Language-comparative studies in the course of the 18th century

Although in early texts of Leibniz we find patriotic statements on Germanic as the origin of all of Europe’s languages, in his later works he noted the specificity of Finnish and Hun?garian (to which he seems to link Estonian and Livonian), and also of Basque. The following generations of scholars were indebted to Leibniz for his insistence on gathering documentation, and on pursuing historical-philological and etymological work (cf. his Epistola- ris de historia etymologica dissertatio, 1712). In the field of language-historical research Leibniz inspired Johann Georg Wachter and the Swede Johan Ihre (cf. 6). As to language documentation and classification, Leibniz, in advising the Jesuit father Claudio Filippo Grimaldi [1639-1712] (to whom he presented a model linguistic questionnaire in 1689) and Peter the Great (in a letter of 1713), instigated a tradition of collecting first-hand linguistic materials. Mention must be made here of contributions by: Vasily N. Tatiscev [1686-1750], who undertook a questionnaire-based survey of Siberia, the results of which were integrated and expanded upon in Johann Eberhard Fischer’s [1697-1771] Vocabularium Sibiri- cum (1747); Philipp Johann von Strahlenberg [1676-1747], who published an ethnolin- guistic description of eastern Europe and northern Asia (Das nord- und ostliche Theil von Europa und Asia, 1730); the Gottingen professor August Ludwig Schlozer [1735-1809], who conducted work on northern Germanic, on Slavic and on Finno-Ugric (and who inspired Samuel Gyarmathi’s Affinitas linguae Hungaricae cum linguis Fennicae originis grammatice demonstrata, 1799); Christoph Friedrich Nicolai [1733-1811], who in 1785 compiled a Tableau general de toutes les langues du monde (manuscript).

Three imposing language collections stand out; they were published at the end of the 18th and in the first decades of the 19th century. All three were, in different degrees, indebted to the ideas of Leibniz (who also inspired the ethnographic deepening of such enterprises, as formulated in Christian Jakob Kraus’ [1753-1807] review of Pallas’s compilation, published in Allgemeine Literatur Zeitung, 1787):

  • 1. Linguarum totius vocabularia comparativa (1787-1789, 2 vols.), basically a lexical compilation, with some text specimens, arranged by Peter Simon Pallas [1741-1811]; a second, enlarged edition was published in 1790-1791 (in 4 vols.) by Theodor/Fedor Jankovic de Miriewo [1741-1814];
  • 2. Idea dell’Universo (1778-1787, in 21 vols., of which vols. 17-21 deal with languages and writing systems), and Catalogo de las lenguas de las naciones conocidas (18001805, in 6 vols.) by the Jesuit Lorenzo Hervas y Panduro [1735-1809], which combines a geographical organization with a typological and genealogical classification;
  • 3. Mithridates oder allgemeine Sprachenkunde mit dem Vater Unser als Sprachprobe in beynahe funfhundert Sprachen und Mundarten (1806-1817, 4 vols.), started by Johann Christoph Adelung [1732-1806] and continued by Johann Severin Vater [17711826], a work consisting of short studies, combining history, typology, and grammatical characterization, on individual languages.

In spite of their numerous imperfections and of their lack of in-depth analysis, these works constitute landmarks in the history of language studies, not only for aspects of language classification, but also for details of language relationship (also extending beyond Indo-European). These compilations made scholars aware of a) the need for accurate notation of language materials to be used for comparison; b) the necessity of going beyond a comparison of words, and of paying attention to morphology and syntax; c) the importance of supplying language classification with fine-grained etymological analysis; d) the relevance of including language history together with historical anthropology and socio-cultural history in a broader scheme.

On late 18th- and early 19th-century catalogues see Adelung (1815, 1820), Gyula (1974), Haarmann (2000).

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