What was the first RAE dictionary like?

If we apply ourselves to the task of counting the times that, throughout the year, we resort to Spanish dictionary In search of the definition of a term, we would surely realize that there are many more than we could initially think of. Especially since it can be consulted online, and even more so since the application for mobile devices exists.

But the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), along with the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language (ASALE), is the guardian of the aforementioned dictionary, and has not always been there to make it easier for us to understand words and expressions. His lexicographical work (which is how dictionary composition is known) had, like everything else, a beginning.

What is and what is not a dictionary

Before presenting what was the first dictionary made by the RAE, it is worth specifying what this type of work consists of and, by extension, what is really the work that the RAE and ASALE carry out with it.

A dictionary should be responsible for providing those who use it with knowledge about the meaning of words and expressions that are heard or read in a language. A lot of commotion tends to be generated on social networks when some media publishes a story that has an almost apocalyptic title, similar to “The RAE accepts the word X in the dictionary”, because it ends up getting confused be in the dictionary with be a correct or non-vulgar term.

In addition, there is also the misconception that academics are the ones who decide inquisitorially which word should or should not enter the dictionary. And precisely one of its best-known academics, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, has taken it upon himself several times to clarify that the RAE, with its dictionaries and grammars, does not act as a judge or language police, pointing out what is right and denouncing what is wrong, but as a notary that collects the use that the speakers, true owners of the language, make of it.

The Dictionary of authorities

Published between 1726 and 1739 and dedicated to King Philip V, the Dictionary of authorities It was the first dictionary whose production was commissioned by the RAE, which had been founded only a few years earlier, in 1713. The nickname by which it is known (because its title was a different and much longer one) refers to its most identifying characteristic: the use of authorized voices that had been written in Spanish to endorse the definitions offered in the dictionary.

The magnitude of this work in the history not only of Spanish lexicography but of the language itself that it collects is abysmal. As we have pointed out, the Dictionary of authorities It is the first to be produced by the entity that for more than three hundred years and until today will be in charge of cleaning, fixing and giving splendor to the Spanish language.

And it cannot be overemphasized that this work is the first undertaken by the RAE, which gives priority, and consequently more importance, to lexicographical work than to spelling or grammar. Although, it must be recognized that precedents already existed, such as the Treasury of the Castilian or Spanish language (1611) by Sebastián de Covarrubias, which he himself Dictionary of authorities cites and praises in his prologue.

First volume of Dictionary of authorities.

What stands out the most in this dictionary is, as we said, the use of authorities (mostly literary) as an example of the use of the words it defines and as a way of attesting to their existence. The Dictionary of authorities, as the first to be prepared by the RAE, is very cautious in what it says, and does not hesitate to express in its entries what is not absolutely certain of its truth, all the more reason to rely on consecrated figures of the letters that contribute authority as proposed by the Academy. Although the institution itself was in charge of clarifying, to avoid controversy, that the authorities that appear in its dictionary are a tool to facilitate the understanding of the definition of the voices, and that there is no type of literary positioning behind their selection.

An example

Let us see, as an example, how to define the Dictionary of authorities the word soul.

In the first place, the grammatical category (feminine noun) is given, abbreviated, which is followed by the definition of the term: «the noblest part of the living bodies, by which each one according to his species lives, feels and feels. sustains: or according to others the act of the body, which informs it and gives it life, by which it moves progressively…”. Then its etymology is offered and, finally, the Academy exemplifies the use of this word with three authorities:

In the first place, the third title of the first of the Seven Gamesof Alfonso X ─ «true man, è composed of soul reasonable, and of flesh, è true God»─. Then the first chapter of the Purplefrom Santa Teresa ─«ansi à bulko we know that we have souls; but what goods can there be in this soulor who is inside this soul, or its great value, we seldom consider it»─. And lastly, the Visit of the jokesby Quevedo ─«after he got rid of the soul she saw herself idle, without the task of the external senses, she attacked me in this way the following comedy»─.

a conclusion

The Dictionary of authorities it has all the characteristics of a first work, and sometimes suffers from certain inaccuracies and a conservative character. However, this does not detract from its merit at all. As we have said several times, the most unique feature of this dictionary is the authorities present in its definitions and, without overlooking the fact that it is an 18th-century work, it is therefore closely related to current dictionaries, which include examples of use in your definitions.

We are, in short, and as none other than Lázaro Carreter underlined in his admission speech at the RAE, before a distinguished work of the Academy that would set a chair and that, due to its uniqueness and the titanic effort that its preparation entailed, has passed to the annals of Spanish lexicography as an immortal work of obligatory knowledge.

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