The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Bopp, Franz

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Edition of 1920. See also Franz Bopp on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

BOPP, Franz, German philologist: b. Mainz, Germany, 14 Sept. 1791; d. Berlin, 23 Oct. 1867. He has been called “the founder of comparative philology,” and it seems wholly true, as was said at the time of his death, that, but for him, the science of language might not have elevated itself so soon or so indisputably to a height deserving the title of science. A distinguished English scholar who had studied under Bopp showed in the following tribute how deeply the merit of his old instructor was appreciated: “Bopp must, more or less, directly or indirectly, be the teacher of all who at the present day study, not this language or that language, but language itself — study it either as a universal function of man, subjected, like his other mental or physical functions, to law and order, or else as an historical development, worked out by a never ceasing course of education from one form into another.” (Consult Martineau, R., ‘Obituary of Franz Bopp,’ in Transactions of the Philological Society, London 1867, pp. 305-14). He received the higher portions of his education at Aschaffenburg, devoting himself specially to the study of the languages of the East because correct reasoning made it clear that, if anything was to be discovered respecting the relations of languages and races, investigation of the oldest accessible forms of speech offered the best prospect of success. At Aschaffenburg his instructor was Windischmann, but to study Sanskrit Bopp went to Paris in 1812. There he spent five years of laborious study, almost living in the libraries of Paris and unmoved by the turmoils that agitated all the world around him, comprising Napoleon's escape, the Waterloo campaign and the Restoration. Antoine Léonard de Chezy was his chief instructor then. In 1816 he had made sufficient progress to publish a treatise ‘On the System of Conjugation in Sanskrit, compared with the Greek, Latin, Persian and German Languages,’ which is particularly interesting because it shows the early adoption of the essential principles that were fully worked out much later in his famous ‘Comparative Grammar.’ For some time in 1817 he resided in London and used the libraries there; in 1818 he went to Göttingen and continued his studies in the library of its university; and he received, in 1821, his appointment as professor of Oriental literature and general philology at the University of Berlin. He held this post till death. Estimating, and with intimate acquaintance appreciating, his former teacher's achievements, Russell Martineau wrote: “Bopp's Sanskrit studies and Sanskrit publications are the solid foundations upon which his system of comparative grammar was erected, and without which that could not have been perfect. For that purpose, far more than a mere dictionary knowledge of Sanskrit was required. The resemblances which he detected between Sanskrit and the Western cognate tongues existed in the syntax, the combination of words in the sentence and the various devices which only actual reading of the literature could disclose, far more than in the mere vocabulary. As a comparative grammarian he was much more than as a Sanskrit scholar,” and yet “it is surely much that he made the grammar, formerly a maze of Indian subtilty, as simple and attractive as that of Greek or Latin, introduced the study of the easier works of Sanskrit literature and trained (personally or by his books) pupils who could advance far higher, invade even the most intricate parts of the literature and make the Vedas intelligible. The great truth which his ‘Comparative Grammar’ established was that of the mutual relations of the connected languages. Affinities had before him been observed between Latin and German, between German and Slavonic, etc., yet all attempts to prove one the parent of the other had been found preposterous.” Fortunately we have Bopp's own opinion on this subject, expressed in his own words; for in an English essay he declared his views as follows: “I do not believe the Greek, Latin and other European languages are to be considered as derived from the Sanskrit in the state in which we find it in Indian books; I feel rather inclined to consider them altogether (obviously meaning all together) as subsequent variations of one original tongue, which, however, the Sanskrit has preserved more perfect than its kindred dialects.” Appended to the cited paper in the ‘Transactions’ is a list of the writings of Professor Bopp, the titles grouped as 21 main items with 11 entries of later editions or translations. We mention a few representative works: Bopp, F., ‘Ausführliches Lehrgebäude der Sanskrit-Sprache’ (Berlin 1827); ‘Comparative Grammar of the Sanskrit, Zend, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, Gothic, German and Slavonic Languages,’ translated by E. B. Eastwick (2d ed., London 1856); ‘Über das Conjugationsystem in Vergleichung,’ etc. (Frankfurt-a-M. 1816); ‘Über die Verwandtschaft der Malayisch-Polynesischen Sprachen mit den Indisch-Europaischen’ (Berlin 1841); ‘Vergleichendes Accentuations-system des Sanskriti und Griechischen’ (Berlin 1854); and ‘Vergleichende Zergliederung des Sanskrits und der mit ihm verwandten Sprachen’ (Berlin 1824). On the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first work, his colleagues and scholars founded the Bopp Foundation in Berlin (1866) to promote the study of comparative philology.