- Grammaire française (1623)
In spite of its fundamental place in the liberal arts, grammar has often received short shrift in Renaissance studies. Intelligibility, though, forms the basis for eloquent and logical expression, and the study of grammar in sixteenth-century France underwent theoretical and pedagogical reforms that resulted in rules to assure the correctness and clarity of the language. Although a physician in Strasbourg, Jean Serrier recognized the increasing significance of French and, incorporating and refining previous practices, published a manual written primarily for German-speaking students. Eleven editions appeared between 1598 and 1648; three versions (1598, 1600, 1623) reflect changes in emphasis and instructional strategy. Alberte Jacquetin-Gaudet has prepared a corrected transcription of the Latin text of 1623, accompanied by a clear French translation with copious commentary notes, an introduction that includes meticulously-researched information on Serrier, a bibliography, and five indices listing references to persons, geographical locations, Latin grammatical terms, French examples, and French-German expressions.
Tradition and innovation characterize Serrier's text. Like Quintilian, Donatus, Priscian, and their French followers, Serrier divides his handbook into three separate areas: pronunciation that presents French phonetics and orthography, with a comparison of French and German sounds; grammar that includes the morphology and uses of the article, noun, pronoun, verb, participle, adverb, conjunction, preposition, and interjection; and a lexicon in Latin, French, and German that, thematically arranged, provides fundamental vocabulary. Unlike the vernacular grammars of Meurier, du Vivier, and Bosquet, Serrier's manual in Latin was intended especially for diplomats, merchants, and travelers. This attention to pragmatism shapes the content and design of his textbook, which complements similar efforts by Pillot, Jean Garnier, and Cauchie. In order to reduce tedium and to facilitate learning, he seeks to enumerate rules concisely and effectively. Like his predecessors, he explains French forms and constructions in terms of Latin structure. But, unlike Palsgrave and Dubois, he does not mold French usage to Latin rules. Rather, in adhering to Quintilian's dictum, "auctoritatem consuetudo superavit" (Institutio oratoria 1.5.63), and in benefiting from the theorizations of Meigret and Ramus, he introduces grammatical precepts that proceed from current and accepted usage. In fact, he seems to heed Henri Estienne's warning to avoid analysis of forms and structures that suggest a "pseudo-French." Serrier's originality, though, goes beyond eclecticism. Although expanding Cauchie's explanations [End Page 897] of the article and endorsing his predecessor's theorizations on adjectival placement, Serrier breaks new ground in distinguishing three voices of verbs: active, passive, and "neutre," the latter of which assumes reflexive and impersonal constructions. In attempting to reduce the boredom and confusion of language learning, he eliminates some Latin rules imposed upon French and, more significantly, distinguishes morphology from syntax. Earlier, Ramus had proposed such a division, and Cauchie had enlarged syntax to include apposition, adjectival and verbal constructions, and the participle. In a separate section on syntax, Serrier reviews all grammatical structures, thereby elucidating differences between form and function. Methodology required a description of syntax in terms of Latin case theory, but Serrier notes the role of "function-words" in French, such as de to indicate the genitive, and à to denote the dative.
This text, then, represents an important contribution to our understanding of the development of the French language and of humanistic education. Unfortunately, the edition does not present textual notes. In the introduction and several commentary notes, the editor charts Serrier's shift of emphasis from morphology to syntax in the three versions but does not provide a critical apparatus to record the course of these emendations. Although parallels between Serrier's text and those of his French predecessors are indicated by various symbols, greater attention to Palsgrave and consideration of his contemporary Charles Maupas would have enriched the edition. Finally, footnoting of the commentary notes is occasionally erratic: for example, on page 360, seven notes are presented at the bottom of the page, but only two are indicated in the text. In...