Karl Brugmann

Karl Brugmann

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Karl Brugmann was a German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 linguist. He is a towering figure in Indo-European linguistics.


He was educated at Halle and Leipzig
University of Leipzig
The University of Leipzig , located in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university in Germany...

. He was instructor in the gymnasium
Gymnasium (school)
A gymnasium is a type of school providing secondary education in some parts of Europe, comparable to English grammar schools or sixth form colleges and U.S. college preparatory high schools. The word γυμνάσιον was used in Ancient Greece, meaning a locality for both physical and intellectual...

 at Wiesbaden
Wiesbaden is a city in southwest Germany and the capital of the federal state of Hesse. It has about 275,400 inhabitants, plus approximately 10,000 United States citizens...

 and at Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

, and in 1872-77 was assistant at the Russian Institute of Classical Philology at the latter place. In 1877 he was lecturer at the University of Leipzig
University of Leipzig
The University of Leipzig , located in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university in Germany...

, and in 1882 became professor of comparative philology there. In 1884 he took the same position at the University of Freiburg
University of Freiburg
The University of Freiburg , sometimes referred to in English as the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, is a public research university located in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.The university was founded in 1457 by the Habsburg dynasty as the...

, but returned to Leipzig in 1887 as successor to Georg Curtius
Georg Curtius
Georg Curtius was a German philologist.-Biography:After an education at Bonn and Berlin, he was for three years a schoolmaster in Dresden, until he returned to Berlin University as privatdocent...

, and for the rest of his professional life (until 1919), Brugmann was professor of Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 and comparative linguistics
Comparative linguistics
Comparative linguistics is a branch of historical linguistics that is concerned with comparing languages to establish their historical relatedness....


As a young man, Brugmann sided with the emerging Neogrammarian school
The Neogrammarians were a German school of linguists, originally at the University of Leipzig, in the late 19th century who proposed the Neogrammarian hypothesis of the regularity of sound change...

, which asserted the inviolability of phonetic laws (Brugmann's law
Brugmann's law
Brugmann's law, named for Karl Brugmann, states that Proto-Indo-European in non-final syllables became *ā in open syllables in Indo-Iranian. Everywhere else the outcome was *ǎ, the same as the reflexes of PIE *e and *a...

) and adhered to a strict research methodology. As well as in laying stress on the observation of phonetic laws and their operation, it emphasized the working of analogy as an important linguistic factor in modern languages.

As joint editor with Curtius of The Studies in Greek and Latin Grammar, he wrote an article for this work on “Nasilis Sonans,” in which he defended theories so radical that Curtius afterward disclaimed them.
Brugmann's fame rests on the two volumes on phonology, morphology
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

, and word formation which he contributed to the five-volume Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen (“Outline of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages”), published from 1886 to 1893. The other three volumes were written by Berthold Delbrück
Berthold Delbrück
Berthold Gustav Gottlieb Delbrück was a German linguist who devoted himself to the study of the comparative syntax of the Indo-European languages.-Biography:...

 and provided a still-unsurpassed account of Proto-Indo-European syntax.
Brugmann's work overflowed the bounds assigned to it, so the first volume was split into two parts. With the indexes split off into a separate volume, the two volumes turned into four.

Realizing the importance of Brugmann's work, three British linguists began publishing an English translation of Brugmann's volumes almost simultaneously with the German edition, under the title Elements of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages. This divided Brugmann's second volume into two parts, making a total of five volumes including the indices.

Beginning in 1897, Brugmann began publishing a revision and expansion of his portion of the Grundriss. The final volume of the resulting second edition was published in 1916.

Brugmann's method in presenting his data was radical and can still raise eyebrows today. On most topics, instead of presenting discursive arguments, he simply listed the data which he felt were relevant. The reader was obliged to make up his own mind as to their interpretation. This totally empirical presentation multiplies the time necessary to follow Brugmann's argument, but makes the effort all the more fruitful.

Brugmann's great work did not come out of the blue. It was based on the previous Indo-Germanic grammar by August Schleicher
August Schleicher
August Schleicher was a German linguist. His great work was A Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European Languages, in which he attempted to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European language...

, and that in turn on the previous effort of Franz Bopp
Franz Bopp
Franz Bopp was a German linguist known for extensive comparative work on Indo-European languages.-Biography:...

. In addition, Brugmann stayed in touch closely with the scholars who were revolutionizing Indo-European linguistics for the daughter languages, in particular Bartholomae for Old Iranian, Hübschmann for Armenian, and Rudolf Thurneysen
Rudolf Thurneysen
Eduard Rudolf Thurneysen was a Swiss linguist and Celticist.Born in Basel, Thurneysen studied classical philology in Basel, Leipzig, Berlin and Paris. His teachers included Ernst Windisch and Heinrich Zimmer...

 for Old Irish.

In 1902-1904, Brugmann published an abridged and slightly modified version of his Grammar, which is still considered a useful reference work by some but does not contain the wealth of data of the longer versions. A French translation of this abridged version exists.

The total list of Brugmann's works is much longer than this. Some of them were important in their time and some are still of continuing interest, but it is on the two editions of the Grundriss that his reputation rests. They remain indispensable to every Indo-Europeanist and of great interest to anybody interested in language.

Brugmann was knighted by the King of Saxony, and in 1896 he was invited to attend the jubilee of Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

, where he received the degree of doctor of laws.


  • Morphologische Untersuchungen auf dem Gebiete der indogermanischen Sprachen, with Hermann Osthoff
    Hermann Osthoff
    Hermann Osthoff was a German linguist. He was involved in Indo-European studies and the Neogrammarian school. He is known for formulating the Osthoff's law.- Life :...

     (“Morphological Researches in the Indo-Germanic Languages”; 6 vols.)
  • “A Problem of Homeric Textual Criticism” (1870)
  • “Lithuanian Folk Songs and Tales” (1882)
  • “The Present Position of Philology”
  • “Greek Grammar
  • “Short Comparative Grammar” (1902)
  • "Die syntax des einfachen satzes im indogermanischen" (1925)

With Wilhelm Streitberg
Wilhelm Streitberg
Wilhelm August Streitberg was a German Indo-Europeanist, specializing in Germanic languages...

, he founded the journal Indogermanische Forschungen (“Indo-Germanic Research”)