the colloquial varieties, used for everyday needs.

With the arrival of the Renaissance, the position of Latin changed, as vernaculars spread in Europe and rose to the level of standard languages. Latin continued to be included in bilingual and polyglot dictionaries, but by the 16th century the 1st dictionaries and vocabularies in Spanish and English began to appear. Besides commerce and travel, other factors such as politics stimulated the production of language manuals and dictionaries.

Spanish became widely studied as a foreign language during the 16th century, when the Spanish Empire was expanding in Europe as well as overseas. The language of the Empire became the most widely spread official language in Europe. In Tudor England, Spanish knowledge became necessary and there was a group of scholars, lexicographers, and grammarians who knew Spanish and were interested in all things Spanish. There is something paradoxical to British interest in the Spanish language, since this love for the language developed during a period of hatred, political agendas and war.

We will describe the 3 phases that provide the political framework surrounding the origins and development of Spanish lexicography in Tudor England, as well as the peculiar circumstances that led to the publication of the first Spanish-English dictionary in 1591. A number of lexicographical works were published in quick succession; the publication of these Spanish and English dictionaries is a reflection of the vicissitudes of political relations between Spain and England. Interest in the Spanish language continued until the 1620s, so that by the time the Renaissance had drawn to a close, Spanish and English lexicography was firmly established.