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   Language scholars

Sir William Jones (1746-1794) was an English judge in foreign service in India. Jones was the first modern scholar to insist on the relatedness of most of the Indo-European languages, using sound philological techniques. He showed that Sanskrit, Greek, Latin along with the Germanic and Celtic languages were related to each other. Jones was quickly followed by others such as Rasmus Rask and Jakob Grimm who established the science of comparative philology.

Karl Brugmann (1849-1919) is one of the most prominent German Indo-Europeanists of the second half of the 19th century and a central figure in the Neogrammarian school. His linguistic work is remarkable for its comprehensiveness and thoroughness. He is known for his Grundriß der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen ‘An outline of the comparative grammar of the Indo-Germanic languages’ (1886-1892) (co-authored with Berthold Delbrück, 1842-1922) and his Kurze vergleichende Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen ‘Short comparative grammar of the Indo-Germanic languages’ (1904).

John O’Donovan (1806-1861) was born at Attateemore, Co. Kilkenny. He received an education at a local hedge school and later on in Waterford. After a brief period running a hedge school of his own he left for Dublin in 1823 where he continued his classical education with a view to entering the priesthood. He never took up orders but during the 1830s he travelled widely in Ireland collecting language and folklore material as part of his work for the Ordnance Survey Office in Dublin. Later, in the 1840s, O’Donovan worked academically preparing an edition of Annals of the Four Masters. Nowadays he is chiefly known for his A Grammar of the Irish Language which appeared in 1845.

Johann Kaspar Zeuß (1806-1856) is commonly regarded as the founder of Celtic Studies as a modern academic discipline. He was born in Franconia, went to school in Bamberg and studied in Munich. After working as a secondary school teacher for a while he accepted an offer of a professorship in Munich, but for reasons of ill health he relinquished this and returned to Bamberg. His main publication is his monumental Grammatica Celtica published (in Latin) in 1853 shortly before his death. A second edition appeared 1871 which was revised by H. Ebel.

Ernst Windisch (1844-1918) was a German Indo-European scholar who was born in Dresden and who worked at the University of Leipzig. He is remembered for his work on Old Irish, set out in two publications, his Kurzgefaßte irische Grammatik [Concise Irish grammar] (1879) and his Handbuch der irischen Grammatik [Handbook of Irish grammar] (1883). Somewhat later he published a book on the Táin, Die altirische Heldensage Táin Bó Cuailnge nach dem Buch von Leinster [The Irish heroic tale Táin Bó Cuailnge from the Book of Leinster] (1905).

Holger Pedersen (1867-1953) a Danish linguist who wrote many books on language, including several on Celtic linguistics but also on distant linguistic relationships and coined the term Nostratic for the assumed mega-language family which is supposed to incorporate many established families including Indo-European. He studied in Copenhagen and was later appointed professor there. In the 1890s he travelled to Ireland and spent time on the Aran Islands gathering material for the study of lenition, Aspirationen i Irsk ‘Lenition in Irish’. Pedersen’s major work is the three volume historical grammar of Celtic, Vergleichende Grammatik der keltischen Sprachen (3 vols, 1913). A concise version of this appeared in English as Henry Lewis and Holger Pedersen A concise comparative Celtic grammar (1937, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht).

Eoin Mac Neill (1867-1945) is best known today for his part in the struggle for Irish independence which preceded the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922. But he was also an academic and in 1908 he was appointed professor of early Irish history in University College Dublin. Mac Neill’s Law is named after him and refers to the situation in which a sonorant which appears in the coda of a syllable with a short unstressed vowel and whose onset is itself a sonorant (l, n, r) is then ‘strengthened’ to a double sonorant. This accounts, for instance, for the genitive Érenn from the nominative Ériu ‘Ireland’ in Old Irish.

Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890-1938) was a Russian phonologist who began his studies in Moscow but who, after the revolution of 1917, fled to the West, to Vienna, where he taught Slavic phonology from 1922 to his death in 1938. He is the single most important figure of the Prague School and his main work is the Gundzüge der Phonologie ‘Foundations of phonology’ which became the fundamental work for what was later distinctive feature phonology as developed by Roman Jakobson, Morris Halle and Noam Chomsky. The principles laid out in Trubetzkoy’s book underlie phonological investigations to this day.

Rudolf Thurneysen (1857-1940) was born in Basel, was educated there and studied classical languages in Basel, Leipzig and Berlin. He specialised in Romance and Celtic languages and worked for a time at the University of Jena and then at the University of Freiburg. From 1913 to 1923 he taught as professor of Indo-European linguistics at Bonn University. Thurneysen is known today for his work on Celtic, above all for his milestone grammar of the early stages of Irish which appeared as Handbuch des Altirischen in 1909 and which was later translated into English, appearing in 1946 as A grammar of Old Irish.

Daniel Jones (1881-1967) was the most prominent English phonetician in the first half of the 20th century. He was born in London and studied mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1905/6 he studied phonetics in Paris under Paul Passy and on his return took up an appointment at University College London and remained there. From 1921 to 1949 he was professor of phonetics. Jones was the first to describe rigorously the (standard) sociolect of British English which he termed ‘Received Pronunciation’. His two main books in this connection are An outline of English phonetics (1918 with later revisions) and An English pronouncing dictionary (1917 with later revisions). Jones had contact with Irish scholars such as T. F. O’Rahilly and advised them on how to construct the phonetic studies of Irish which appeared in the 1940s and 1950s.

Julius Pokorny (1887-1970) was born in Prague and studied at Vienna. He quickly advanced academically and in 1920 became professor for Celtic in Berlin which he had to give up in 1935 because of his Jewish ancestry. Pokorny is known both for his work on Indo-European and on Celtic. In the former area he published a key work, his Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wórterbuch (‘Indo-European Etymological Dictionary’, 1959), and in the latter area many articles and a grammar of Old Irish, Altirische Grammatik. (1969, Berlin: de Gruyter).

Thomas Francis O’Rahilly (1883-1953), born in Kerry and educated at Blackrock College and at University College Dublin. He wrote extensively on early Irish history and mythology. His most important contribution to Celtic linguistics is Irish Dialects Past and Present (1932, Dublin: Browne and Nolan) which remains in use to this day. O’Rahilly was latterly appointed senior professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and encouraged other scholars to produce phonetic studies of the main Irish-speaking regions.

Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson (1909-1991), an English scholar who initially studied and worked at the University of Cambridge. Then he moved to Harvard and was the first to hold the chair of Celtic there. He returned to Europe in 1950 to take up the chair of Celtic languages at the University of Edinburgh in 1950 where he remained until his retirement. His major book publications are the following: Language and history in early Britain: A chronological survey of the Brittonic languages, first to twelfth century A.D. (1953, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press), Contributions to the study of Manx phonology (1955, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press), The oldest Irish tradition: A window on the Iron Age (1964, Cambridge: University Press), A historical phonology of Breton (1967, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies). He also wrote on the early stages of Scottish Gaelic.

Heinrich Wagner (1923-1988) was born in Switzerland and educated there. He studied Celtic and Indo-European philology and came to support interpretations of common features among languages as deriving from their close geographical proximity. The notion of Sprachbund, which goes back to Trubetzkoy (see above), lies behind his major book publication Das Verbum in den Sprachen der britischen Inseln [The verb in the languages of the British Isles] (1959, Túbingen: Niemeyer). Wagner is known to Irish scholars for his detailed study of the Irish of Teileann, south-west Co. Donegal and, most of all, for his monumental four-volume work, Linguistic atlas and survey of Irish dialects (1958-64, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies).

Tomás de Bhaldraithe (1916-1996) was a major scholar and lexicographer of Irish. His major book publications include The Irish of Chois Fhairrge, Co. Galway (1945, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies) and Gaeilge Chois Fhairrge. An deilbhíocht. [The Irish of Cois Fhairrge. The morphology] (1953, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies). de Bhaldraithe made an equally important contribution to the language with his English-Irish Dictionary (1957, Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair). He held the chair of modern Irish at University College Dublin from 1960 onwards.

   Literary scholars and writers

Kuno Meyer (1858-1919)

Douglas Hyde (1860-1949)

Patrick Pearse (1879-1916)

Martín Ó Cadhain (1906-1970)

Tomás Ó Criomhthain (1856-1937)

Peig Sayers (1873-1958)

Martín Ó Direáin (1919-1988)

Liam O’Flaherty (1896-1984)

Peadar Ua Laoghaire (1839-1920)

Padraic Ó Conaire (1881-1929)

Seán Ó Riordáin (1916-1977)