12 October, 2006

Three language books

I bought some books yesterday: John Wilkins' Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (1668), the Yale Samuel Johnson on the English Language, and a Kessinger reprint of Franz Bopp's Comparative Grammar (1833, translated 1845). I didn't think of it at the time, but in hindsight there is an attractive logic to this choice—each book encapsulates the linguistic work of its century. Wilkins' work is the pinnacle of the universal language movement of the 1650s and 60s, and will sit happily on my shelf beside similar texts by Cave Beck, Comenius and George Dalgarno, as well as Urquhart's genre parody in The Jewel. Johnson represents the 18th-century development of lexicography and gentlemanly scholarship, a bedfellow of James Harris, Monboddo, Pope, and later Horne Tooke—and, for his understanding of the language, a significant advance on Skinner, but still some way short of Skeat. Bopp's text is the first great monument of the scientific linguistics of the 19th century, and almost single-handedly laid the foundations of modern Indo-European philology. I've read summaries and abridgements of his work before, but this is the gold, and it will be a joy to have this and the other two books in my burgeoning collection of pre-Chomskyan linguistics. I'm particularly interested in 19th-century England, with its ambivalent attitude (in linguistics as in Biblical criticism) towards the new German science, and maybe, when all this Plutarch nonsense is over, I'll write a book on it.


Andrew W. said...

wow - Bopp's Comparative Grammar is a paradigm shifting work, perhaps the final nail in the coffin of General Grammar until Chomsky, in a way.

While we wait for the book, some nice posts on Bopp would be a delight.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Ah, I didn't know this was your thing, ALT, but I'm delighted to hear that it is, and will try and rustle up something.