Alan Hindley, Frederick W. Langley, and Brian J. Levy, eds. (2000) Old
French-English Dictionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 621
pages, 85 GBP (Approximately 125 USD).
Reviewed by: Jed Evans, Independent Researcher
Compiled from a broad range of texts across the span of Old French
literature, the Old French-English Dictionary from Cambridge University
Press is a useful lexical tool for students of Old French, medievalists
and scholars of other fields. It contains numerous alternate spellings
when they are found and a number of contextual meanings when necessary.
The book is divided into two sections, the Introduction and the
Dictionary. The introduction gives a list of the abbreviations used in the
dictionary, a bibliography of related works and some information on the
aim and structure of the dictionary. Each of the approximately 60,000
entries contains a headword, the grammatical function of the word, and the
primary definition, followed by alternative definitions and/or idiomatic
usage. In addition, the typeface is clear and legible with boldface
This is a dictionary that meets its goals very well. The editors state, in
the introduction, that their aim was to create a single-volume dictionary
to facilitate the needs of a broad range of individuals and supply readers
of a variety of genres with ample lexical information. The dictionary
then goes beyond that and simplifies the task of the reader and the
philologist, supplying alternative spellings and usage information. The
English equivalents are often conveniently given in cognate form and with
synonyms, so as to dispel any lack of comprehension while, at the same
time, increasing its value as a learning tool. Though excellent in some
applications, the dictionary can be disappointing in others. For example,
the dictionary very rarely cites irregularities and boasts no appendices
for the treatment of such things, which might help the very audience it is
intended to reach. In addition, the dictionary omits a great deal of
information that is included in the database from which it was compiled.
Word origins are entirely omitted, which would seem rather disappointing,
not only for the philologist and the linguist but also for the historian
or the Anglophone reader. And, though it might have been perceived to be
overzealous, some explanatory notes on pronunciation would have been
useful in the introduction, to explain differences in spelling and
dialectal discrepancies. Available data that were not included in this
dictionary were the following: date of first appearance, dialectal
prominence, and citations from the corpora. A great deal of this
information would be useful for numerous readers.
In summation, I would recommend this dictionary to casual readers of
Old French as a practical translating tool. In addition, Anglophone users
might find this volume less taxing than a more versatile francophone one.
However, I would not recommend this dictionary to individuals with more
complicated tasks than translation. Though a rather good value for the
casual reader, this dictionary is short on the details that make for a
truly versatile lexicon.
Jed Evans is a senior at Syosset High School in Syosset, NY who is
currently working on a comparative linguistic survey of the French
language from the Dark Ages to the Twentieth Century and beyond. He can
be reached at email@example.com.