John Palsgrave’s ‘lesclaircissement de la langue francoyse’ (1530)

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John Palsgrave, an Englishman, wrote the first detailed grammar of the French language, Lesclaircissement de la langue francoyse (1530). This work is remarkable not only for its length but also for its quality. Palsgrave wrote a pedagogical text for his English readers, using a system which leads the learner from the development of passive skills (interpretation, both oral and intellectual, of written texts) to the development of active skills (expressing oneself in the target language). At the same time, he responded to the French Humanist desire to bring the vernacular languages under the control of ‘rules certayne’. In its grammatical method, Lesclaircissement exemplifies a stage in the development of Humanist grammar, as the Renaissance grammarians moved from a method based on forms to a more abstract representation of linguistic facts. As such, Palsgrave’s work stands half-way between the early Renaissance caiques upon Donatus and the later excursions into logical grammar. In phonetics, Palsgrave’s attention to detail leads him to a clear recognition of the importance of nasal vowels in French (even if his articulatory description of the nasal vowels leaves something to be desired). In phonology, he aspires to a greater level of abstraction through his attempts to link liaison and elision phenomena to French phonotactics. In morpho-syntax, he uses the notion of perfection in language to provide an underlying structure in which the syntactic and the logical structure are explicit. He then explains how the languages in question ‘circumlocute’ to express the underlying structures. In this way, he prefigures the work of Meigret in French grammar. For all of his accomplishments, however, Palsgrave’s work had little influence on his successors. It had only one printing of 750 copies, and Palsgrave himself restricted the sales. Still, the work deserves our attention because of its wealth of detail and because of the method it uses.

Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)27-62
Number of pages36
JournalHistoriographia Linguistica
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Linguistics and Language

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