ANTOINE COURT DE GEBELIN (1725-1784)Pastor of the Reformed Church and a
France of the American Revolution, Court de Gebelin spent many years
labor in researching and writing Monde Primitif. He argues in
favor of the existence, in primitive times, of a universal, or commonly
shared language, developed out of primitive man's organization. This
language might be recovered, argues Court de Gebelin, by a study of the
idioms of existing languages, whose dialectic variations are only
accidental. This language, he claims, was hieroglyphic. Vowels, he
argues, were used to represent sensations, consonants to represent mental
conceptions. He Maintains that once such hieroglyphs are found and
deciphered, it will be possible to unmask the secrets of the ancient
world. Monde Primitif demonstrates an encyclopaedic knowledge on
the part of the author. It concludes with etymological dictionaries of
Greek, English, and French. A portion of Monde Primitif was
published separately in Paris in 1776 under the title Histoire
Naturelle de la Parole. (Bibliothèque Nationale XXXIII:422-424;
Galland p. 48-49; Guyot p. 423)
Analysé et Comparé avec le Monde Moderne.
1773-82. 9 vols.
OTSUKI GENKAN (1785-1837)Physician and son of Otsuki Bansui, noted promoter of
Dutch studies in Japan, Genkan here offers the reader a manual on the
pronunciation of the Dutch language. Employing the Japanese syllabary
and Chinese characters, he indicates the manner in which western
languages would be pronounced. He also compares the pronunciation of
Japanese and western languages. Appended to the second volume is an
essay on the origin of the Roman alphabet. Genkan's works include
Ran'en nissho, Rangakuhan among others. (KoS 5:68)
Waon Toin taichu Seion
[Tokyo] Seireikaku, Kankado  (In Japanese characters) 2 vols., in a
JAMES HARRIS (1709-1780)Classical scholar and Member of Parliament for
Harris is best known for his Hermes. It is meaning, claims the
more complex and developed the ideas of a people are, the more complex
and developed will be its language. Harris divides all works into one
of two categories, those having significance of themselves, and those
having significance only in association with other words. Hermes
first appeared in 1751. It was translated into French by François
(1768-1832) by order of the French Directory in 1796. (Alston III (2) :
812; Guyot p. 426; NUC 232:32 (NH 0131569))
Hermes; or, A Philosophical Inquiry
concerning Universal Grammar. The third edition, revised and
London, John Nourse and Paul Vaillant,
JOHANN DAVID MICHAELIS (1717-1791)Theologian and orientalist,
first issued Dissertation in German at Bremen in 1762. His
principal interest is the interrelationship of language and thought.
Point of view, says Michaelis, is that which gives language its form.
Moreover, he maintains that the name given to a thing can inspire love or
hatred toward it, insofar as it represents that thing as good or evil.
The work concludes with a section on the possibilities of developing a
universal, artificial language. Michaelis is quite sceptical of such a
project. He maintains that an artificial language would not only be
jejune and lacking in grace, but also that it would be subject to the
same problems as any natural language, such as the tendency to split into
The ideas held by Michaelis have obtained a currency in the twentieth
century under the term "General Semantics." Developed by Alfred
Korzybski (1869-1950) in his Science and Sanity (Lancaster, Pa.,
1933), "General Semantics" has a wide following in the United States.
The views of its advocates may be found in ETC., A Review of General
Semantics (Bloomington, Ill., 1943- ), published by the
International Society for General Semantics. (Alston III (2) : 837;
Guyot p. 420; LC 99:548)
A Dissertation on the
of Opinions on Language, and of Language on Opinions.
Owen and W. Bingley, 1769.
JAMES BURNETT, LORD MONBODDO (1714-1799)Scottish judge and anthropologist, Lord Monboddo in this
work clearly reflects his own preference for ancient learning and contempt
for that of more modern date. In Origin he traces man's
development into a social state. Language is the consequence of this
social state, he claims; it is not natural to man. Included in the work
are such topics as rhetoric, comparative essays on Greek, Latin, English,
French, and Italian, and on the arrangement of words. Among the more
curious theories here presented by Monboddo is the view that orangutang
is a class of human species, its inability to speak being a mere
accident. He advocated studying man as one of the animals, and looking
at savage tribes to learn the origins of civilization. He thus
foreshadows Darwinism and shows points of contact with neo-Kantianism.
Because the publishers failed to print a sufficient number of copies,
volumes 1 and 3 were reprinted as a "second edition". This set is mixed,
having the second edition of volumes 1 and 3. (Alston III (2) : 842;
Guyot p. 424; LC 102:63; Stojan 244)
Of the Origin and
Progress of Language.
Edinburgh, J. Balfour [etc.] 1774-1809. 6
JOHN WALLIS (1616-1703)English Grammarian, cryptographer, and mathematician,
Wallis first published work in 1653. Demonstrating an acute philosophic
intellect, the work aims at describing the English language, its forms
and origin. Prefixed to the work is the short tract "De Loquela,"
describing in detail the various methods of producing articulate sounds.
The tract led him to devise a method for teaching the deaf to speak,
tested successfully on two patients. Wallis is also known for his
decipherment of royalist papers intercepted in 1642. He himself
describes this in sections inserted in An Essay on the Art of
Decyphering (London, 1737) by John Davys. (LC 159:157; Wing
Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae. Editio
quarta, prioribus auctior.
Oxford, L. Lichfield,
JOHN WILKINS, BISHOP OF CHESTER (1614-1672)One of the founders of the Royal
and its first secretary John Wilkins has been characterized by Thomas De
Quincey as "a learned man, but with a vein of romance about him."
Real Character was suggested to Wilkins by George Dalgarno's Ars
Signorum (London, 1661). The first half of this work deals with the
origin of written discussion of the origin of living things. The second
half proposes and describes a new universal language. Wilkins' scheme
employs both actions, and relationships. Its chief shortcoming,
according to Charles Kasiel Bliss, is the excessive demands placed on the
memorization by the use of symbols bearing no relationship to that for
which they stand. Wilkins is also known for his Mercury; or, The
Secret and Seift Messenger (Londond, 1641), on methods of rapid and
secret correspondence. (Alston VII:290; Galland p. 202; Guyot p. 428;
Stojan 87; Westby-Gibson p. 235; Wing W2196)
An Essay towards a
Real Character and a Philosophical Language.
London, Sa. Gellibrand
and John Martyn, 1668.
Return to the introductory page.
Special Collections Home