William Jones (philologist)

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Sir William Jones (28 September 1746 – 27 April 1794) was an English philologist and scholar of ancient India, particularly known for his proposition of the existence of a relationship among Indo-European languages. He was also the founder of the Asiatic Society.



Jones was born in London at Beaufort Buildings, Westminster; his father (also named William Jones) was a mathematician from Anglesey in north Wales, noted for devising the use of the symbol pi. The young William Jones was a linguistic prodigy, learning Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew and the basics of Chinese writing at an early age.[1] By the end of his life he knew thirteen languages thoroughly and another twenty-eight reasonably well, making him a hyperpolyglot.

Though his father died when he was only three, Jones was still able to go to Harrow in September 1753 and on to Oxford University. He graduated from University College, Oxford in 1768 and became M.A. in 1773. Too poor, even with his award, to pay the fees, he gained a job tutoring the seven-year-old Lord Althorp, son of Earl Spencer and as such an ancestor of Princess Diana. He embarked on a career as a tutor and translator for the next six years. During this time he published Histoire de Nader Chah (1770), a French translation of a work originally written in Persian by Mirza Mehdi Khan Astarabadi. This was done at the request of King Christian VII of Denmark who had visited Jones - who by the age of 24 had already acquired a reputation as an orientalist. This would be the first of numerous works on Persia, Turkey, and the Middle East in general.

In 1770, he joined the Middle Temple and studied law for three years, which would eventually lead him to his life-work in India; after a spell as a circuit judge in Wales, and a fruitless attempt to resolve the issues of the American Revolution in concert with Benjamin Franklin in Paris, he was appointed puisne judge to the Supreme Court of Bengal on 4 March 1783, and on 20 March he was knighted. In April 1783 he married Anna Maria Shipley, the eldest daughter of Dr. Jonathan Shipley, Bishop of Landaff and Bishop of St Asaph. On 25 September 1783 he arrived in Calcutta.

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