Biographical sketch of Karl Brugmann

by Suzanne Kemmer

Karl Brugmann. 1849-1919. Karl Brugmann was one of the preeminent Indo-Europeanists in the heydey of Indo-European studies in the late 19th-early 20th centuries and a founder of the Neogrammarian school. His article on nasals in Proto-Indo-European (1876), in which he showed that nasals could form the nucleus of the syllable in the parent language (along with other sonorants like r and l), was immediately convincing and immediately swept away the mistaken idea of the 'zero-grade' of the Indo-European vowel which had been standard doctrine since Grimm. After his co-editor of one of the main journals of comparative linguistics, Georg Curtius, essentially stopped publication to get rid of him and his new ideas about linguistic methodology, Brugmann co-founded the journal Morphologische Untersuchungen with Hermann Osthoff. The famous preface to this journal (really a series for the publication of their own work), written by Brugmann but signed by both, was a bold statement of new principles for establishing the methodological foundations of the field, which brought ferment to the field and had a lasting seminal influence.

Brugmann edited this journal or series for 9 years (1878-1887). He then became a professor of Sanskrit and comparative linguistics at the University of Leipzig. There he founded, with Wilhelm Streitberg, the journal Indogermanische Forschungen ("Indo-European Investigations"), whose first issue appeared in 1891. The journal remains the principal journal of Indo-European linguistics through the present day.

Brugmann continued in Leipzig for the rest of his career, until his death after the first world war. Leipzig, under his influence, became a great center for Indo-European linguistics. Brugmann was a tirelessly productive researcher, producing more than 400 articles and books. His most enduring contribution is the monumental Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatick der indogermanschen Sprachen (Outline of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages), which he co-produced in five volumes with Bertold Delbrück and whose first edition appeared in parts from 1886 to 1893. Brugmann wrote the two volumes on phonology and morphology, an original synthesis of the state of the art at the time and containing much original research of his own as well. The three volumes on syntax, which like Brugmann's volumes, simultaneously synthesized the field to date and provided extensive original contributions, were written by his younger friend and collaborator Delbrück. Brugmann published a revised and enlarged second edition of the Grundriss between 1897 and 1916, updating the work with current scholarship and expanding his original two volumes on phonology and morphology to four.

The Encyclopedia Britannica accurately sums up the importance of this work: "Not only has the Grundriss remained probably the most authoritative grammar ever written, but it also stands as one of the great schemes of knowledge concerning the Indo-European languages."

Sources and references

Brugmann, Karl. 1876. Nasalis sonans in der indogermanischen Grundsprache. Curtius Studien 9, 287-338. Translated in Winfred P. Lehmann, ed. 1967, A Reader in Nineteenth Century Historical Indo-European Linguistics, Chapter 13. This version online at Brugmann's "Nasalis sonans".

Pedersen, Holger. 1931. [1962]. The Discovery of Language: Linguistic Science in the 19th Century. Translated by John Webster Spargo. Midland Book edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Article on Karl Brugmann. Encyclopedia Britannica, from Encylopedia Britannica Premium Service, Last accessed 22 Feb 2008.

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