The aim of this paper is to discuss space in geographical terms in relation to regional linguistic variation as it appears in dictionaries compiled in Spain during the 18th century. These dictionaries gave an exhaustive description of a region from a geographical and historical viewpoint. The intention behind such dictionaries was that fields of study not directly related to geography or history, such as philology, were to be enriched by a comprehensive approach that would enable a complex and detailed picture of a region to be drawn. As a consequence, scholars working on such a project in the 18th century had first to reflect critically on methodological issues in order to integrate the various fields of study then to be applied to their subject matter.

In the geographical-historical dictionaries of the 18th century the dialect or language of a region was considered an essential element of geographical space: the dialect was the expression of the culture of the people of this region. As already indicated, the conceptual reach of the geographical-historical dictionaries was ambitious. Precisely such ambition both questioned and overturned methodologies that were current at the time. For this reason, scholars had to work first on methodological issues in order to be able to describe the new disciplines scientifically, before they could begin with the project itself.

The reformulation of 18th century methodologies that ensued led to a division of knowledge into experimental and natural sciences on one hand and humanities or the arts on the other. This division clearly has had repercussions for the way we conceive these disciplines today. Despite this division, the methodology of the natural sciences was retained in some of the reformulated disciplines within the humanities (for example, in the social sciences). The concern of scholars to describe new and emerging disciplines in a scientific way laid the foundation for today’s more obviously scientific and theoretical approaches.

I shall discuss a project by the most distinguished figure of Enlightenment in Spain, Gaspar de Jovellanos. Born in Asturias, Jovellanos set out to complete the geographical Dictionary for Asturias with a section on the dialect of that region, the ‘Bable’. I will discuss his Instrucción para la formación de un diccionario bable (1801) in greater detail later in this essay. The Instrucción appeared enclosed with a letter to Carlos González de Posada, January 14, 1801 (Jovellanos 1831b: 338-362). According to the editors of the new edition of 2005, there are two versions of the Instrucción, one from 1791 (Jovellanos 2005: 325-345) and a second one written before January 14, 1801 when it was sent to his friend Posada (Jovellanos 2005: 265-286). It is this second version published in the 1831 edition on which my work is focused. Jovellanos’s reflections on methodology led him to apply the empirical methodology of the new natural sciences to the compilation of the vocabulary of that dialect as a basis for a description of the dialect itself. Also relevant is his Apuntamiento, the Summary of the Dialect of Asturias (1804), which represents an etymological approach to the dialect spoken in this region. Both documents constitute different methodological approaches to the study of language.

For this paper I have analyzed three documents elaborated by Gaspar de Jovellanos:

  • the manuscript Memoria sobre el estilo conveniente de Diccionario Geográfico in which he establishes formal guidelines for such a geographic-historic dictionary (Jovellanos 1831);
  • the Apuntamiento sobre el dialecto de Asturias, intended to be published within the Geographical Historic Dictionary of Asturias, which describes the dialect/ language from a historical viewpoint (Jovellanos 1963);
  • the Instrucción para la formación del diccionario del dialecto asturiano, a compendium of methodological concerns regarding the scientific approach to language in which the first step was the compilation of the lexicon and etymological studies meant to inform such a geographic-historic dictionary.

The Historical, Philosophical and Scientific Background in 18th Century Spain

The Bourbon dynasty came to power in Spain in 1713. To facilitate the dissemination of enlightened ideas received from England and also developed independently in France, the Bourbon rulers established a scientific and cultural framework in Spain. A key innovation of the age was of course the encyclopedic movement. However, philosophical movements such as empiricism and rationalism also brought about scientific progress in Spain, although with some delay in comparison to other European countries. In an attempt to modernize Spain’s economy improvements in education were deemed necessary. The economic societies which were founded everywhere in this period played an important role in the reforms promoted by the Crown by helping to cultivate a sense of regional consciousness and identity. Their relevance for the economic reforms of the day can be seen in the statutes of the Asturian Economic Society founded in 1781:

Its function is to produce reports to improve popular industry and the [various] professions of the arts, as well as machines to facilitate measures and to aide education. The promotion of agriculture, crops, livestock, fishing, commerce, navigation, minerals, marbles, will be one of its main activities […]. (Álvaro Ruiz de la Peña 1996:145. The translations are mine.)

In addition, the Academies founded during the first half of the 18th century by Philip V had the crucial function of advancing enlightened ideas to enable necessary reforms to be implemented as part of their political program:

Channels of this Enlightenment were […] the great number of salons and academies, literary, philanthropic, agricultural and economic societies of Campomanes, (including the cafés, clubs which came to proliferate in London and Paris). (Castro 1996: 326)

To achieve the goals of this ‘Ilustración’, this Enlightenment, history was of special interest. The foundation of the Academy of History in 1738 grew out of the gatherings (‘tertulias’) and salons in the 1730s that had a specific interest in history. According to the Spanish historian Miguel Artola, history in the 18th century was expressed empirically through concepts of ‘state’ and ‘society’ (Artola 1999: 83). Although historical events such as great battles were subsumed under geographical ‘space’ within the new discipline of history, the boundaries between the two disciplines of geography and history remained clearly separate (Juderías 1913: 130). The study of ‘space’ in geographical terms thus allowed historical events, such as battles, to be seen from an historical viewpoint:

Geography had to inscribe itself into a historic context, but it would be history in charge of relating and narrating the facts. Although both had distinct aims, one discipline required the other. (Nava Rodríguez 1989: 434)

Another important 18th century institution, founded in 1713, was the Royal Academy of Language. Its only interest was Castilian (or Spanish), the standard language of Spain. Before Castilian established itself as the standard language of Spain in the 18th century, Castilian had sunk into a state of decadence. It was only revived because it had been the language of such great authors of the Golden Age as Lope de Vega, Cervantes, Calderón, Góngora and Quevedo. The revival of this archaic language of the poets was entirely in keeping with the Academy’s prescriptive purpose towards language and its disdain for vernacular language. Indeed, it is significant that the first dictionary of the Academy of Language published in 1739 was even entitled Dictionary of Authorities, where only famous writers were considered precisely to be such ‘authorities’. The guidelines for a competition published in 1777 in the Gazeta de Madridreveal their focus on maintaining tradition:

In this examination and judgement the Academy will proceed according to rules which follow the manner of the best authors, bearing in mind (although not with a servile subjection), in relation to oratory, Longinus’s, Cicero’s and Quintilian’s precepts and some other antique or modern masters of eloquence, and, with regard to poetry, Aristotle’s, Horace’s and those of other classic authors, adapting these in style equally to the purity and elegance of the language of the most celebrated Spanish writers. (Rodríguez Sánchez de León 2000: 13)

Geographical-Historical Dictionaries

During the 18th century historians required a sound corpus of material for their studies. For this reason, the directors of the Academy of History are believed to have played a particularly significant role in the major projects of the Academy. These projects were, strictly speaking, a sort of encyclopedia ordered alphabetically – ‘dictionaries’ in this sense (cf. Cassirer 1951: 197-233). Between 1738 and 1792 more than 33 projects were proposed. One of the Academy of History’s first major projects was the Diccionario Histórico Crítico Universal.

The 18th century geographical dictionaries have to be seen in the tradition of the FrenchEncyclopédie (1751-1765) of Diderot and D’Alembert. They are therefore to be understood as a product of the movement of European Enlightenment. The motivation for the ambitious dictionaries project was always a pedagogical one, in that the pedagogical value of history and its usefulness for society was highlighted (Nava Rodríguez 1989: 400). The goal was to draw precise maps in order to capture and delineate geographical space: places, cities, rivers, mountains, but also monuments such as cathedrals, churches, sculptures, paintings. Such information was believed best stored in form of a dictionary. According to Horacio Capel:

Geographical dictionaries were the result of the necessity of recording and systematizing geographical knowledge after the new discoveries which extended the spatial horizon of the Europeans from the 17th century onwards, and further out of the need to interpret and locate exactly the place names in classical works.
(Capel 1981: 34)

Given the complex aim of the project, which sought to encompass a total of 26 subjects or fields of study, these dictionaries could never be completed. According to Nava Rodríguez, reasons for this were the lack of human resources and the fact that the areas of study involved were not yet established as disciplines in their own right (Nava Rodríguez 1989: 393). Rodríguez concludes that there was no relation between the goals the academics formulated and the results they obtained and as a consequence the project had to be abandoned altogether (Nava Rodríguez 1981: 408).

Another obvious impediment was the need to find a scientific way to organize information in order to advance the general project, the dictionary itself.

According to Ángeles Galino (Galina Carillo 1953; Sarmiento 1743: 240-241), Sarmiento was the first to articulate, in 1743, the need to compile a historical-geographical dictionary of Spain. In the face of the difficulties encountered by scholars working on the dictionaries, the Academy of History decided in 1766 to focus on a less ambitious project, the Diccionario geográfico-histórico de España, thus confining the object of study geographically to Spain. It was undertaken and overseen by its director, the Asturian intellectual Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes. Despite this deliberate restriction to Spain, the impediments of the larger project remained, with the result that this new project could not be completed either (cf. Velasco Morales 2000: 106).

While the Academy of History decided around 1739 to work only within the fields of geography, natural history and chronology (Nava Rodríguez 1989: 424), philosophers such as Voltaire, in his Essay on Manners, demanded a new kind of history: not just a history of kings, but one which would have as its object of study the customs, the laws, the culture of its people. This demand was taken up by Gaspar de Jovellanos, in his inaugural speech when appointed to the Royal Academy of History. He formulates the need to study the history of the nation as follows:

I say it quite unashamedly: the nation lacks a history. In our chronicles, annals, histories, compendiums and reports one barely finds anything which contributes to give a precise idea of the times which they describe. One finds wars, battles, revolts, famines, pests, […] superstitions, in summary, what is of little use, absurd and harmful in the country in truth and in lie. But where is a civil history which might explain the origin, progress and changes in our constitution, our political and civil hierarchy, our legislation, our customs, our glories and our miseries […]? (Jovellanos 1963b: 298)

It is this innovative, more comprehensive notion of history which is important in understanding why the language or dialect of the regions also came to be included. The ambit of such geographic-historical dictionaries became much vaster as they now intended a social as well as a cultural dimension in the attempt to describe the population, the government, the religion, the agriculture, commerce, arts, language/dialect and everything about a region that constitutes its civilization. One of the consequences of this huge object of study was necessarily a diversification. Hence, not only a critical reflection on the focus of the different disciplines was required, but also a critical reflection on the methodologies they followed.

Individual scholars were then commissioned to complete the task for specific regions, for example, the Basque region. This new scientific project focused on history, geography, linguistics and literature (Nava Rodríguez 1989: 387-388). The aim was to provide a detailed picture of a region which would allow the need for specific reforms to be assessed and then carried out. Its interest in linguistic characteristics of a region and in etymologies would promote understanding of historical inscriptions. Details concerning the population and the language spoken in the various regions were also considered relevant for an exhaustive description of a specific region.

Jovellanos’s Contribution

The Asturian intellectual Gaspar de Jovellanos (1744-1811) had considerable influence at the court of Charles III after he came to prominence as a judge in Seville. The Crown commissioned him between 1778 and 1790 to prepare reports which would be the basis for the reforms of the infrastructure and economy. He was an eclectic intellectual with a profound knowledge within law, economy, politics, engineering, literature, arts and pedagogy who was appointed member of both the Academy of History in 1779 and of the Academy of Language in 1781. Guided by the Asturian Enlightened figure Campomanes (1723-1803), director of the Academy of History at that time, Jovellanos promoted economic reforms as a means of bringing prosperity and happiness to the people. The key element in his program was always the education of the individual, which made him also defend educational reforms and develop a curriculum, such as the one for the Institute he founded in 1794, the Royal Institute of Mining and Engineering in Gijón (Asturias), in which he presented a viable alternative to the universities (see also Gracia 2006).

The political changes consequent on Charles III’s death in 1788 and the French Revolution caused a rupture to the reform process. In particular, Jovellanos’s support of Cabarrús caused what Miguel Artola labeled a “disguised exile” (“destierro disfrazado”) (Artola 1999: 44), which confined Jovellanos for almost a decade to Asturias. This restriction, however, allowed Jovellanos to dedicate more time to his personal project, the compilation of the vocabulary of the Asturian dialect, Bable. (Jovellanos used to make observations during his trips for his reports, but since his main purpose in visiting these was to describe the economic situation in order to be able to formulate precise propositions for economic reforms and infrastructure, he never found the time to sit down and give it the form of a book [cf. Jovellanos 1999].)

In his childhood Jovellanos had spoken the Asturian dialect ‘Bable’, and he still used it during his stay in Gijón with his sister and his servants. Already in 1787 he had expressed the intention of compiling a Vocabulary and later on a Diccionario geográfico del asturiano. He formulated general guidelines concerning questions of formal style for such a geographical dictionary in his Discurso sobre el lenguaje y estilo propio de un diccionario geográfico (Jovellanos 1963c: 309-310). His intention was to enclose hisSummary of the dialect of Asturias (Apuntamiento sobre el dialecto de Asturias) in theDiccionario geográfico de Asturias that he hoped one day to complete. He also intended to describe the dialect of that region, specifying its origin and anomalies (cf. González & López 2001: XLI). Jovellanos drew up plans for the foundation of an Academy of the Asturian Language with the final goal of writing a grammar of that dialect, very much in line with the concerns of the Royal Academy of Language, whose primary concern was the standard language, Castilian.

Following the empirical approach of the natural sciences, Jovellanos devised an empirical methodology for his dictionary of ‘Bable’, the Asturian dialect, in hisInstructions for the formation of a Dictionary of Bable (see also Gracia 2005). The need to adopt a descriptive approach for such a project put Jovellanos in a position to reflect on the specific methodology for this work. The concern for a clearly articulated scientific methodology is characteristic of everything he approached. Despite being a member of the Academy of Language, his approach moved beyond the Academy’s concept of language. Although Ángel del Río in 1943, referring to Jovellanos’s Instructions, considered the age in which Jovellanos was writing ‘pre-scientific’ (Rio 1943: 214), I shall argue that it must be seen as having distinctly scientific features. Jovellanos was in fact the only scholar of the age who formulated precise guidelines for the procedure in the compilation of a dictionary. He adopted an empirical methodology for the compilation of the vocabulary and in doing so distanced himself from the prescriptive approach of his contemporaries.

Conscious that he was unable to complete his project by himself, Jovellanos set out to ensure that every individual with whom he collaborated would use the same methodology. This was a sign that the project was meant as a collaboration of several individuals who shared the same intellectual concerns.

Jovellanos’s Instructions for the formation of a Dictionary in the Asturian Dialect

Jovellanos’s Instructions for the formation of a Dictionary in the Asturian Dialect reflect his capacity to think through every methodological detail systematically. Since he was a member of both the Academy of History and the Academy of Language, he was fully aware of the formal procedures that governed its functioning. However, he formulated these Instructions at a point in time when the Academy of Asturian language did not yet exist. This is something he worked for, but which did not materialize during his lifetime. Inspired by the natural sciences, Jovellanos applied an empirical methodology as a basis for his dictionary, which makes his approach a descriptive one. He gave precise definitions of what the object of such a dictionary is and of what a word (lexical entry) is. For each word he gave the definition of the word’s meaning and the translation into Spanish (345).

The task he set himself was divided into two aspects, which correspond to the two lexicological approaches he followed: in a first classification, the words were collected and classified in alphabetical order. This classical lexicological approach starts from the word itself, or the sequence of sounds, and looks at the meaning of the word. In the linguistic discipline of semantics this approach would be called a semasiologic approach.

A second categorization was done by ‘subjects’ (materias), which began with the object or the concept itself and looked to the corresponding name in that dialect. This is an onomasiologic procedure. Jovellanos proposed a categorization of objects in the following classes:

a) those objects belonging to natural history;
b) those belonging to industry;
b) those belonging to domestic use;
c) those belonging to common use. (cf. 342)

A further aim was to indicate the corresponding word form in Latin and then give the etymology of that word and its root, wherever its Latin term could be established. However, this procedure could turn out to be complicated, as the corresponding word form in Latin is sometimes only established once the etymology of the word is identified.

Eventually, the academic working on the dictionary was supposed to indicate the ‘authority’ for each use, specifying either an Asturian saying, song or poem in which the particular word appears. Jovellanos’s use of the term ‘authority’ in this context was clearly inspired and influenced by the Academy’s use. For the Academy, authorities were only acknowledged authors, but for Jovellanos, since there was no literary tradition in Bable comparable to that in Castilian, these were songs, poems and sayings, that is popular uses in that dialect. He explicitly acknowledged only the writings in Bable: those by Antonio González, Juan Fernandez Porley, Bernardino de Robledo and the ballad ‘Pictura del caballo de Benavides’ (346). Jovellanos also argued for the establishment of a collection of Asturian songs, sayings and poems and the elaboration of a list of words which appear in them. If there was no such authority, which would often be the case since the dialect lacked a literary tradition, a sentence was to be given in which the word appears. For verbs, this meant that a whole sentence had to be given. In this case the tense to be used was the one that differed most from the Spanish form. This was governed by a pedagogic intention, since it helped disseminate knowledge of the dialect.

By giving an example of a whole sentence, Jovellanos also intended to provide syntactical information related to that verb. He even wished to indicate the ‘government category’ of the verb (‘se indicará su verdadero regimen’) (346) in order to give enough syntactical information about that verb to ensure that it is accurately used in a sentence. Here we have a clear link with the valency dictionaries elaborated since the 1970s for verbs specifying the complements the verb requires that allow the learner to form a correct sentence. This detailed syntactical information of the verbs was essential, as the dictionary was meant to be a basis for a grammar of that dialect – the next step for Jovellanos (347).

Jovellanos intended to base the orthography on ‘true pronunciation’ (‘verdadera pronunciación’) (352) and to indicate the pronunciation appropriate to the word. His concept of the spoken word was in fact very modern at a time when the written word was supposed to have priority. In carrying out this intention, he suggested a letter would have to be invented to represent the sound similar to the French j. He was aware that words were pronounced differently in different villages (‘palabras pronunciadas diferentemente en varios concejos’) (356). This observation also reflects his awareness that within the regional dialect there was even further variation.

In order to give a picture of this 18th century scholar, who is not known as a philologist, I have also considered his other writings related to linguistic ideas. His Course in Castilian Humanitiesthe curriculum formulated for the Royal Institute in Gijón founded in 1794 – reflects his analytical capacity as well as his capacity to synthesize and integrate general grammar, logic and Castilian grammar. He thereby anticipated an interest in general grammar of the first half of the 19th century in Spain.

Despite being an innovator in so many ways, Jovellanos was also a man of his time. For example, he emphasized the need to use the etymology of a word to discover the original form and meaning and to establish in which language it originated. It is precisely his Summary which allows us to situate him in the philosophical and philological tradition of the 18th century. But Jovellanos was also ahead of his time in that he anticipated linguistic notions crucial for some linguistic disciplines of the 20th century. His emphasis on language use was very modern, as was his understanding of the priority of the spoken word. Also of interest are the two different but complementary approaches of lexical semantics with a semasiological and an onomasiological approach which he incorporated into his concept of lexicology.

In sum, it is above all with respect to the study of linguistic variation in the context of the Asturian dialect that Jovellanos showed methodological rigour. He made a significant contribution to the compilation of the lexicon as a basis for the study of dialect or language – a fact which anticipates the work of 20th century dialectologists and the study of linguistic variation. In the attempt to define regional space, Jovellanos did not restrict himself to geography, since it was chiefly the language spoken where it occurred in geographical space, rather any adherence to physical geography, that defined for him the existence and extent of a particular region.



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