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Objection IV - Canting arms or heraldic parophony?

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 04.06.12

Q: Canting arms and heraldic parophony, are they incompatible concepts?


A: The concept of heraldic parophony was deliberately developed in our thesis to appraise the phenomena under analysis and then to formulate a hypothesis adapted to our objectives. The need to define this idea precisely derived from the descriptive insufficiency of analogous heraldic phenomena: canting arms and rebus. Heraldists tend to characterize these by means of similar concepts: puns, analogies or allegories; most obvious if there is a total identification between what is described and what is drawn in the blazon. We remember how heraldic parophony was defined:


Association by phonetic correspondence of the designation of one or more original visual heraldic elements, the designant, and the direct or indirect denomination of the blazon’s referent, the denominant


It should be noted, in the first place, that we introduced essential subsidiary definitions, the denominant and designant, as these are the elements which enclose the "canting" action. In this type of arms the denominant may be identified with the emblazoned title, but as we verified later, its applicative extension was significantly larger. The designant, for its turn, may be matched with the description of the drawing in the text of the emblazonment. Therefore, the denominant León, entitled as King of León, is canted by the designant lion which is emblazoned argent a lion purpure.


Secondly, it presents the concept of phonetical correspondence between the denominant and the designant. Instead of nebulous puns or analogies, we applied a measurable principle: the phonemes should have a two-way association within both elements. This correspondence is defined during the step of accommodation and finally evaluated by the estimate of a discretion index, helping to decide on the reasonableness of the parophony denominant-designant.


Thirdly, the visual elements of the arms, their shape and tinctures, must be primitive, namely those that appeared during the establishment of every blazon. Inherited arms, augmented arms, fake arms, etc., can't be included in the parophonic analysis or, at least, are hard to analyse from a canting perspective. The well determined occasion of a blazon's birth will also bear, among others, its specific cultural, genealogical and historical environments, implying, therefore, the languages, the heraldic traditions, the territorial domains, the political influences, etc.


Fourthly, the themes of our canting, the denominants, shouldn't be narrowed to the emblazoned titles, subject to the vagaries of a writing hand, instead to a similar, yet more precise approach, a referent, in strict relationship to the signifier embodying the symbolization of our referent, the blazon. The most usual case of a referent is the first owner of the arms. Others exist, although impersonal: the institutional referents in the shields of military orders, the professional referents within the heraldry of the guilds, the ecclesiastical referents in diocesan arms.


Finally, the denomination of the referent won't be a repetition of its own name, as expected, but alternately an intermediary denomination emerging by metonymy, building a link between the referent and the denominant. As a metonymy, it is established by semantic contiguity, in such a way that we can associate a count to the name of his county, certainly, but also to the name of the place where he lived or the name of his vassals. And those are the metonymies which will be transformed later into a designant and drawings or colours through the linguistic processes of verbalization, accommodation, sematization and specification, irrelevant to detail now.


Sometimes the traditional interpretations also postulate that the "main" charge in the shield is the only visual feature necessary and sufficient to characterize canting arms. Apart from considering this principality a rather subjective concept, we may be curious enough to ask why these "secondary" charges or tinctures should be excluded from our considerations. With regards to the latter they have been often mentioned as canting in the literature. Admitting this possibility we can't strictly exclude other instances, either in the traditional or parophonic heraldic systems. With regards to the "secondary" charges there are numerous and rather enlightening examples of their use in rebus, remitting to the same logical conclusion. Our investigation has found dozens of parophonies in correspondence with the tinctures or with the said charges.


The sources of inspiration for the classical canting arms have shown to be scarce. Almost all, we stress, indicate an explicit jurisdictional or familiar description: the lion (llión) of the Kingdom of León (Llión), the straws (pallas) of the county of Pallars (Pallars), the monk (Mönch) of the city of Munich (München), the goats (cabras) of the house Cabral. Our research challenged this presumption by allowing us to adapt a semiotic framework to heraldry, with obvious examples of the use of cities' names, oronyms, hydronyms, ethnonyms and anthroponyms, besides the classical territorial denominations notwithstanding less frequent. These uses seem to transcend the jurisdictional classifications and tend to keep consistency being an empire or a modest lordship.


Another limitation, apparently a more artificial one, would be the language used by the authors of the arms. If the blazon appears in France, we'd use French, Spanish if in Spain, English if in England. But things were different more than six hundred years ago. As we may see in the post Objection II - The Use of Latin, there is no acceptable reason to exclude this language from the primitive heraldic uses. Latin corresponds to 17% of the parophonies found in the samples of the thesis. The awareness of this influence has been increasing with the development of our research. The same may be said about regional languages, now in minority, which were generally understood and accepted before in their places of origin or, contrastingly, those only spoken by a few holding the political power. As we found out earlier, Anglo-Norman was the main parophonic language in the British Isles, producing almost 11% of all parophonies. There is no other way to understand the mentality inspiring the authors of canting arms than coming back to the period when they lived, quite distinct from ours in all aspects.


Therefore, we may conclude that it is impossible to reconcile the conventional point of view on canting arms and the propositions of heraldic parophony. This doesn't mean that common concepts and words can't be applied interchangeably, as both describe the same heraldic facts. The main difference is that whereas the former allows a restriction to the extent of the phenomenon, maybe 15% of the primitive arms might be considered as canting, heraldic parophony dares to admit that the majority, if not almost all earlier medieval arms abide by the laws of parophony in lesser or greater degree.

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Published at 13:51

Objection III - The Role of Narrative Tradition

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 12.04.12

Q: Why the thesis seems to contradict the narrative tradition in heraldry?


A: It was never considered a deep specific analysis of this problem, which I believe to be beyond the scope of the thesis, even because the question is far from being a proper fundamental objection. Tradition, in this case, is the description of a past event transmitted successively generation after generation to the present. This is not a case of facts scientifically verified as genuine, but we can consider them sometimes as subsidiary documental sources, ordinarily with many reservations. By reviving them, especially if they directly affect us, we are tempted to ignore that these legacies suffered a natural decrepitude imposed by time. It would be normal to expect that the memory of facts happened hundreds of years ago have been altered in some way, or even settled in the domain of legend. We may observe how Genealogy, another auxiliary science of History, has often derived its foundational narratives from audacious, generous and gallant deeds, even witnessing the intervention of God, in order to justify the nobility of the lineages. It is true that they are now rarely taken into account by genealogists themselves but for some reason this appreciation seems to be different when the subject in discussion is heraldry.


Our attitude won't be as strict as for the first case, nor so condescending as for the second. We presume that traditional narratives associated with heraldry must always be considered in the study of the pragmatics surrounding every armorial creation; frequently they are the only link remaining beyond the visual traces. But it doesn't mean we should assign them the character of unquestionable premises. Nevertheless, a quite reasonable number of arms showed plausible common interfaces when analysed and compared regarding such narratives. The present state of investigation allows recommending and encouraging the study of this common ground in order to turn them into justifications that reinforce our hypotheses. However, no occurrence already approached guarantees an absolute agreement between the described facts and the semantics of the respective heraldic framework subject to our methodology.


D. Afonso Henriques

Furthermore, the expressive mechanisms are quite distinct. The parophonic model looks for a methodological structure, in which every explanation of the visual traces is based in a scarce number of metonymical propositions, suitable to each individual occurrence. Traditional models, in turn, use all the resources of the language to tell a story, being authentic or not, adjusted to the visual elements of the corresponding coat of arms.


In brief, by accepting the statements once proposed in the thesis, they would represent, in fact, the recovery of a tradition now lost or consumed by time. We can't affirm, therefore, that it contradicts tradition; instead it only presents a new version of the facts. And as when we don't know the absolute truth, truth doesn't seem to be exclusive, we may only guarantee that, in average, most of the results in the thesis differ from the former traditional versions, even though agreeing with them in some particular points.

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Published at 11:42

Objection II - The Use of Latin

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 16.03.12

Q: How can we justify the use of Latin with heraldic parophonies?


A: At first sight it seems unjustifiable the use of Medieval Latin in heraldry, as there is no mention of its use with any canting arms. However, it is advisable to make clear that the "decision" to classify a primitive coat of arms as canting appears a long time after its birth. The awareness of the classifier is affected by expectations and determinants, which, almost certainly, excluded the consideration of a language other than his own. It doesn't clarify the primitive intentions or the accordance with other blazons. Even if restrained to an assigned sphere of influence they remain coherent, for the most part, with the interpretation of the parophonic method proposed here.


It is fundamental to understand that the synchronic cultural environment defines the appearance of the shield. A narrow time gap, where the heraldic traces used in the final composition contain the identity of authors, their domains, vassalages, genealogies and also their forms of communication. We recognize that Latin was the language of choice for many written documents in the past, markedly in those regions where romances were established. It was only natural to use it with another form of written expression, in spite of the visual emphasis: canting arms.


We called this type of parophonic verbalization lingua franca, mimicking, in the broad sense, an already consecrated terminology. Medieval Latin was in fact a mediator between people of different languages, harmonizing the exchange of information, ideas and traditions of religious, literary and scientific subjects. Whereas Romance replaces it gradually in some cultures, like Portugal, in others it competes with other verbalizers: Anglo-Norman and English go along with Latin in England. Being different from Classic Latin, many times it represents whatever is written de facto, integrating new elements supplied to the local vocabulary by its own formative sources and sometimes by exotic cultures. 


As a declined language used with heraldic parophony, consequently free from phrasal restrictions, it could encourage some linguistic liberalities, making the pairing of phonemes easier. We can't tell for sure if there was any explicit rule for choosing Latin to build a coat of arms, beyond a personal preference or the circumstantial use of varying degrees of opportunism in order to establish a parophony.

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Published at 12:57

Objection I - The Clustered Plates

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 24.02.12

Q: Wouldn't the occurrence of plates, clustered as in a pinecone during the same period studied in the thesis, refute your proposition?

A: These escutcheons, compared to grapes or pinecones by Baron Pinoteau, appear as an agglomeration of plates inside the escutcheon, in a much larger quantity than the typical eleven. The fact that they do exist is inconsistent with the solution given in the thesis, I concede, disagreeing, however, on its refutation. As these studies don't belong to the field of exact sciences but instead to human sciences, other factors must be taken into consideration, inevitably.

I believe that during the initial establishment of those symbols some indecision may have transformed the main idea. Either because the referents' metonymy has changed, as I suspect it has occurred with the carbuncle - still recalling Guimarães - or because the referent had a different motivation, as in the maravedis of Sancho I - celebrating the census paid to the Holy See - or even because the verbal accommodation leaded to an alternative perception, as it seems to be the case for the cluster of plates. Another factor to influence that hesitation, patent in the design of the seals, must have been the early birth of the Portuguese coat of arms. As there wasn't a harmonic regulation, embodied later in the institution of the officers of arms, it would still be acceptable to exhibit distinct versions for the same referent. Moreover they seem to appear first in the remote Flanders where triangular Portuguese escutcheons were documented, for example.

Those representations, although keeping the denominant in the parophony Mondeci ~ Undecim, would not produce the usual eleven plates or beads. The designant changed and, consequently, the heraldic trace also has changed, this time using Mondeci ~ M Undecim (lat. one thousand and eleven). As it was unfeasible to draw such a number explicitly, a figurative metonymy was applied: the cluster of plates. Calling it a semé, as proposed by the Marquis of Abrantes, would mean the same: an uncountable quantity.

See about this subject:


PINOTEAU, H. - Nouvelles Recherches sur les Origines des Armes de Portugal - in Genealogia e Heráldica: Actas do 17º Congresso Internacional das Ciências Genealógica e Heráldica , Lisbon: Instituto Português de Heráldica, 1989 , Vol. II, pp. 421–442.


TÁVORA, L. G. de Lancastre e - Apontamentos de Armaria Medieval Portuguesa VII: Da Origem das Armas de Portugal (à Guisa de Recensão) - Armas e Troféus, Instituto Português de Heráldica, Lisbon, V Série - Tomos III e IV, pp. 49–97, 1982–1983.

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Published at 15:16

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