Birthplace: Mainz, Germany
Location of death: Berlin, Germany
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Comparative Grammar
German philologist, born at Mainz on the 14th of September 1791. In consequence of the political troubles of that time, his parents removed to Aschaffenburg, in Bavaria, where he received a liberal education at the Lyceum. It was here that his attention was drawn to the languages and literature of the East by the eloquent lectures of Karl J. Windischmann, who, with G. F. Creuzer, J. J. Görres, and the brothers Schlegel, was full of enthusiasm for Indian wisdom and philosophy. And further, Fr. Schlegel's book, Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (Heidelberg, 1808), which was just then exerting a powerful influence on the minds of German philosophers and historians, could not fail to stimulate also Bopp's interest in the sacred language of the Hindus. In 1812 he went to Paris at the expense of the Bavarian government, with a view to devote himself vigorously to the study of Sanskrit. There he enjoyed the society of such eminent men as A. L. Chézy, S. de Sacy, L. M. Langlès, and, above all, of Alexander Hamilton (1762-1824), who had acquired, when in India, an acquaintance with Sanskrit, and had brought out, conjointly with Langlès, a descriptive catalogue of the Sanskrit manuscripts of the Imperial library. At that library Bopp had access not only to the rich collection of Sanskrit manuscripts, most of which had been brought from India by Father Pons early in the 18th century, but also to the Sanskrit books which had up to that time issued from the Calcutta and Serampore presses. The first fruit of his four years' study in Paris appeared at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1816, under the title Über das Conjugationssystem der Sanskritsprache in Vergleichung mit jenem der griechischen, lateinischen, persischen und germanischen Sprache, and it was accompanied with a preface from the pen of Windischmann. In this first book Bopp entered at once on the path on which the philological researches of his whole subsequent life were concentrated. It was not that he wished to prove the common parentage of Sanskrit with Persian, Greek, Latin and German, for that had long been established; but his object was to trace the common origin of their grammatical forms, of their inflections from composition -- a task which had never been attempted. By a historical analysis of those forms, as applied to the verb, he furnished the first trustworthy materials for a history of the languages compared.
After a brief sojourn in Germany, Bopp came to London, where he made the acquaintance of Sir Charles Wilkins and H. T. Colebrooke, and became the friend of Wilhelm von Humboldt, then Prussian ambassador at the court of St. James's, to whom he gave instruction in Sanskrit. He brought out, in the Annals of Oriental Literature (London, 1820), an essay entitled, "Analytical Comparison of the Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and Teutonic Languages", in which he extended to all parts of the grammar what he had done in his first book for the verb alone. He had previously published a critical edition, with a Latin translation and notes, of the story of Nala and Damayanti (London, 1819), the most beautiful episode of the Mahabhahrata. Other episodes of the Mahabharata -- Indralokagamanam, and three others (Berlin, 1824); Diluvium, and three others (Berlin, 1829); and a new edition of Nala (Berlin, 1832) -- followed in due course, all of which, with A. W. Schlegel's edition of the Bhagavadgita (1823), proved excellent aids in initiating the early student into the reading of Sanskrit texts. On the publication, in Calcutta, of the whole Mahabharata, Bopp discontinued editing Sanskrit texts, and confined himself from that point exclusively to grammatical investigations.
After a short residence at Göttingen, Bopp was, on the recommendation of Humboldt, appointed to the chair of Sanskrit and comparative grammar at Berlin in 1821, and was elected member of the Royal Prussian Academy in the following year. He brought out, in 1827, his Ausführliches Lehrgebäude der Sanskrita-Sprache, on which he had been engaged since 1821. A new edition, in Latin, was commenced in the following year, and completed in 1832; and a shorter grammar appeared in 1834. At the same time he compiled a Sanskrit and Latin glossary (1830) in which, more especially in the second and third editions (1847 and 1867), account was also taken of the cognate languages. His chief activity, however, centered on the elaboration of his Comparative Grammar, which appeared in six parts at considerable intervals (Berlin, 1833, 1835, 1842, 1847, 1849, 1852), under the title Vergleichende Grammatik des Sanskrit, Zend, Griechischen, Lateinischen, Litthauischen, Altslavischen, Gothischen, und Deutschen. How carefully this work was matured may be gathered from the series of monographs printed in the Transactions of the Berlin Academy (1824 to 1831), by which it was preceded. They bear the general title, Vergleichende Zergliederung des Sanskrits und der mit ihm verwandten Sprachen. Two other essays (on the "Numerals", 1835) followed the publication of the first part of the Comparative Grammar. The Old-Slavonian began to take its stand among the languages compared from the second part onwards. The work was translated into English by E.B. Eastwick in 1845. A second German edition, thoroughly revised (1856-61), comprised also the Old-Armenian. From this edition an excellent French translation was made by Professor Michel Bréal in 1866. The task which Bopp endeavored to carry out in his Comparative Grammar was threefold -- to give a description of the original grammatical structure of the languages as deduced from their intercomparison, to trace their phonetic laws, and to investigate the origin of their grammatical forms. The first and second points were subservient to the third. As Bopp's researches were based on the best available sources, and incorporated every new item of information that came to light, so they continued to widen and deepen in their progress. Witness his monographs on the vowel system in the Teutonic languages (1836), on the Celtic languages (1839), on the Old Prussian (1853) and Albanian languages (1854), on the accent in Sanskrit and Greek (1854), on the relationship of the Malayo-Polynesian with the Indo-European languages (1840), and on the Caucasian languages (1846). In the two last mentioned the impetus of his genius led him on a wrong track. Bopp has been charged with neglecting the study of the native Sanskrit grammars, but in those early days of Sanskrit studies the requisite materials were not accessible in the great libraries of Europe; and if they had been, they would have absorbed his exclusive attention for years, while such grammars as those of Wilkins and Colebrooke, from which his grammatical knowledge was derived, were all based on native grammars. The further charge that Bopp, in his Comparative Grammar, gave undue prominence to Sanskrit may be disproved by his own words; for, as early as the year 1820, he gave it as his opinion that frequently the cognate languages serve to elucidate grammatical forms lost in Sanskrit (Annals of Or. Lit. I, 3),an opinion which he further developed in all his subsequent writings.
Bopp's researches, carried with wonderful penetration into the most minute and almost microscopic details of linguistic phenomena, have led to the opening up of a wide and distant view into the original seats, the closer or more distant affinity, and the tenets, practices and domestic usages of the ancient Indo-European nations, and the science of comparative grammar may truly be said to date from his earliest publication. In grateful recognition of that fact, on the fiftieth anniversary (May 16, 1866) of the date of Windischmann's preface to that work, a fund called Die Bopp-Stiftung, for the promotion of the study of Sanskrit and comparative grammar, was established at Berlin, to which liberal contributions were made by his numerous pupils and admirers in all parts of the globe. Bopp lived to see the results of his labors everywhere accepted, and his name justly celebrated. But he died, on the 23rd of October 1867, a poor man -- though his genuine kindliness and unselfishness, his devotion to his family and friends, and his rare modesty, endeared him to all who knew him.
Professor: University of Berlin (1821-)
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