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The Vernacular in a Latin Guise: Neo-Latin Grammars of the Vernaculars throughout Europe”

Clementina Marsico

Starting from the end of the XVth century, Latin was the reference language for the study of vernaculars in many European countries. Until the end of the XVIIIth century, in fact, the writing of vernacular grammars was in large part in Latin, and always based on the Latin grammar model.1 From Spain to France, from Portugal to England, Germany, Hungary and Croatia, many vernacular grammars were written in Latin, and many of these grammars – like the Grammatica Anglicana by Paul Greaves (1594), the Polish Statorius-Stoenski’s Polonicae grammatices institutio (1568), the German Laurentius Albertus’ Teutsch Grammatick oder Sprachkunst (1573), Bartol Kašić’s Institutionum linguae illyricae libri duo, the first Croatian grammar (1604), and the very extensive Grammatica Gallicana by Pierre de Coux (1680) – also faithfully followed the Latin grammar classification system. That structure was even applied to a non-Indo-European, agglutinative language, Hungarian, in János Sylvester’s Grammatica Hungarico-latina (1539), where the author tried to reduce the twenty Hungarian cases to the six known in Latin.2 Rather ironically, in these instances Latin itself created the preconditions to allow for vernaculars – which would actually ultimately surpass it – to become rivals.

The grammarians’ decision to use Latin when analyzing vernaculars was based on a number of different reasons. Often the authors wanted to claim the superiority of their own vernacular over that of other populations. Others emphasized a “special” relationship with Latin, while some were content to show that their native languages were not inferior to the three sacred languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Yet another group saw the necessity for a supranational language to replace what, after Italian Humanism, was perceived to be a dead language, Latin. Alexander Gil, author of the Logonomia Anglica qua gentis sermo facilius addiscitur, published in London in 1619, already foresaw English as the new language of all countries.3 In most cases, the grammarians’ choice to analyze his own mother tongue was a result of the declared or presumed intention to demonstrate its orderly structure and, by consequence, its literary dignity. The paper will be focused on the first Neo-Latin grammars of the vernaculars written throughout Europe between the XVth and the XVIIth centuries. By reading and analyzing the grammarians’  paratexts  (letters  of  dedications,  prefaces,  apostrophes  to  the  reader),  the ideological reasons behind choosing Latin over the vernacular in grammatical theory will be clarified. Moreover, by choosing the most representative case studies, the paper will give a typological overview of the whole genre, with the aim of better illustrating the process of vernacular grammaticalization attempted by humanist scholars and their followers.

1 See, for example, M. TAVONI, Renaissance Linguistics; M.D. GANDOLFI, Roman Slavdom; S. TOSCANO, Orthodox Slavdom, in History of Linguistics. III. Renaissance and Early Modern Linguistics, edited by G.C. LEPSCHY, London and New York, Longman, 1998, pp. 1-148; J. IJSEWIJN – D. SACRÉ, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies. Part II. Literary, Linguistic, Philological and Editorial Questions. Second entirely rewritten edition, Leuven, 1998, pp. 274-281 (with further bibliography).

2 IOANNES SYLVESTER, Grammatica Hungarolatina, edidit, introduxit et commentariis instruxit S. BARTÓK, Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó – Argumentum Kiadó, 2006.

3 ALEXANDER GILL, Logonomia Anglica (1619), Part I, Facsimiles of Gill’s presentation copy in the Bodleian Library (4° G 30 Art.), List of Transcribed Words, by B. DANIELSSON – A. GABRIELSON, Stockholm, 1972 and Part II. Bibliographical and Bibliographical Introductions . Notes by B. DANIELSSON – A. GABRIELSON, translation by R.C. ALSTON, Stockholm, 1972.

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Neo-Latin Texts in a World Context: Current Research

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