Early History of Language in English

Brerewood, Edward. Enquiries touching the diuersity of Languages, and Religions, through the chiefs parts of the world. VVritten by Edvv. Brervvood lately professor of Astronomy in Gresham Colledge in London.

❧ London: Printed by Iohn Bill, mdcxxii [1622]. In English. 187 × 141 mm (7.5 × 5.5 in.). 4to. [24], 203, [1] pp. Printer’s device on title page. Woodcut initials and head-pieces. Printed marginal notes. Ink inscription at head of title page: Edw. Voyes.” Very Good. Bound in 19th century calf over marbled boards, red leather spine label.

Second edition of an influential essay on the origins of language that links verbal communication to religious practice. Brerewood begins by noting the largenesse” and decline of the classical languages, Greek and Roman. From these he extrapolates the origins of European languages like French, Italian, and Spanish, noting how they mixed with other languages like Arabic. There is also a discussion of languages spoken in northern Africa along the Mediterranean coast.

Intermixed are discussions of the geography of Christianity, Islam, and idolaters,” pagans who fit neither category; Brerewood estimates the total number of adherents to each faith. Brerewood is convinced that the vast majority of the world are heathens, and that there is a large, populous continent in the south that is undiscovered. There are several mentions of Spanish colonies in the Americas, where he claims, on very shaky grounds, that there are one million Christian converts. Brerewood also claims that the western parts of the Americas are more populous and cites this as evidence that the indigenous American peoples were of Asian origins.

This work marks the first ever appearance in print of the theory of the Asiatic origin of indigenous Americans. After discussing the extent of various languages and of Islam and Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Europe, Brerewood discusses the heights of mountains, estimates the depths of the oceans, and attempts to calculate the total size of large mammals like elephants and whales. He later profiles the different Christian sects, such as Coptic Christianity. This is followed by a discussion of the languages in which the different parts of the world conduct their liturgies, and a brief section on the languages of Europe.

The preface includes a long essay arguing that, despite their geographical and linguistic diversity, Protestants can be thought of as a single body, differing only according to the diversity of Gods gifts in expressing and aptlie and cleerlie what wee conceiue.” Though roughly 300 years away from the creation of the field of semiotics and Benedict Anderson’s notion of the imagined community,” the essay anticipates some aspects of those fields.

Brerewood is similarly concerned with the creation of communities that span large distances and linguistic differences yet are united in common belief: all beleeue the true communication of the true bodie and bloud of our Lord Iesus Christ, onlie concerning the manner of communication is the controuersie.” The author also asks whether as the signe with the thing signified is present in respect of our bodie, and not rather in regard of our well receiuing in by faith.”

Edward Brerewood was an antiquarian and mathematician. His study of world religions and languages was published several years after his death by his nephew Robert Brerewood, who dedicated the work to George Abbot, then Archbishop of Canterbury. The work went through four editions in England. It was soon translated into French, German, and Latin, and discussed widely even more than a century after its initial publication.

A truly eclectic work combining linguistics, geography, and demographics, all marshaled to provide a general state of Christianity” (page 123) across the globe in the early 17th century.

English short title catalogue S106413.


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Stock Code: 1432B17 Collection: Catalogue:


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