Franz Bopp (September 14, 1791, Mainz – October 23, 1867, Berlin) was a German linguist known for extensive comparative work on Indo-European languages.
He was born at Mainz, but owing to the political disarray of the time, his parents moved to Aschaffenburg in Bavaria. There, he received a liberal education at the Lyceum, and Karl J. Windischmann drew his attention to the languages and literature of the East (Windischmann, along with Georg Friedrich Creuzer, Johann Joseph von Görres, and the brothers Schlegel, expressed great enthusiasm for Indian wisdom and philosophy). Moreover, Friedrich Schlegel's book, Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Speech and Wisdom of the Indians, Heidelberg, 1808), which had just begun to exert 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 devoting himself vigorously to the study of Sanskrit. There he enjoyed the society of such eminent men as Antoine-Léonard de Chézy, Silvestre de Sacy, Louis Mathieu Langlès, and, above all, of Alexander Hamilton (1762–1824) [not the U.S. statesman], who had acquired, when in India, an acquaintance with Sanskrit, and had brought out, along with Langlès, a descriptive catalogue of the Sanskrit manuscripts of the Imperial library. In the library, Bopp had access not only to the rich collection of Sanskrit manuscripts (mostly brought from India by Jean François Pons in the early 18th century) but also to the Sanskrit books which had up to that time been issued from the Calcutta and Serampore presses.
The first paper from his four years' study in Paris appeared in Frankfurt am Main in 1816, under the title of Über das Conjugationssystem der Sanskritsprache in Vergleichung mit jenem der griechischen, lateinischen, persischen und germanischen Sprache (On the Conjugation System of Sanskrit in comparison with that of Greek, Latin, Persian and Germanic) (Windischmann contributed a preface). In this first book Bopp entered at once the path on which he would focus the philological researches of his whole subsequent life. He did not need to prove the common parentage of Sanskrit with Persian, Greek, Latin and German, for previous scholars had long established that; but he aimed to trace the common origin of those languages' grammatical forms, of their inflections from composition – a task which no predecessor had 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.
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