CUED Publications database


Tomalin, M (2017) Language. In: Historicism and the Human Sciences in Victorian Britain. UNSPECIFIED, pp. 77-104.

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The language sciences in Victorian Britain constitute a daunting topic for academic enquiry, and only a small number of well-known preoccupations and projects have received considerable scholarly attention over the years. These include the influence of diachronic Teutonic comparative and historical linguistics (à la Franz Bopp and Jacob Grimm), the increasingly sophisticated analysis of ‘Anglo-Saxon’, the search for universal linguistic laws, the prescriptive grammar textbook tradition, the remarkable lexicographical labours that resulted in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the gradual institutionalisation of language study and the development of theories concerning linguistic evolution. Such topics undeniably characterised the period 1837-1901, as attested in Anna Morpurgo Davies’ authoritative overview: the main concern of the century is with linguistic history and linguistic comparison. The main achievements are, on the one hand, the establishment of a set of discovery procedures which are used to classify languages from a genetic point of view in language families … on the other hand, the collection and classification … of an immense amount of linguistic data and philosophical material. Scholars such as Christine Ferguson have bolstered this kind of assessment by observing that ‘[t]he period continues to be viewed as a predominantly historical, empirical, and often nationalistic interlude between the whimsical speculations of the eighteenth-century philosophical tradition and the revolutionary semiotics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the Neogrammarians’. Many of these tendencies can, of course, be traced back to the influence of German linguists in the early nineteenth century, and especially Franz Bopp and Jacob Grimm. Bopp’s interest in comparative linguistics had been piqued by Friedrich Schlegel’s Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians, 1808). He studied Sanskrit in Paris and his first publication, Über das Conjugationssystem der Sanskritsprache (On the Sanskrit Conjunction System, 1816), attempted to demonstrate that certain verbal forms in Greek, Latin, Persian and Sanskrit shared a common ancestor. In subsequent work he extended this analysis to the whole language system, and published his monumental Vergleichende Grammatik (Comparative Grammar, 6 parts, 1833-52).

Item Type: Book Section
Divisions: Div F > Machine Intelligence
Depositing User: Cron Job
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2018 01:55
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2021 22:33
DOI: 10.1017/9781316711286.004