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ELIZABETHAN RHETORICAL TERMINOLOGY AND HISTORICAL LEXICOGRAPHY Jürgen Schäfer The Elizabethan age is a period of great linguistic ferment. As R. F. Jones has documented in his Triumph of the English Language (1953) in overwhelming detail, contemporary attitudes towards the vernacular change dramatically: Skelton's lament about the "rudeness" of the mother tongue gives way to Carew's enthusiasm in "The Excellency of the English Tongue" (ca. 1595). The major contribution of the age is a spectacular increase in vocabulary, while the development of a supple and concise prose structure is left to later generations. New accessions to the language accumulate in the sixteenth century , and even though some of the Oxford English Dictionary registrations have to be attributed to a disproportionately high number of sources,1 there is no doubt that the lexical foundations of English as a potential world language, with its characteristic readiness to embrace and absorb material from very different linguistic sources, are laid in this period. The age's innate striving for new words had a twin motivation. One stimulus was the rhetorical emphasis on the copia verborum and the concomitant ideal of synonymic variation, ridiculed by Shakespeare in Holofernes' pedantic concatenations ("a title to Phoebe, to Luna, to the moon") but at the same time exploited to elevate the diction of his tragic heroes, as in Othello's rejection of "exsufflicate and blown surmises." Before the stylistic onslaught of the Royal Society, the ideal of polite conversation was undoubtedly that of Henry Cockeram , the compiler of the first English Dictionarie (1623), namely, the attainment of a "more refined and elegant speech" through the use of the more "exact and ample word": verberate instead of beat, excelsity instead of loftiness} Baroque exuberance, however, was only one reason for the enrichment of the English lexicon; the other was dire need. Around 1500 English was still unsuited to serve as a medium either for traditional learning or for new discoveries and disciplines because it lacked the necessary terminology. This deficiency was remedied during the following century. A steady flow of translations , primarily from Latin, swelled to a mighty stream in the Elizabethan period* and necessitated the creation of an appropriate vocabulary in disciplines as varied as grammar, botany or navigation. By 1600 there was virtually no field of contemporary knowledge which could not be studied in the vernacular . After abortive early efforts to shape the new professional terms from native (e.g., Saxon or Anglo-Norman) material, such as Robert Record's cinkangle for pentagon or Ralph Lever's yeasay for affirmation* the far easier solution proved to be a wholesale borrowing of Latin expressions. The peculiar characteristics of this process entail a problem for the historical lexicographer trying to establish first citations. When exactly does the Latin word become English? The authority on the subject is, of course, the Oxford English Dictionary, and its dates have been widely quoted and used as a basis for periodization, from Mary S. Serjeantson's A History of Foreign Words in 8 Elizabethan Rhetorical Terminology English (1935) to Charles Barber's Early Modern English (1976). As far as can be ascertained from its practice, the Oxford English Dictionary's general criteria for loan words are in accord with modern theory: borrowing is a gradual process beginning with the occasional use of a foreign word in the context of the host language by bilingual speakers and terminating with the habitual use of the new expression, normally phonologically adapted, by monolingual speakers.5 According to the lexicographical distinctions of the Oxford English Dictionary the new word is either "adopted without change of form (or pronunciation ) from the foreign word, derived by adaptation, i.e., with adjustment to English speech habits, or formed on, i.e., newly shaped on the basis of the foreign form."6 In addition, a further category includes "non-naturalized or partially naturalized words," which are preceded by vertical double bars. Examples of these four possibilities are dialysis, metonymy, abnegative, and antiphrasis . These distinctions seem sensible enough, but in the case of learned Latin loans of the Renaissance there are two special problems: first, there is the simultaneous existence of adopted, i.e., graphematically unchanged, forms and adapted...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 7-17
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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