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  • The Translations of Nebrija: Language, Culture and Circulation in the Early Modern World by Byron Ellsworth Hamann
  • Erik Ekman
Hamann, Byron Ellsworth. The Translations of Nebrija: Language, Culture and Circulation in the Early Modern World. Amherst, MA: U of Massachusetts P, 2015. 223 pp.

The Translations of Nebrija: Language, Culture and Circulation in the Early Modern World by Byron Ellsworth Hamann is a study of Antonio de Nebrija's Diccionario de romance en latin (Diccionario), first published in Salamanca in 1495, its later editions, and its adaptations and use in other dictionaries into the early seventeenth century in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Antonio de Nebrija (1441-1522) was an Italian-educated humanist who published highly influential works of grammar, geography, and history, held academic appointments at the Universities of Salamanca and Alcalá de Henares, and was appointed royal historian in 1509. While his 1481 Latin grammar, the Introductiones Latinae, was arguably his most widely published work and the Gramática de la lengua castellana of 1492, his most cited and certainly most prophetic for its statements on the relationship between language and empire in the prologue, the 1495 Diccionario was an immensely important and influential work, both in Spain and in its colonies for two centuries after since it helped to define the relationship between contemporary vernacular Castilian and its past, as well as Castilian and indigenous languages in the Americas and beyond. This book provides a welcome and thorough overview of the genesis, evolution, and cultural significance of the Diccionario in Nebrija's lifetime and beyond.

In chapter one "Nebrija and the Ancients," Hamann opens with an examination of the genesis of the Diccionario, its revision during Nebrija's life time and posthumous editions carried out in Spain by his descendants, as well as in the Low Countries. Nebrija's 1492 Latin Lexicon appears to have been the basis for the first edition of the Castilian-Latin Diccionario published in 1495. The chapter traces the development of the Diccionario by analyzing the spelling of words and its effect on alphabetization. For example, the spelling of the word vihuela, a guitar-like string instrument, varies considerably in this period. In Nebrija's lifetime, the Diccionario underwent six printings in Spain over the course of two decades. With his death in 1522 and that of Guillén de Brocar, his printer, in 1523, the Diccionario was carried forth by Nebrija's sons, who moved to Granada and attempted to gain a monopoly on its publications with several printings between 1536 and 1555. This enterprise continued with Nebrija's grandson in the 1560s and eventually his great-grandson. At the same time, there were several unauthorized versions printed in the Low Countries. These two strains are, nevertheless, in contact. The 1533 Antwerp edition was the basis for the editions produced by the Nebrija family in the 1560s. [End Page 477]

While the development and spread of a major work of humanist scholarship in Europe is interesting on many levels, the real value of this book is the light it shines on the importance of the Diccionario to the early-modern understanding of non-Western cultures and languages in the Americas and Philippines. Chapter two, "Arabic, Nahuatl, Tuscan, Tagalog," studies the use of the Diccionario in the study of other languages. The chapter is ordered chronologically, beginning with a 1505 Castilian-Arabic dictionary and ending with a 1613 Castilian-Tagalog dictionary. The majority of these dictionaries are not separate printed volumes but rather marginal annotations based on either a printing of the Castilian Diccionario or in some cases on the 1555 Castilian-Nahuatl dictionary published in Mexico by Alonso de Molina as the Vocabulario de la lengua castellana y mexicana, which was the "first dictionary to be printed in the Americas" (48), as Hamann notes. Molina's dictionary served as the basis for trilingual dictionaries of other indigenous languages throughout Mexico and Central America based on a common practice: "… published dictionaries were brought to 'the field' (which might be anywhere from Mexico to Tuscany to England). The margins around their printed entries (Castilian-Nahuatl entries, in this case) were then filled up with equivalent terms from a third language" (50...


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