Le français, une langue de dictionnaires: An exhibition

Post by Barbara McCormack & Saoirse Reynolds, Special Collections and Archives

Le français, une langue de dictionnaires exhibition is taking place in the Russell Library from 1st – 30th of March 2017 the exhibition was curated by Dr Kathleen Shields & Dr Éamon Ó Ciosáin, Maynooth University French Studies and Barbara McCormack, Maynooth University Library. The exhibition supports were designed by Louise Walsworth-Bell, Maynooth University Library.

The exhibition is divided into three themes:

  • Translating and Encoding from French into another language
  • Translating and decoding into French
  • Encyclopedic Dictionaries


Francisco Sobrino (fl. 1703-1734)

Dicionario nuevo de las lenguas española y francesa [New dictionary of the Spanish and French languages]

Brussels, 1721.

woodcut a
Figure 1. Woodcut initial letter ‘A’ 

Sobrino’s dictionary was produced by the printer and bookseller Francisco Foppens of Brussels in 1721. The page displayed features an ornamental woodcut headpiece and a woodcut initial letter ‘A’. This copy was once owned by Dr. Bartholemew Crotty, who was Rector of the Irish College at Lisbon from 1799-1811 and President of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth from 1813 until 1832. Crotty’s library was bequeathed to the College following his death in 1846.


Giovanni Veneroni (1642-1708)

Dictionaire italien et françois [Italian and French Dictionary]

Amsterdam, 1729.

Figure 2. Title page of Veroni’s Dictionaire

The title page of Giovanni Veneroni’s Italian and French Dictionary features the printer’s device of the Huguenot publisher Jaques Desbordes with the biblical quotation ‘Sol in aspectu annuntians in exitu’ [which translates as ‘the sun at its rising shines the fullest’ or ‘plain to our view is the sun’s passage as it shines’].  Veneroni’s dictionary was first published in 1681, this reprinted edition is dated 1729. The title page features the annotations of potential previous owners ‘Captain Giffard’ and ‘Harriette Phelan’.




Alexandre Boniface (1785-1841)

Dictionnaire français-anglais et anglais-français [French-English and English-French Dictionary]

Paris, 1828.

Figure 3. Title page of Boniface’s Dictionnaire

This is a sophisticated bilingual dictionary based on the works of prominent French lexicographers such as Gattel, Boiste, Wailly and Laveaux; as well as prominent English lexicographers such as Boyer, Johnson, Walker and Lévisac. The Dictionary contains word definitions and meanings, different proverbial expressions, as well as the main terms of the sciences and the arts. The page on display features the French pronoun ‘celui’ which is translated as: ‘He, him; she, her, they, them; that, those [This pronoun not being a mere personal, cannot stand for a proper name…]’






Ambrogio Calepino (1435-1511)

Ambrosii Calepini dictionarium [Ambrose Calepini’s dictionary]

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Figure 4. Printer’s device from Calepino’s Dictionarium

Leiden, 1634.

The Italian lexicographer Ambrogio Calepino first published his Latin dictionary in 1502. Later editions (including the one displayed) include translations of Latin words into various other languages such as Hebrew, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and English.



Joseph Nicolas Guyot (1728-1816)

Le grand vocabulaire François [French vocabulary large edition]

Paris, [1767-74].

Figure 5. Title page of Guyot’s Le Grand Vocabulaire Francois

Guyot’s Vocabulary contains explanations of each word along with various grammatical meanings and synonyms; it also features the general principles of grammar and the rules of spelling, along with reasoned and philosophical details on the economy, trade, the navy, and politics etc. An entry on ‘Absinthe’ [Absinth] describes the physical characteristics of the plant ‘ses fleurs sont rassemblées dans un calice à cȏté l’une de l’autre, & donnent une semence très-menue’ [its flowers are grouped in a calyx next to each other, and give very small seeds]. It also outlines the medical properties associated with Absinth which is described as ‘une plante médicinale, dont la racine est ligneuse’ [a medicinal plant with a woody root].


Jacques-Christophe Valmont de Bomare (1731-1807)

Dictionnaire raisonné universel d’histoire naturelle [Universal natural history dictionary]

Paris, 1768.

Figure 6. Frontispiece from Dictionaire raisonne universel d’histore naturelle 

This revised edition of French botanist Jacques-Christophe Valmont de Bomare’s bestselling dictionary on natural history was published in 1768. The page displayed features a lively description of the babouin [baboon]:

‘On appele ainsi de gros singes qui ont des queues plus ou moins longues, & qui sont différents des cynocéphales. Voyez ce mot & l’article SINGE.’

[So called big apes, which have tails of varying length, and which are different from the cynocéphales. See this word & the article MONKEY.]

Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers [Encyclopaedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts]

Figure 7. Image from Diderot’s Encyclopedie

Livourne, 1772.

The page displayed is PI XI. XII ‘Anatomie’.

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This blog provides a snapshot into what is on display in the Russell Library at the moment. The blog doesn’t cover everything so please come and visit during our opening hours to discover more fascinating French Dictionaries first hand in the beautiful surroundings of the Russell Library.