A Contextual and Lexicographic Study of John Minsheu's English-Spanish Dictionary (1599)

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2017

23 Pages, Grade: 8,5/10




1. Introduction

2. Historical and linguistic background
2.1 Socio-political relations between England and Spain
2.2 The emergence of Spanish in England

3. Introduction to the life and work of John Minsheu

4. A Lexicographic Study of John Minsheu's English-Spanish Dictionary..
4.1 Macrostructure of John Minsheu's English-Spanish Dictionary
4.2 Microstructure of John Minsheu's English-Spanish Dictionary

5. Conclusion

6. References


This project summarises the evolution of English and Spanish bilingual and historical lexicography in the 16th-17th century. In due course, British Hispanists such as Richard Percyvall, John Thorius and John Minsheu, moved by the interest of expanding the importance of learning Spanish, compiled grammar textbooks, dictionaries and glossaries among other materials. The relevance of Spanish language in England was inevitably connected to the external politics of Tudor England and The Spanish Empire, starting with the union of Henry VIII with Catherine of Aragon and culminating with the disastrous defeat of the Spanish Armada during the Anglo-Spanish War. Yet, the major interest of this project is the study of John Minsheu’s 1599 bilingual English-Spanish dictionary from a lexicographic and contextual perspective. Likewise, this project sheds light on other exemplary works of the English-Spanish lexicography of the period.


Este proyecto resume la evolución de la lexicografía bilingüe e histórica en lengua inglesa y castellana de los siglos XVI y XVII. Durante dicha época, Hispanistas británicos de la talla de Richard Percyvall, John Thorius y John Minsheu, movidos por el afán de promover la importancia del aprendizaje de español, copilaron libros de gramática, diccionarios y glosarios entre otros materiales. La relevancia de la lengua española en Gran Bretaña estaba inevitablemente relacionada con la política externa de la Inglaterra de los Tudor y el Imperio Español, iniciadas con la unión de Enrique VIII y Catalina de Aragón y finalizadas con la desastrosa derrota de la Armada Invencible durante los años de la Guerra Anglo-Española. Sin embargo, el mayor interés de este proyecto es presentar un análisis lexicográfico y contextual del diccionario bilingüe: Inglés-Español de John Minsheu del 1599. De igual manera, este proyecto da a conocer otras obras ejemplares de la lexicografía Anglo-española de este periodo.


Language history, John Minsheu, Anglo-Spanish relations, lemma, entry.


Historia del lenguaje, John Minsheu, relaciones Anglo-españolas, lema, entrada.


This project sheds light on the context and linguistic scrutiny of John Minsheu’s 1599 Spanish and English Dictionarie, a paradigmatic example of English-Spanish bilingual and historical lexicography. At that time, the bilateral affairs between the English and the Spanish nations were the aftermath of Henry VIII’s breach with the Catholic Church and the repercussions it followed in Europe and mainland Britain. All this claimed the lives of more than 300 English civilians on the hands of Mary I’s radical policies and the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War.

As a result, the English manifested a quick interest in mastering the language of their political rival, Spain. It is, thereby, in the late 16th century that the first grammar books, dialogues and dictionaries were published in England and perhaps, the first proper bilingual Spanish-English dictionary was Richard Percyvall’s Bibliotheca Hispanica, which was the most noticeable source in Minsheu’s Spanish and English Dictionary.

Although, Minsheu published two editions of hisEnglish and Spanish Dictionarie(dated back to 1599 and 1623 respectively), this project will closely examine the 1599 edition, highlighting the context in which the work was written and published. Apart from this, this project offers a descriptive analysis of Minsheu’s 1599 ‘Dictionarie’. Thus, it is not my purpose to correct errors or errata, neither is it to reflect upon the semantics of the translation of the lemmata. In fact, the focus of this study is to think over the structural organisation of the dictionary and to reflect upon its multiple inconsistencies. In other words, my analysis illustrates the major characteristics of the structure and lexis found in Minsheu’sSpanish and English Dictionarie(1599).


2.1 Socio-political relations between England and Spain

The 16th century saw the political match between Spain and England by means of the union of Henry VIII to the Spanish ‘InfantaCatherine of Aragon. Their marital union would convert Catholic England into a Protestant nation (Schama, 2000).

Catherine of Aragon was initially betrothed to Arthur Prince of Wales. After a year of marriage, Arthur passed away and his younger brother, Henry, was appointed heir of the English crown (McDowall, 2006). In 1509, the 17-year-old Henry took as wife his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon (aged 23), a union that would be characterised by Henry’s longings for a male heir and Catherine’s inability to conceive one (Schama, 2000). Over time, Henry’s only surviving child by Catherine would be a girl named Mary, born in 1516 (McDowall, 2006).

Henry’s dissatisfaction towards his wife was even more notorious with the entrance of Anne Boleyn into the English Court. In a first instance, Anne became Queen Catherine’s lady-in-waiting. But eventually, King Henry’s infatuation with Anne, who refused to become his mistress, turned out to be one of Henry’s personal convictions to get rid of his marital union to Catherine (Schama, 2000). This is why Henry, hopeful for a change, sent in Cardinal Wolsey to get a papal annulment in 1525. Nevertheless, Pope Clement, who was under the rule of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Catherine’s nephew) would never acquiesce to Henry’s demands (Schama, 2000). It was then that King Henry, probably influenced by the rise of Protestantism in Central Europe, decided to cut the ties with the Catholic Church proclaiming himself Head of the English Church in ‘The Acts of Supremacy’ (1534). Shortly after his proclamation, he divorced Catherine and took Anne Boleyn as wife (Hanson, 2017).

Boleyn’s short reign spanned from 1533 to 1536, culminating with Anne’s polemic execution. Boleyn, accused of adultery, was executed along with her presumed lovers in 1536 (Schama, 2000). Yet, Henry remarried shortly thereafter. This time, he took as wife Anne’s lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour (Hanson, 2017). Seymour is believed to have been Henry VIII’s favourite wife (Loades, 2013). Among other things, she gave birth to Henry’s longed-for male son, Edward VI of England (McDowall, 2006).

Edward VI became the indisputable heir to the English throne, being invested king in 1547. The end of his brief reign (1553) resulted in a short period of political instability, in which Edward bastardised his sisters Mary and Elizabeth appointing Lady Jane Grey and her husband as heirs of the crown (Elton, 1991). However, Princess Mary, supported by Catholics, would thenceforward be crowned in August 1553. Mary I was popularly known as Bloody Mary. Her reign was characterised by the reinforcement of Catholic principles and the eradication of the heretics of Protestantism by fire (Schama, 2000). Rumour has it that over 300 English subjects perished on the hands of her fundamentalist politics. Years after her coronation, Mary (aged 37) married her Catholic relative Phillip II of Spain for political, religious and family reasons. However, it was known to be an unwise choice and a revolt followed the announcement of the marriage. Even the English Parliament itself had unwillingly accepted Mary’s marriage to the Spanish monarch (McDowall, 2006). Ultimately, Parliament declared that Phillip II would only be acknowledged king consort as long as Mary lived (McDowall, 2006). Mary’s reign lasted 5 years, after which she died childless. She was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth in 1559 (Elton, 1991).

Elizabeth’s reign was popularly acclaimed by her English subjects as a result of Mary’s unsatisfactory reign, as historian G.R Elton well summarises: “The main lines of Elizabeth’s reign were determined from the start by her sister’s disastrous failure” (Elton, 1991, 223). Elizabeth I became, after all, one of the most influential monarchs in Europe, whose purpose was to solve the problematic English Reformation and to make England prosperous again (McDowall, 2006). Indeed, Elizabeth saw trade as one of the most important matters for the prosperity of the kingdom (McDowall, 2006). For England, countries that turned out to be trade rivals were considered a threat against the English nation (McDowall, 2006). This, consequently, led to the Anglo-Spanish War (15851604), an undeclared conflict between the crown of England and the Spanish Empire (McDowall, 2006). In the meantime, the enmity towards France saw “a partial and uneasy reconciliation” for Elizabeth had already laid her eyes on Spain (Elton, 1991: 295). The latter had become the most prosperous nation thanks to its settlements in the West Indies and The Netherlands (Adams, 2011).

Although the Dutch were Protestants, they were under rule of Phillip II of Spain, who was a Catholic. Reason for which, the Protestant Dutch were seeking independence from Spain (McDowall, 2006). In the late 1560s, radical tensions broke out in The Netherlands as a result of the breach of Catholicism and Protestantism. The English, fearing an invasion by Spain, supported the rebels in The Low Countries.


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A Contextual and Lexicographic Study of John Minsheu's English-Spanish Dictionary (1599)
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Lexicography, Bilingualism, Historical lexicography, Bilingual lexicography, diccionaries, language teaching, 16th century, 17th century, Anglo-Spanish relations, language learning, John Minsheu, Spanish language learning, Spanish for English speakers, Richard Percyvall
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Angela Camara Rojo (Author), 2017, A Contextual and Lexicographic Study of John Minsheu's English-Spanish Dictionary (1599), Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/418113


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