Carl Friedrich Michael Meinhof (July 23, 1857 – February 11, 1944) was a German linguist and one of the first linguists to study African languages.
Early years and career
Meinhof was born in Barzwitz near Rügenwalde in the Province of Pomerania. He studied at the University of Tübingen and at the University of Greifswald. In 1905 he became professor at the School of Oriental Studies in Berlin.
His most notable work was developing comparative grammar studies of the Bantu languages, building on the pioneering work of Wilhelm Bleek. In his work, Meinhof looked at the common Bantu languages such as Swahili and Zulu to determine similarities and differences.
In his work, Meinhof looked at noun classes with all Bantu languages having at least 10 classes and with 22 classes of nouns existing throughout the Bantu languages, though his definition of noun class differs slightly from the accepted one. While no language has all 22 (later: 23) classes active, Venda has 20, Lozi has 18, and Luganda has 16 or 17 (depending on whether the locative class 23 e- is included). All Bantu languages have a noun class specifically for humans (sometimes including other animate beings).
Meinhof also examined other African languages, including the Kordofanian languages, Bushman, Khoikhoi and Hamitic languages.
Meinhof developed a comprehensive classification scheme for African languages. His classification was the standard one for many years (Greenberg 1955:3). It was superseded by those of Joseph Greenberg in 1955 and especially in 1963.
In 1902, Meinhof made recordings of East African music. These are among the first recordings made of traditional African music.
Carl Meinhof was the brother of Ulrike Meinhof's grandfather and thus the great-uncle of the woman who would be a founding member of the German Red Army Faction (RAF).
- Greenberg, Joseph H. 1955. Studies in African Linguistic Classification. New Haven: Compass Publishing Company.
- Greenberg, Joseph H. 1963. The Languages of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Meinhof, Carl. 1906. Grundzüge einer vergleichenden Grammatik der Bantusprachen. Berlin: Reimer.
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