Friday, April 22, 2011

"A Little Dictionary of Eight Languages"

Today's post highlights one of my favorite early printed books in the Center's collection, an eight-language pocket "dictionary" which presents itself as a series of formal dialogues. While books without unique manuscript content or provenance are typically not the subject of this blog, this "little Dictionary of eight languages" is simply too wonderful to ignore.  

New Dialogues or colloquies, and, a little Dictionary of eight Languages [...]
London: Printed by E[dward]. G[riffin]. for Michael Sparke, junior [...], 1639.
STC 1432
contemporary calf binding, rebacked

This printed language aid is based on the work of Noël de Berlemont (d. 1531), who wrote a dictionary and series of Flemish-French colloquies in the sixteenth century (see catalog record). As its title page suggests this is "a booke very necessary for all those that Studie these tongues, either at home or abroad," in addition to "Travellers, young Merchants and Sea-Men, especially those that desire to attaine to the use of these Tongues." The "tongues" in question are eight in number: Latin, French, Low and High Dutch, Spanish, Italian, English, and Portuguese. The absence of Greek and Hebrew emphasize the practical (rather than scholarly) purpose of the book.

Many writers of educational treatises in the early modern period adopted the colloquy, or formal conversation, as a structuring component of their works; in fact, the Center also owns a book of Sea-Dialogues, a set of conversations between a captain and crew member that explicate numerous points of seamanship and navigation. While to the modern reader a formal, prescribed dialogue may come off as a bit of an odd method for language instruction, books like this were actually fairly common in the period and have made a lasting impact on phrasebooks ever since. The main difference between the two lies in the fact that modern phrasebooks feature only snippets of conversation rather than entire discussions and debates; the larger conversational context is left open to the vagaries of lived experience in the world. 

 New Dialogues or Colloquies, on the other hand, presents detailed conversations held among groups of hypothetical diners, travelers, merchants, etc. on subjects such as eating, shopping, asking directions, and settling debts. In the first preface "to the reader" (first image above) the author promises his dialogues have been "pleasantly, morally, and politely...penned," that he has "taken as much paines in this Schoole of Conferences or Colloquiums, as any man living," and has therefore had them "handsomely printed." (Unfortunately heavy foxing has made our copy far from "handsome.") 

The second preface to the reader (translated into eight different languages, as seen in the second image above) claims that "this Booke is so needfull and profitable, and the use of the same so necessary that its goodnesse, even of learned men, is not fully to be praised." 

The best (well, most entertaining) dialogue is entitled "A Dinner of ten persons, to wit, Hermes, John, David, Mary, Peter, Francis, Roger, Anne, Henry, and Luke." (And I have no idea why Hermes is the only hypothetical diner named after a Greek god—is he the foreigner here?) While many of the dialogue's translated phrases are commonplace enough for practical travel use, the unlikelihood of a conversation following this particular form makes the whole colloquy quite comical.

"J: Eate it not all, let that alone which ye shall have too much. 
P: Wherefore eate you not your pottage while it is hot. 
F: It is yet too hot.
M: [with a total non sequitur] John, bring here bread, Roger hath no bread, goe fetch a trencher, and bring here mustard. 
P: Give me the beere-pot.
R: Hold there, hold it well. 
P: Let it goe, I hold it well. 
M: Peter, drink not after thy pottage, for it is unwholesome: eate first a little before you drinke. Peter, cut me fleshe."

This colloquy is fairly representative of the entire book. One sees the practical use of certain phrases here and there, as did an early underliner, who has noted "while it is hot," "mustard," "beere-pot," and "after thy pottage" (in Spanish and Low Dutch). But in terms of a conversation this exchange is chaotic at best. What happened to the bread and mustard? Has Francis' pottage cooled yet? When will they give Peter a break so he can drink his beer? Clearly the formality of the colloquy as a genre doesn't preclude the conversation from devolving into a loosely connected series of phrases from time to time.

Here is more of the dinner conversation:

I particularly like (in the third  and fourth images) the exchange about the knife and eating habits:

"A: Roger, lend me your knife, I pray you.
R: Take it, but give it me againe when you have eaten.
A: If I give it not you againe, lend it me no more.
R: No indeed.
A: It is a good knife, how much hath it cost you?
R: It hath cost me six pence.
A: It is good cheape: let me have it for that same price, I will give you your money againe.
R: I am content.
[And then Mary, out of nowhere]
M: Roger, you eat nothing [maybe because he lent out his knife?], me thinke that you are ashamed, helpe your selfe, are you ashamed?
R: Doe I not eate well? I eate more than any man that is at the table.
M: That you doe not.
A: You eate nothing yourselfe.
M: I have well eaten. 
P: [in a diplomatic gesture] Let us drincke well, if that we have ill to eate."

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