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Language and Meaning in the Renaissance

Language and Meaning in the Renaissance

Richard Waswo
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 330
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  • Book Info
    Language and Meaning in the Renaissance
    Book Description:

    Exploring the status of the semantic unit in recent linguistic and literary theories--the sign itself--Richard Waswo relates present-day literary concerns to Renaissance thought about the connections between language and meaning.

    Originally published in 1987.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5854-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. XIII-2)

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 3-7)

      The enormous interest on both sides of the Atlantic in linguistic problems during the past thirty years has generated completely new branches of theoretical inquiry, such as semiotics and narratology, out of the convergence of critical and hermeneutic philosophy, structural linguistics, anthropology, and literary criticism. But little of this activity has provoked any reexamination of traditional assumptions about the most fundamental power of human language: the reason it is indispensable is that it has meaning. So-called semanticists enjoyed a brief vogue in the fifties, and the construction of semantic theories has since become a major concern of some linguists, philosophers,...

      (pp. 8-47)

      In these words the founder of modern linguistics as the study oflangueas a synchronic system of functions (distinguished fromparoleas the diachronic activity of speech) expressed his misgivings about the ancient and traditional semantic unit of the “sign.” His frustrated desire to replace this term is a wish to escape from the picture of the world that it implies. Saussure’s recognition of the inadequacies of his central term illustrates both how difficult it is to move from a referential to a relational account of the operation of language and how much is to be gained by making...

      (pp. 48-82)

      In the early years of the fourteenth century Dante commenced a large work in vernacular prose in order to explain the four levels of allegorical meaning contained in his Italian love lyrics. He completed four of a projected fifteen books designed to subdivide all knowledge, or “philosophy,” and present it as commentary on the poems. During one course in this vast “banquet,” Dante offers a formal digression in defense of the immortality of the soul. After citing a number of ancient and medieval authorities, he makes a syllogistic argument (derived from Aquinas) that because nature has implanted in man’s reason...


    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 83-87)

      Statements like these can have a beguilingly modern ring to the twentieth-century linguist who is interested in the history of his discipline. One such scholar has urged “that linguistic thought in the sixteenth century was more original, more advanced, and certainly more interesting than is generally recognized.” Pointing out that the Renaissance first singled out “living” languages as worthy of scholarly attention, Herbert Izzo deplores its “continued neglect” in histories of linguistics during the last thirty years.¹ The grounds of this appreciation were, however, apparent long ago in the pioneer work of Robert A. Hall, Jr., and have not changed....

      (pp. 88-133)

      Lorenzo Valla is probably best known today for having proved that the “Donation of Constantine,” a document purporting to record the fourth-century emperor’s cession of temporal dominion in the West to the popes, was a much later forgery. The epochal significance of Valla’s proof was appreciated by its English translator: “for the first time, he used effectively the method of studying the usage of words in the variations of their meaning and application, and other devices of internal criticism which are the tools of historical criticism today.”⁷ The more or less systematic “method” was indeed the innovation. Though others, like...

      (pp. 134-206)

      When Thomas More in 1516 contrived his fable ofUtopiaas the response of his humanist erudition to political and moral issues of the day, he of course published it in Latin. A century later, in 1620, Robert Burton complained that he could not find a publisher willing to print in Latin his encyclopedic investigation of “abnormal” psychology,The Anatomy of Melancholy. In 1534 the first arguably “modern” history of England appeared.Anglicae historiae libri XXVIwas written by Polydore Vergil, a naturalized Italian humanist who enjoyed the patronage of the first two Tudor monarchs. In 1614 Sir Walter Raleigh...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 207-212)

      As humanist philology, inspired by classical rhetoric, engendered a sociohistorical semantic awareness that catalyzed the legitimation of vernacular languages in the sixteenth century, it simultaneously produced by means of the same awareness new ways of apprehending the meaning of Scripture whose revolutionary consequences were immediate and remain with us today. My purpose in discussing some of the ensuing controversies—carried on then as now not merely by academic argument but also by shooting in the streets—is in no sense to resolve them. It is simply to trace, in this most hotly disputed and broadly diffused area of linguistic contention,...

      (pp. 213-249)

      The lifelong devotion of Erasmus to correct and fastidious Latin was formed by Valla’sElegantiae, of which he made in his youth an abridgement for students.⁴ At about the same time he wrote letters defending theElegantiaeagainst the attacks of Poggio and praising Valla as the reviver of eloquence.⁵ About seventeen years later, Erasmus discovered near Louvain Valla’s brief application of the philological techniques of this revival to Scripture, and he had it printed, for the first time, by Badius Ascensius.⁶ Several years earlier in Paris Erasmus had presumably made the acquaintance of Valla’sDialectica.⁷ The new language-based epistemology...

      (pp. 250-283)

      William Tyndale, a scholar inspired by Erasmus and a translator of genius, whose partial version of the Bible as completed and modified by Miles Coverdale became the basis for the King James Version, was Luther’s first prominent English disciple.¹ Tyndale, however, advocated a “spiritualist” or Zwinglian position on the Eucharist, and his arguments for it are an exemplary illustration of how the new focus on linguistic usage was assimilated back into the framework of sacramental dualism from which Luther had tried to liberate it.

      Tyndale began from the solidly Lutheran premise that “Scripture hath but one sence, which is the...

    (pp. 284-306)

    The Renaissance discovery of history as linguistic change—first in Latin, then in vernaculars—aroused great fascination with the idea of origins and hence with the biblical account of creation. Commentaries on Genesis proliferated, and the origin of language became a favorite subject of humanist speculation. This domain of interests provides a final example of the semantic challenge posed and defeated at the level of theory—indeed of the whole collision between contradictory assumptions produced by regarding language as a human activity on the one hand and a divinely established code on the other. In Genesis 2:19–20 the origin...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 307-315)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 316-316)