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Schleicher August (1821-1868)



School/Tradition

Linguist of Indo-European languages

Research Interests

Comparative Grammar of Indo-European languages

Notable Ideas

  • he attampted to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European language.
  • he considered linguistics as part of natural science.
  • he invented a system of language classification that resembled a botanical taxonomy, tracing groups of related languages and arranging them in a genealogical tree. His model, the Stammbaumtheorie (family-tree theory), was a major development in the study of Indo-European languages.

Biography

August Schleicher was born in 1821 in Meiningen, Germany. He studied theology as well as classical and slavic languages. Influenced by G.W.F. Hegel and Charles Darwin, he formed the theory that a language is an organism, with periods of development, maturity, and decline. He invented a system of language classification that resembled a botanical taxonomy, tracing groups of related languages and arranging them in a genealogical tree. His model, the Stammbaumtheorie (“family-tree theory”), was a major development in the study of Indo-European languages. His great work was A Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European, Sanskrit, Greek and Latin Languages (1874–77), in which he attempted to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European.August Schleicher died from tuberculosis at age of 47 in Jena (Duchy Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Thuringia).

Contributions to linguistics

  • He invented a system of language classification that resembled a botanical taxonomy, tracing groups of related languages and arranging them in a genealogical tree. His model, the Stammbaumtheorie (family-tree theory), was a major development in the study of Indo-European languages.
  • Influenced by Hegel, he formed the theory that a language is an organism, with periods of development, maturity, and decline. He explicitly represented languages as perfectly natural organisms that could most conveniently be described using terms drawn from biology e.g., genus, species, and variety.
  • Schleicher is commonly recognized as the first linguist to portray language development using the figure of a tree.

Main publications

  • Compendium der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen: Kurzer Abriss der indogermanischen Ursprache, des Altindischen, Altiranischen, Altgriechischen, Altitalischen, Altkeltischen, Altslawischen, Litauischen und Altdeutschen. Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1861/62.
  • Die Deutsche Sprache. Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta, 1860.

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