Portrait of Sebastián de Covarrubias Horozco from his chef d’oeuvre, the Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española (1611). From the DVD edition by Studiolum
“Todo lo daré por bien empleado, con que V. M. reciba este mi pequeño servicio con grato ánimo, dándome licencia le ponga nombre de Tesoro, por conformarme con las demás naciones que han hecho diccionarios copiosos de sus lenguas, y de este no solo gozará la española, pero también todas las demás, que con tanta codicia procuran deprender nuestra lengua, pudiéndola ahora saber de raíz, desengañados de que no se debe contar entre las bárbaras, sino igualarla con la latina y la griega, y confesar ser muy parecida a la hebrea en sus frasis y modos de hablar.”
“I will regard all my efforts as well employed if Your Majesty accepted cordially this small service, and gave me permission to give to it the title Tesoro on the example of other nations who have composed large dictionaries on their own languages. And it will be useful not only for the Spanish nation but also for every other nation who usually look down so haughtily on our language. Now as they will know it from its very roots, they will recognize that they cannot count it among the barbarous languages, but they have to consider it as equal to Latin and Greek, and they will also have to admit that it is very similar to Hebrew both in its expressions and its way of speaking”
“…y pretendí que respondiese esta interpretación con el original, no sólo en las sentencias y palabras, sino aun en el concierto y aire de ellas, imitando sus figuras y maneras de hablar cuanto es posible a nuestra lengua, que, a la verdad, responde con la hebrea en muchas cosas”.
“…and I made every effort so that the translation complied with the original, not only in its phrases and words, but also in their harmony and mood, imitating its figures and expressions as much as it was possible in our language which, to tell the truth, is very much in conformity with the Hebrew in many things.”
“Az ilľen besziduel tele az szent iras, melľhez hozzá kell szokni annak az ki azt oluassa. Köńü kediglen hozzá szokni az mü nipünknek, mert nem ideghen ennek ez ilľen beszidnek neme. Il ilľen besziduel naponkid valo szolásában. Il inekekben, kiuáltkippen az virág inekekben, melľekben czudálhatťa minden nip az Maģar nipnek elmijenek éles voltát az lelisben, melľ nem eģéb hanem Maģar poësis. … Sok ez féle beszidnek nemiuel egģ kippen ilünk az Sido ńelwel, és Göröguel… az melľuel velek egģ kippen ilünk annak kedue vaģon mü nálunk is azonkippen mint ü náluk.”
“The Holy Script is full of such speaking, and whoever reads it must be accustomed to it. It is easy for our nation to be accustomed to it, as this kind of speaking is not unfamiliar to them. They use such speech in their everyday communication as well as in their songs, especially in the love ditties in which every nation can admire the sharp inventions and genius of the Hungarian people which is nothing but Hungarian poetry. … Several expressions are used by us just as in the Jewish or Greek language … and they are just as popular at us as among them.”
Pei Di thinks that the discovery that the translator’s own language is the closest one in its style and metaphors to the Hebrew, may have been general in this period. “If you regularly read 16th-century vernacular literature in more than one language, you will clearly see that their archaic way of speaking still used many metaphors in every vernacular. The contemporaries, however, usually knew only their own vernacular version to the extent to realize this, while the common school Latin was in fact poor in metaphors. This is why, when they discovered the richness of Hebrew figurative language, they may have felt that they found the closest relative of their own mother tongue, certainly in style, and perhaps also regarding its origins.”
Was this idea, the stylistic closeness of the various vernaculars to Hebrew really so widespread in the Renaissance? We want to ask for the help of the polyglot readers of Río Wang in this question. If you have ever encountered any contemporary declaration on the similarity between the Hebrew language and any Renaissance vernacular, please share it with us.