Prix Honoré Chavée
Professor David Trotter
18 April 2011
The Anglo-Norman Dictionary project (AND), since 2001 directed by Professor David Trotter and based in the Department of European Languages, Aberystwyth University, has been awarded the Prix Honoré Chavée by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in Paris.
The AND started life in 1947 when a “glossary committee” met in Oxford, to discuss the compilation of a dictionary (or at that stage, a glossary) of Anglo-Norman, the form of French in use in Britain as a result of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
At first a spoken language, later increasingly used in writing alone, Anglo-Norman was extant from 1066 until the mid-fifteenth-century, lingering on in legal language, and leaving a lasting impact on English especially in vocabulary.
The AND set out, over sixty years ago, to record this language and was thus also the beginning of a attempt to document the entirety of its usage, and the words it was made up of.
Initially, the AND was very “literary” in its coverage, but towards the mid-1980s, under the editorship of Professor William Rothwell, who had by then retired from Manchester, it began to incorporate important amounts of resolutely non-literary words and sources, in the form of material gleaned from legal, administrative, commercial, private, and generally more down-to-earth documents.
In the course of implementing these changes, it became clear that a new edition would be necessary, and this was started in 1989, before the last part of the first edition had been printed.
After the better part of ten years’ work – in a pre-Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) era when there was simply no money at all for humanities research staff – the first part of the new edition, covering A to E and over three times the size of its predecessor, was more or less complete. After some publication difficulties, this finally appeared in 2005.
Perhaps more importantly, though, and the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres prize explicitly recognizes this, by then the project, now with AHRB and then AHRC funding, had put on line a parallel, electronic dictionary accompanied by nearly eighty digitized texts and a number of republished scholarly articles (www.anglo-norman.net).
This started as a joint Aberystwyth-Swansea project, with Professor Andrew Rothwell in Swansea. Since 2003, the AND has put on line a new edition for F to (imminently) M. The Prix Chavée is specifically for the online AND and its website, the work of Professor Michael Beddow, the AND’s technical consultant and in a previous life, Professor of German in Leeds.
As users of (for instance) the OED (www.oed.com) will know, online dictionaries offer numerous advantages: they are searchable, in a variety of different ways, they are easily and instantly updatable, and at least in the case of the AND they are free at the point of use. All that is needed is internet access, from anywhere in the world.
According to Professor Trotter, Anglo-Norman has long been regarded with at best wry amusement, and at worst with contempt, by a French establishment which viewed it as a semi-literate offshore dialectal oddity, but which nevertheless believed, in the words of Clemenceau, and because of the impact of French on English, that English was simply French pronounced badly.
“That the AND should have been awarded a prestigious prize by a leading French institution suggests that those days are over, and that Anglo-Norman is again regarded as what it was: part of the second-most important language of culture (after Latin) in western Europe in the Middle Ages, not only an inspiration for the development of vernacular literatures, but also an international trading and diplomatic language from Spain to Scotland, and from Italy to Ireland,” he said.
“The AND has been part of that rehabilitation of Anglo-Norman, and is now firmly part of an international network of historical dictionaries which are, between them, allowing a remapping of language use in the Romance-speaking countries, and a re-examination (in the case of the AND) of the contribution which Anglo-Norman has made to the English language and indeed to the Celtic languages of the British Isles,” he added.
The international dimension of the work extends to the people involved in it: the project currently has (full-time) Belgian and Canadian editors (Geert De Wilde and Heather Pagan, a half-time German research assistant, Jennifer Gabel, here through a joint research project with the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français (DEAF) in Heidelberg.
Previous editorial and research staff have been French (Virginie Derrien) and Russian (Natasha Romanova); last year, a Swiss PhD student (Larissa Birrer) worked for a number of months as a research assistant on the AND after finishing her Zurich doctorate.
The Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (www.aibl.fr), founded in 1663, is one of a series of bodies which together make up the Institut de France and of which the best known is the Académie Française. The Prix Chavée was established "to encourage linguistic studies and especially research relating to Romance languages”.