Monday, January 24

The RAE sanctions the finding of a dictionary prior to Nebrija’s | Culture


Engraving by Antonio de Nebrija.
Engraving by Antonio de Nebrija.

Just five months before the fifth centenary of the death of Antonio de Nebrija begins, who died in 1522, it has been dethroned in one of its main merits along with that of the first Hispanic grammar. its Latin-Spanish Dictionary, appeared in Salamanca in 1494-95, it has been considered the first of the Castilian language that exists. But a recent finding by the Argentine researcher Cinthia María Hamlin, collected in the Bulletin of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), displaces this pioneering work to Alfonso de Palencia. He attributes the authorship of two pages found at Princeton University (New Jersey, USA) and dating from 1492.

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The discovery was published by Hamlin in an article by Bulletin of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) under the title Alfonso de Palencia: Author of the first Latin Romance vocabulary to hit the press? “The finding is very important, as it allows to advance the date of the beginning of the lexicography in Spanish, which was believed to begin with the Spanish-Latin Vocabulary of Nebrija in 1494-1495. The identification of Alfonso de Palencia as its author removes Nebrija from the title of first lexicographer ”, affirms the philologist, an expert in Medieval Literature at the Argentine National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (Conicet).

The Spanish academic Pedro Álvarez de Miranda supports his thesis. “About to be celebrated next year, the fifth centenary of the death of Antonio de Nebrija (1444-1522), the discovery of Cinthia María Hamlin robs the great humanist of the chronological primacy of Spanish lexicography”, says the philologist. “Nebrija preserves, of course, in addition to his merit as a Latinist, the glory of being the first author of a Castilian grammar, which, with a dedication to Queen Elizabeth, appeared in the Annus mirabilis of 1492 “.

The overthrow of the lexicographer began at the Firestone Library in Princeton. “In February 2018 I came to it with the aim of studying the copy of the translation of the Hell by Fernández de Villegas (Burgos, 1515) which is preserved there and I am editing ”, says Hamlin. For a rarity of the issue he approached Dr. Eric White, curator of Rare Books and Special Collections, and asked him a question about it. White made sure that the Argentine researcher was studying a text in old Spanish and decided to challenge her: “She began to ask me some very cryptic questions about a Latin-Spanish dictionary from 1490.”

Hamlin was successful in the interrogation. “He was testing me!” Then, White handed him a tome containing the jewel in question within the Universal vocabulary in latin and in romance (1490), by Alfonso de Palencia. “He told me that, inserted at the beginning and at the end, there were two pages of a printed Spanish-Latin vocabulary that did not belong to said copy and that no one had yet managed to identify. Rarely does a researcher come across unidentified and potentially important material. But fewer are presented practically on a platter ”, continues the researcher.

One of the pages of Alfonso de Palencia's dictionary, with the first entries of the letter 'a', kept in the Firestone Library of Princeton University.
One of the pages of Alfonso de Palencia’s dictionary, with the first entries of the letter ‘a’, kept in the Firestone Library of Princeton University.

Hamlin was aware of it from the first moment. That was his lucky day. He painstakingly analyzed the content. On the first folio there was a prologue to Queen Elizabeth. The second transmits 77 Spanish dictionary entries ―from bet until arrebozar-, with their corresponding Latin equivalents. “Synonyms and derivatives, to which the appointment of authority is usually added,” he says. “In addition, in many cases some explanation of use is added in Spanish, which is important because, unlike the Nebrija dictionary, which is strictly Spanish-Latin, here the emerging language is also used in the definitions.”

This certainly increased the quality of the discovery. Grateful for the generosity of Eric White, Hamlin left Princeton fascinated by those folios, with several photos and a new lens … Upon her return to Buenos Aires, the advances began, she says. “Thanks to White’s contributions, I already had typographic identification: the movable type belonged to the Ungut and Polonus printing house (Seville), Type 3: 95G, a Gothic typeface used between 1491 and 1493”. Movable type, Hamlin explains, are block letters used on printed matter. “They were handcrafted and, therefore, they allow today to identify the printers and the years.”

One of the folios found contains a prologue dedicated to Isabel la Católica. From her analysis, the philologist was able to extract another piece of information. “She refers to her as queen of Granada and, therefore, the print must have been after the conquest of Granada, in January 1492. Thus, this Sevillian incunabula must have been printed between 1492 and 1493.”

After reviewing the cataloging of the known Ungut and Polonus prints, the conclusion was clear: “These fragments were the testimony of an unknown incunabula, that is, of a text published in the very early days of the press, before 1501”. At that point in the investigation, Juan Fuentes, Conicet’s medievalist and Latinist, joined the investigation. “He found the missing piece of information: the existence of an anonymous manuscript in the Escorial, which conveys a vocabulary from the complete end of the XV century, from A to Z, although with several unfinished details”, says Hamlin. Said Escurial manuscript was published by Gerald MacDonald in 2007.

Folio with the prologue of Alfonso de Palencia's dictionary, kept in the Firestone Library of Princeton University.
Folio with the prologue of Alfonso de Palencia’s dictionary, kept in the Firestone Library of Princeton University.

The surprise was to verify that the content of the second folio – since the codex lacks a prologue – exactly coincided with the corresponding passage in the manuscript. “From an intuition, based on the similarity of the lexicographic method of this vocabulary with that of the Universal vocabulary de Palencia, as well as between both prologues and the way of addressing the queen, I began a study to verify if the author could be the same. A curious fact put me on the track: to illustrate the same Latin term, most of the time both vocabularies insert the same authority quote (from Virgilio, Cicero, Terence…) ”.

Based on the methodology of textual criticism, Hamlin collated the quotes from the first section of the vocabulary. “That led me, first, to the conclusion that they both work with the same lexicographic sources in different entries and, finally, to find common errors in their citations. That is, errors that are made in the same place and that are not registered in the preceding lexicographical tradition. The ruling is thus the overwhelming proof that it is the same author, Alfonso de Palencia, because it is very strange that the same mistake is made twice independently ”, the philologist resolves.

Palencia died in 1492. It is another piece of information that proves the material evidence that his work predates Nebrija’s. With an important nuance, which the Argentine researcher exposes: “The truth is that numerous data allow us to infer that this text was published posthumously. The vocabulary must have been written before March 1492, which is why it precedes Nebrija’s by several years ”.

Definitely, the finding, according to Hamlin and Álvarez de Miranda, will change the focus of lexicography. “Palencia had already published a Latin dictionary in 1490, translated into Spanish in a second column: it was the first time in Europe that a Romance language was part, albeit marginal, of a dictionary. With this new discovery, this bilingual dictionary in which Spanish is the source language, Palencia receives recognition of its merit ”.


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