Small Dictionaries and Curiosity tells a story which has not been told before, that of the first European wordlists of minority and unofficial languages and dialects, from the end of the Middle Ages to the early nineteenth century. These wordlists were collected by people who were curious about the unrecorded or little-known languages they heard around them. Between them, they document more than 40 language varieties, from a Basque-Icelandic pidgin of the
North Atlantic to the Kalmyk language of the lower Volga.
The book gives an account of about 90 of these dictionaries and wordlists, some of them single-page jottings and some of them full-sized printed books, paying attention to their content and their physical form alike. It explores the kinds of curiosity and imagination by which their makers were moved: the lover of all languages hearing new voices in an inn; the speaker of a dying language recording his linguistic memories; the patriot deploying his lexicographical findings in the service of an
emerging nation. It offers an encounter with the diverse voices of the entirety of post-medieval Europe, turning away from the people of the courts and universities whose language was documented in big dictionaries to listen to people who did not speak the languages of power: the people of remote
places and dying communities; the illiterate poor, settled or homeless; migrants from the edges of Europe and beyond.