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Review of  Old French English Dictionary

Reviewer: Miguel Ayerbe Linares
Book Title: Old French English Dictionary
Book Author: Alan Hindley Brian J. Levy Frederick W Langley
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Lexicography
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 12.922

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Hindley, Alan, Langley, F. W. and Levy, B.J. (2000). Old
French-English Dictionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 621 pp., single volume, ISBN: 0-521-34564-2

Reviewed by Miguel Ayerbe Linares, Departament of German
Philology of the University of Seville (Spain)

We have a dictionary before us for everyone who is working
on Old French, not only philologists but also for students
and historians. That is so because the expressions included
in it are drawn from many sorts of old texts such as epic,
romance, religion, moral, didactic, allegorical, lyrical,
satirical, historical, political and legal ones. The
dictionary itself is designed for anglophone users, and that
is the reason for editing it in English.

The dictionary includes the following sections:

1) Acknowledgments (page vii)

2) Introduction (pages ix-xi). This section is divided into:
I) From database to dictionary (page ix): An historical
introduction to the origins of the dictionary beginnig as an
electronic database, Known as COFREL (Computerized Old
French-English Lexicon)
II) The dictionary entries (pages ix-x): Description how the
60.000 entries of the dictionary are organized and what kind
of information they provide, such as grammatical function
and definition.
III) How to use the dictionary (pages x-xi): Some aspects to
take in account when working with a dictionary about older
stages of a language (whatever it may be) are explained
here, like, for instance the lack of spelling rules, so that
one can find the same expression written in different ways
when working with older texts.
IV) Conclusion (page xi): The introduction ends with some
acknowledgments to preceeding Old French dictionaries such
as Godefroy's (1880-1902), Tobler and Lommatzsch's (1925-),
and with a hope that both anglophone readers and students of
Old French would find this dictionary very useful.

3) List of abbrevations (pages xii-xiii)

4) Select bibliography (pages xiv-xv), divided into the
following parts:
(a) Multi-volume dictionaries
(b) Single-volume dictionaries
(c) Old French grammar and syntax
(d) Histories of the French language
(e) Antholofgies and Old French readers
(f) Other

Dictionary (pages 1-621)

There are several things that speak in favour of this
dictionary, and one of them is the fact that it has been
edited in English language. First of all because English is
a more used language by linguists than French, and then
because by doing so many people are able to work on Old
French literature, eventhough they do not know Modern
French. This is very important because most Old French
dictionaries are obviously edited in French language. There
are also some exceptions like editions in German like
Tobler, A./Lommatzsch, K. (1925) Altfranzoesisches
Woerterbuch, still incomplete and multi-volume edition, or
in English like Urwin, K. (1949), a short Old French
Dictionary for Students, a single-volume edition but very
limited for other purposes than for studying and reading Old
French literature. From another point of view, there are
users who are not concerned with Linguistics such as
historians and jurists, and who are probably expected to
know English as foreign language rather than French.

Another positive aspect of this dictionary is that it is a
single-volume edition of 621 pages with up to 60.000
entries. For this reason the user is not working with any
'Short' dictionary.

In the introduction the authors give some practical
informations about how to use the dictionary. There they
point out that the written forms that we find in an old text
(whatever the language may be) often correspond to heard
expressions rather than to read ones. At this point it must
be also said that at that time there were no spelling rules,
and that explains why different variations of a same
expression can be found on the same manuscript (sometimes in
the same text too). That is one reason why this dictionary
is clearly intended for general users, above all for non-
linguist ones. Obviously linguists do not expect such
information in a dictionary intended especially for them,
or, in other words, editors would not probably provide such
basic information when designing a tool of this kind for

It must be also said that definitions are not always limited
to the exact or general meaning of a concrete expression.
The expressions are often placed in context with others
words, being so considered to be colloquialisms, and that is
of course very helpful for beginners in Old French texts. In
other places, when the same expression presents different
meanings because it can have more than one function in a
sentence, such as substantive, adverb or adjective, the
dictionary indicates each meaning depending on each
function, by separating them in different entries, each one
according to a concrete function, for instance 'avenant' (on
page 59):

avenant(1): present participle (prp) as adjective (a)
'pleasant, pleasing, graceful'

avenant(2): (prp) as adverb (adv) 'fittingly, in seemly

avenant(3): (prp) as substantive masculine (sm) 'advantage,
convenience; proportional share of something'

When an expression can be read in different ways depending
on the text or manuscript, the dictionary includes them but
it only provides the definition in one case, so that, if the
user should be looking for alternative spellings of the same
expression, the dictionary directs him to that, which has
been definied in the dictionary. This way is of course very
helpful but I do not think that it is the most practical
one, because the different variations are separated from
each other and then the user must be always turning over the
pages to find the definition. From my point of view, a
better way would be to place the different alternative
spellings together and then the definition like other
similar dictionaries or glossaries do, such as
Braune/Ebbinghaus' Althochdeutsches Lesebuch (1994), for Old
High German, or Greimas' Dictionaire de l'ancien fran�ais
(1989). I think that this way would make the user's work
considerably easier.

With respect to the entries in the dictionary, there are two
more points that I would like to point out: on one hand the
dictionary does not give any etymological information nor
where the expression comes from (for instance, from Latin,
Franconian, etc). On the other hand, it does not provide any
information about the date or the time in which the
expression begins to be used. And this last kind of
information would be very interesting for historians and for
jurists as well.

However, I do not consider this dictionary to be unadequate
because of these last remarks. Including all this additional
information would be of course too much for the purposes the
authors intended it to. As pointed out above, the dictionary
contains already 621 pages with up to 60.000 entries, so
that additional information would probably not allow this
single-volume edition, which would be quite more expensive
as well.

All in all, I find this dictionary very useful for anyone
who is interested in Old French literature in some way, and
I consider the fact of being edited in English very helpful
since this general kind of users do not need to know or to
have some competence in French language in order to use a
tool like this. However I do not include philologists and
those with very scientific purposes in this group because I
think that the information provided in it is to a certain
extent too basic for them.

I would personally recommend this dictionary also to
translators and editors of Old French literature. According
to its structure I think that it is a very good working tool
for them too.

To conclude, I want to congratulate the editors for this
dictionary. I think that its major strength is on one hand
how it is designed, because it makes possible to be used by
a broader range of people than only francophone users, and
on the other hand the large list of entries included.

The reviewer works at the Departament of German Philology of
the University of Seville (Spain). He has studied German
Philology in Seville, Cologne and Munich. His research
interests include the historical development of Germanic
languages and historical mutual influences between Romance
and Germanic languages especially in their oldest stages.


Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0521345642
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 638
Prices: U.S. $ 140.00