The Aalma Project: research in early French lexicography

  1. 1. Brian Merrilees

    University of Toronto

Work text
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Aalma was the name given by the great French romaniste Mario Roques to a group of Latin-French glossaries compiled in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and which served as language learning tools in Medieval France. These glossaries are of particular interest in the history of French lexicography both on account of their number, fifteen known to date, and on account of their importance in the development of French vocabulary. Roques edited one text, the version found in Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. lat 13032, in 1938; another from Lille had been edited in the 19th century, but no edition exists that takes into account all versions of the Aalma. The aim of my research group at the University of Toronto is to produce, first of all, searchable on-line editions of what be believe to be the key versions of the Aalma and in addition add to a database we have been assembling for the past several years of medieval French lexicographical material. Later a printed edition will be envisaged.

To date we have transcribed five versions of the Aalma, Paris, BnF. lat. 13032, Metz Bibl. mun. 510 et 1182, Lille, Bibl. mun. 147, Salins, Bibl. mun. 44. We are currently transcribing Exeter Cathedral, ms. 3517 and St Omer, Bibl. mun. 644, and we have done a sample letter (B) from Paris, BnF, lat. 14748, Paris, BnF, lat. 17881, Paris, BnF, lat. 7679 and Epinal, Bibl. mun. 224. In addition we have a full transcription of one of the first dictionaries printed in France, the Catholicum parvum done in Paris around 1484 by Antoine Caillaut, who used Metz 510 as his printer's copy.

All material transcribed is added to a local database of lexicographical materials using an old DOS program, WordCruncher, developed in Utah in the 1980's. This admirably simple program has been a boon to non-technical scholars like myself. Text preparation is minimal, no high level of mark-up is required and the indexing process is rapid. Given that everything in our database has been copied , laboriously, from manuscript and microform, this is a great advantage and we have been able to use this program above all others in our analytical work.

Our only online venture so far has been a simple database search of the Aalma in BnF lat. 13032. Here we checked and corrected the Roques text and set up a search using Active Server Page. Again this was simple and effective. It is still on our website:

There are also excerpts from other dictionaries can also be found there under the 'Research' rubric on my website: .

This, however, is not enough. We aim to expand the Paris 13032 base to include several other versions of the Aalma, probably one version at a time. We are looking for suitably uncomplicated software that will translate the Aalma texts into a coherent base. Our next experiment will be with XTeXT, an Ontario-based text search-engine, and from there we shall seek other proposals.

What we seek essentially is a minimally marked text entry from which maximal benefit can be drawn. If this can be done in a DOS context, as we have found with WordCruncher, then it behooves us to find something equally simple for on-line presentation.

On a different tack, we have applied a database program to the comparison of 10 versions of the Aalma, using Microsoft Access. Here we entered the letter B from those versions and obtained a preliminary indication of the relationships between the various versions. Here is a small sample (not all versions contain each lemma):

Bacca ('bay')

Paris 13032braie, fruit d'olive ou de lorier et aucune foiz est mis
pour tout fruit, principalement d'arbres sauvages

Metz 510fruit de lorier ou aucune fois pour tout fruit sauvaige

Metz 1182baie, fais (sic) d'olive ou de lorier

Lille 147fruit d'olivier

Salins 44fruit d'olive ou d'olivier fructus olive vel lauri quandque
pro quoque fructu ponitur ...

Exeter 3517fruit de olive ou de lorier .i. fructus lauri vel olive

St Omer 644braie, fruit d'olive ou de lorier et aucune fois pour tous
fruis et especialment de arbres sauvages

Biceps ('two-headed')

Paris 13032cil qui a ii chiex

Metz 510celui qui a deux testes

Metz 1182celuy o celle qui a deux chiefs

Lille 147qui ha ii testes

Salins 44ce qui ha deux chief

Exeter 3517qui a ii. chiefz ille qui habet duo capita

St Omer 644ce qui a ii quiefs

We have recently had microfilms of two of the versions digitized and can therefore put the manuscript image alongside the text as we transcribe it on a large screen. A second large screen sits beside the main screen for calling up references, such as our own WordCruncher database, the Trésor de la Langue française, Douglas Walker's Lexique de l'ancien français, the emerging Dictionnaire du moyen français from ATILF in Nancy and the Patriologia latina site produced by Chadwyck Healey.

Transcribing from microform or manuscript is a slow process. Our task is nonetheless
made easier with the technologies and electronic resources at our disposal.


Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique / Université Nancy 2

Edwards, William
Merrilees, Brian
Dictionarius familiaris et compendiosus : le dictionnaire latin-français de Guillaume Le TalleurCorpus Christianorum : Continuatio mediaevalis: Lexica Latina Medii Aevii : Nouveau Recueil des lexiques latins-français du moyen âge 2
Brepols Publishers

Merrilees, Brian
Edwards, William
Dictionarius Firminis Verris : Dictionnaire latin-français de Firmin Le VerCorpus Christianorum : Continuatio mediaevalis: Lexica Latina Medii Aevii : Nouveau Recueil des lexiques latins-français du moyen âge 1
Brepols Publishers

Merrilees, Brian
Edwards, William
Troberg, Michelle
Vers une nouvelle édition du glosssaire latin-français l'Aalma
Timelli, Maria Colombo
Galderisi, Claudio
« Pour acquérir honneur et pris » : Mélanges de moyen français offerts à Giuseppe Di Stefano

Naïs, Hélène
Buridant, Claude
La lexicographie au Moyen Âge
Presses Universitaires de Lille
Villeneuve d’Ascq
185-196Lexique 4

Patrilogia latina
ProQuest Information and Learning Company

Roques, Mario
Recueil général de lexiques français du moyen âge II

Trésor de la Langue Française
Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique / Université Nancy 2

Walker, Douglas
Lexique d'ancien français
University of Calgary

Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None