Vernacular, First vernacular dictionaries

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A vernacular or vernacular language is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, especially as distinguished from a literary, national or standard language, or a lingua franca used in the region or state inhabited by that population.


A dictionary is to be distinguished from a glossary. Although numerous glossaries publishing vernacular words had long been in existence, such as the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville, which listed many Spanish words, the first vernacular dictionaries emerged together with vernacular grammars.

In the early 15th century a number of glossaries appeared, such as that of Lucillo Minerbi on Boccaccio in 1535, and those of Fabrizio Luna on Ariosto, Petrarca, Boccaccio and Dante in 1536. In the mid-16th the dictionaries began, as listed below. In 1582 the first language academy was formed, called Accademia della Crusca, "bran academy", which sifted language like grain. Once formed, its publications were standard-setting.
  • Alberto Accarisio: Vocabolario et grammatica con l'orthographia della lingua volgare, 1543
  • Francesco Alunno: Le richezze della lingua volgare, 1543
  • Francesco Alunno: La fabbrica del mondo, 1548
  • Giacomo Pergamini: Il memoriale della lingua italiana, 1602
  • Nathanael Duez : Dittionario italiano e francese/Dictionnaire italien et François, Leiden, 1559–1560
  • Gabriel Pannonius: Petit vocabulaire en langue françoise et italienne, Lyon, 1578
  • Jean Antoine Fenice : Dictionnaire françois et italien, Paris, 1584
  • John Florio: Queen Anna’s New World of Words, London, 1611
  • Lorenzo Franciosini: Vocabulario italiano e spagnolo/ Vocabulario español e italiano, Roma, 1620.
The first Spanish dictionaries in the 15th century were Latin-Spanish/Spanish-Latin, followed by monolingual Spanish. In 1713 the Real Academia Española, "Royal Spanish Academy," was founded to set standards. It published an official dictionary, 1726–1739.
  • Alonzo de Palencia: El universal vocabulario en latin y romance, 1490
Surviving dictionaries are a century earlier than their grammars. The Académie française founded in 1635 was given the obligation of producing a standard dictionary. Some early dictionaries are:
  • Louis Cruse, alias Garbin: Dictionaire latin-françois, 1487
  • Robert Estienne, alias Robertus Stephanus: Dictionnaire françois–latin, 1539
  • Maurice de la Porte: Epitheta, 1571
  • Jean Nicot: Thresor de la langue fracoyse, tant ancienne que moderne, 1606
  • Pierre Richelet: Dictionnaire françois contenant les mots et les choses, 1680

High German dictionaries began in the 16th century and were at first multi-lingual. They were preceded by glossaries of German words and phrases on various specialized topics. Finally interest in developing a vernacular German grew to the point where Maaler could publish a work called by Jacob Grimm "the first truly German dictionary":

  • Joshua Maaler: Die Teutsche Spraach: Dictionarium Germanico-latinum novum, 1561
It was followed along similar lines by
  • Georg Heinisch: Teütsche Sprache und Weißheit, 1616
After numerous dictionaries and glossaries of a less than comprehensive nature came a thesaurus that attempted to include all German:
  • Kaspar Stieler: Der Teutschen Sprache Stammbaum und Fortwachs oder Teutschen Sprachschatz, 1691
and finally the first codification of written German:
  • Johann Christoph Adelung: Versuch eines vollständigen grammatisch-kritischen Wörterbuches Der Hochdeutschen Mundart, 1774–1786
Schiller called Adlung an Orakel and Wieland is said to have nailed a copy to his desk.
Glossaries in Dutch began about 1470 AD leading eventually to two Dutch dictionaries:
  • Cornelis Kiliaan: Dictionarium Teutonico-Latinum, 1574 (becoming Etymologicum with the 1599 3rd edition)
Shortly after (1579) the Southern Netherlands came under the dominion of Spain, then of Austria (1713) and of France (1794). The Congress of Vienna created the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 from which southern Netherlands (being Catholic) seceded in 1830 to form the Kingdom of Belgium, which was confirmed in 1839 by the Treaty of London. As a result of this political instability no standard Dutch was defined (even though much in demand and recommended as an ideal) until after World War II. Currently the Dutch Language Union, an international treaty organization founded in 1980, supports a standard Dutch in the Netherlands, while Afrikaans is regulated by Die Taalkommissie founded in 1909.
Standard English remains a quasi-fictional ideal, despite the numerous private organizations publishing prescriptive rules for it. No language academy was ever established or espoused by any government past or present in the English-speaking world. In practice the British monarchy and its administrations established an ideal of what good English should be considered to be, and this in turn was based on the teachings of the major universities, such as Cambridge University and Oxford University, which relied on the scholars whom they hired. There is a general but far from uniform consensus among the leading scholars about what should or should not be said in standard English, but for every rule examples from famous English writers can be found that break it. Uniformity of spoken English never existed and does not exist now, but usages do exist, which must be learnt by the speakers, and do not conform to prescriptive rules.
Usages have been documented not by prescriptive grammars, which on the whole are less comprehensible to the general public, but by comprehensive dictionaries, often termed unabridged, which attempt to list all usages of words and the phrases in which they occur as well as the date of first use and the etymology where possible. These typically require many volumes, and yet not more so than the unabridged dictionaries of many languages.
Bilingual dictionaries and glossaries precede modern English and were in use in the earliest written English. The first monolingual dictionary was:
which was followed by a larger one,
These dictionaries whetted the interest of the English-speaking public in greater and more prescriptive dictionaries until Samuel Johnson published a grand design for such a one:

which would imitate the dictionary being produced by the French Academy. He had no problem acquiring the funding, but not as a prescriptive dictionary. This was to be a grand comprehensive dictionary of all English words at any period:

By 1858, the need for an update resulted in the first planning for a new comprehensive dictionary to document standard English, a term coined at that time by the planning committee. The dictionary, known as the Oxford English Dictionary, published its first fascicle in 1884. It attracted significant contributions from some singular minds, such as William Chester Minor, a former army surgeon who had become criminally insane and made most of his contributions while incarcerated. Whether the OED is the long-desired standard English Dictionary is debatable, but its authority is taken seriously by the entire English-speaking world. Its staff is currently working on a third edition.

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