English Dictionaries 800-1700: The Topical Tradition by Werner Hüllen

By Werner Hüllen

This interesting examine explores the so-called topical, i.e. non-alphabetical, word-lists which seemed among the beginnings of written tradition and 1700. a sort of early dictionary, those lists the influential paradigms of theology, philosophy, and traditional heritage of the time, supplying us with proof on cultural historical past and linguistic improvement. Professor Hüllen attracts on many examples to supply an perception into this lexicographical culture.

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It does not equate an unknown linguistic form with a known one, rather it turns general (or vague) encyclopaedic knowledge into concrete (or more precise) linguistic knowledge. It presupposes language-bound encyclopaedic knowledge and, for the sake of language use, upgrades it into a linguistic one. Speaking in terms of communication theory we may say that topical dictionaries serve the needs of a sender of a linguistic message. 31 See, however, below. 4 The forgotten debate on onomasiology Scholarly attention was devoted to the difference between alphabetical and topical dictionaries in a long-drawn-out debate during the first half of the twentieth century, in which German, French, and Swiss linguists were perhaps more actively engaged than British.

The onomasiological approach 17 For Leibniz, the pairing of matter (‘content’, ‘message’) and word (‘form’) obviously posed no problems. He does not provide examples of dictionaries ‘according to the alphabet’. But for those ‘according to nature’ he refers to the great examples of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for example to Stephanus Doletus (Étienne Dolet, 1509–46), Hadrianus Junius (1511–75), Nicodemus Frischlin (1547–90), and Francesco Alunno (Francesco del Bailo, 1485–1556). There are also statements which show that the ideas which Leibniz expresses in this paragraph were well known in England at that time.

The task remains to be undertaken of making people aware that there has been and there still is a particular tradition running through European intellectual history which, in its unbroken permanence, allows comparisons with such fully recognized traditions as those of grammar or rhetoric. To call it ‘a sideline of mainstream lexicography’ (Green 1997, 177) is to apply a purely quantitative yardstick to historiography. 5 The onomasiological dictionary as text A general guideline for the method which will be employed in undertaking this task is the assumption that onomasiological dictionaries, at least up to 1700, that is, during the period considered in this book,46 are texts in the full semiotic sense of this term.

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