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Dictionary of Medieval Latin (MLW)


Communication in the Middle Ages

The notion of «Medieval Latin» denotes the Latin language of the Middle Ages used between 500 AD and 1500 AD, approximately. Contrasting expressions like «Middle High German» or «Middle English», it does not denote an older stage of the language but rather outlines a certain period of the time Latin was used in.

The language of (Late) Ancient Rome not only developed further into Romanic languages – it also continued to live simultaneously as the language of literature and culture, the language of science, of law and of the church. Use of this language was never interrupted, it increasingly had to be learned in schools. In large parts of Europe, Latin remained the dominant literary language for many disciplines. In German book production, Latin works predominated in numbers those written in German well into the modern era.

Adapting to a Changing World

Even though the Latin of the Middle Ages kept orientating towards the ancient model, the language developed further in use and adapted to an ever-changing world. Legal terminology, for example, incorporated many vernacular terms in a latinised form. Terms of other scientific disciplines were adopted from Greek and, less frequent, from the Arabic. In education and in poetry, people tried to prove their personal command of language by a conscious striving for the limits of the linguistic possible. 

The object of dictionaries and grammar is to describe the Latin language of the Middle Ages in change and continuity, in comparison with the Latin of heathen antiquity and the time of the church fathers. Both provide the tools that allow scientists of various disciplines an accurate and differentiated understanding of their medieval resources. In a time, when the knowledge of Latin is receding, making way for new educational contents, these tools are of crucial importance.

The «Du Cange» – Precursor of the MLW

The basic features of the most comprehensive and completed dictionary of the Latin of the Middle Ages, research depends on to this day, date back to the 17th century:

Charles du Fresne DU CANGE, Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae Latinitatis, 3 vol., Paris 1678 with various revisions, last edited by Léopold FAVRE, Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis conditum a Carolo du Fresne Du Cange..., 10 Bde., Niort 1883-1887 (last reproduction in 5 volumes: Graz 1954).

To the Online-Edition of the École nationale des chartes.