The Formation of Neogrammarian (Leipzig) School of Linguistics

The Formation of Neogrammarian (Leipzig) School of Linguistics

The leading linguistic trend since the 70s of the XIX century became a school of German scholars under the title “Neogrammarians” the most outstanding representatives of which were August Leskin (1840-1916), Herman Osthoff (1847-1909), Karl Brugmann (1849-1919), Herman Paul (1846-1921), Berthold Delbruck (1842-1922). The primary centre of Neogrammarianism was Leipzig University, later the scholars of this trend departed and worked at different German universities founding their own schools there. At first Neogrammarians had to struggle with comparativists of the older school, but gradually their ideas became predominant in German and then in world Linguistics (the whole XIX and the beginning of the XX century Linguistics was considered a “German science” to a large extent). Neogrammarianism dominated since the 70-ies to 1910 inclusive though not all the scholars shared its conception.

For the first time theoretical views of Neogrammarians were clearly formulated in the book by H. Osthoff and K. Brugmann “Morphological Researches in the Indo-Germanic Languages” in 6 volumes, and especially in the preface to it under the title “Manifesto of Neogrammarianism”, which is entirely polemical with F. Bopp’s direct followers and A. Schleicher. They did not share Schleicher’s stage ideas and the thesis about “the decline” of all languages uncorroborated with facts as well as an excessive deviation to “prehistory” of Proto-Indo-European. H. Osthoff and K. Brugmann called not to restrict themselves only with the manuscripts. They wrote about the necessity of taking into account the material of modern languages, especially dialects and patois.

From the above said the authors of “The Manifesto” came to the conclusion that it was necessary to leave “the workshop the atmosphere of which is stuffy and full of vague hypotheses, where Indo-European proto-forms are forged” and go out into “fresh air of sensible reality and contemporaneity”. However, sharp criticism of predecessors did not mean the break with tradition but introducing clarity and developing it. They called to substitute focusing attention on protolanguage, which was evidently necessary at a certain stage, for a more equal distribution of attention among different epochs of language history.

At the end of the XIX, the beginning of the XX century and later fundamental descriptions of the history of some languages were published, traced on the basis of manuscripts of different epochs. As far as studying living languages and dialects were concerned, this did not mean at all revealing Neogrammarians’ interest cither to them in themselves or to their common structural regularities. Their studies only supplemented the analysis of manuscripts, allowing to reveal different relics of ancient phenomena, to find words and forms that had not been fixed in the manuscripts for some reason or other, and bring the compendiums in language history to contemporaneity. Having extended the material applied, Neogrammarians completed on the whole A. Schleicher’s work in the sphere of Indo-European reconstructions.