Register  Login  Active Topics  Maps  

Rasmus Rask (1787 - 1832)

 Language Learning Forum : Polyglots Post Reply
15 messages over 2 pages: 1
Gorgoll2
Senior Member
Brazil
veritassword.blogspo
Joined 3412 days ago

159 posts - 192 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese*

 
 Message 10 of 15
23 March 2011 at 12:34am | IP Logged 
I´m a Rask´s fan and I had studied his life, but I liked to know the his full list.

Thank you, Kulientje, I needed this explanation.
1 person has voted this message useful



Journeyer
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
tristan85.blogspot.c
Joined 5134 days ago

946 posts - 1110 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, German
Studies: Sign Language

 
 Message 11 of 15
23 March 2011 at 12:40am | IP Logged 
Gorgoll2 wrote:
I´m a Rask´s fan and I had studied his life, but I liked to know the his full list.


Agreed, and I was just about to ask this. Unfortunately the English Wiki page doesn't say which languages he was acquainted with.
1 person has voted this message useful





Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 4969 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 12 of 15
23 March 2011 at 9:42am | IP Logged 
I haven't seen a complete language list, and particularly not one that separated the languages he could speak from those he just knew more or less well. However I have read through some of the sources on the internet and made some notes.

On the Danish Wikipedia it is stated that "it was a fair number of languages with which he had worked along the way - N.M. Petersen gives rather in a rather arbitrary way the number 55. But you would be very much beside the point if you believed that he really mastered (or even cared about mastering) all these languages. He faced these languages, in details and in the great picture, as the systematizing researcher faces the multifarious objects in nature: what interests him is to find the system and to bring order in the diversity," (my translation).

So how many of these languages could he really speak (or at least write)? At least he was a fast learner - on the English Wikipedia it is stated that "In about six weeks, he made himself sufficiently master of Persian to be able to converse freely." Given the long and arduous travels he made to Europe and Asia it is fairly certain that he did pick up at least the modern languages of the places where he stayed for prolonged periods. Besides it is stated in the sources I have read (not only the Wikipedias) that he also studied with native teachers along the way, which only would make sense if he wanted to learn to speak and write their languages. And he actually wrote books and articles and (not least) letters in several different languages. With the words of the English Wiki: "In 1822, he was master of no fewer than twenty-five languages and dialects, and he is stated to have studied twice as many."

OK, which languages?

Of course Danish, but probably also all the other Nordic languages. He spoke Icelandic like a native and wrote at least one book in Swedish (his Anglosaxon grammar, which was later translated into English). Add Norwegian - I haven't seen a direct reference, but it is inconceivable that he didn't pick up the language, given the abundance of Norwegians in Copenhagen. Besides he wrote during his stay in Skt. Petersburg a paper in German on "The Languages and Literature of Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Finland," (Da.Wik.)

He knew of course Old Norse, but considered it the same language as Modern Icelandic. He knew Anglosaxon, Gothic and other old Germanic languages, but there is no proof that he spoke them. He wrote a grammar of Frisian, but it is unknown to me whether he actually spoke it. Low German? Good question, but he had every chance to learn it, given that Jutland down to Altona was under Danish rule until 1864.

Outside the Germanic languages he knew Spanish and Italian well enough to write grammars for them, and he knew both Latin and at least Old Greek like the backside of his hand. And Modern Greek? Well, Greece was still under Turkish rule, and nobody else really took the popular version spoken by the Greeks seriously at the time.

He spent time in Finland and learnt the language thoroughly, and he also studied Sami - though I haven't seen any indication that he used it actively, but he wrote a grammar. It is worth noting that according to the Danish Wiki he invented the names of some of the Finnish cases (Illativ, Inessiv, etc.).

He spent more than a year in Skt. Petersburg and learnt Russian to perfection, and here he also studied "Armenian, Arabic, Persian and other oriental languages" (Da.Wik.) - but studying is not the same thing as speaking/writing actively. However in the case of Persian it is known that he learnt the language actively on his later visit, and there he also met some Parsians who apparently taught him Zend and Pehlevi. He also learnt Sanskrit, but probably didn't try to speak it - this old Indoeuropean language was however of paramount importance for his linguistic studies.

He continued to India and studied among other things Sinhalese, Pali and an old language called Elu, and he was one of the first to accept that the Southern Indian languages had little to do with the better known languages from Northern India. Given the time he spent in situ he must have felt at least tempted to learn some of these languages, but I haven't seen the words "speak" or "write in".

Apart from these languages there are scattered references to a host of other languages, including Georgian and Greenlandic, but without any indication that he spoke these languages.

So did he actually speak 25 languages or more? It is possible, but there is no hard evidence in the articles - you would have to study his biography from real sources to get a realistic estimate.

Edited by Iversen on 23 March 2011 at 10:05am

4 persons have voted this message useful



Journeyer
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
tristan85.blogspot.c
Joined 5134 days ago

946 posts - 1110 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, German
Studies: Sign Language

 
 Message 14 of 15
23 March 2011 at 4:24pm | IP Logged 
Thank you very much for that research work, Iversen! It's reading accounts like those that get me fired up to my do my studies.
1 person has voted this message useful





Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 4969 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 15 of 15
26 August 2013 at 1:35pm | IP Logged 
The name of Rasmus Rask popped up again in a Russian text about polyglots, where it was first stated that he knew 230 languages (!), and then shortly after a more realistic number like 28 was given (see my log). When I wanted to write something more about this man I found this thread, which has valuable links, but not much background except in my own message above (from 2011). So with the Danish Biographical Dictionary as my primary source I would like to go through his short life once again to see which languages he actually may have learned along the way.

He was born in 1797 in a small village near Odense, and at birth hw was so small that he could fit into his father's clog. But he survived and learned Danish (probably the dialect of Fyn), and luckily his unusually cultured family had a lot of books, so already in 1801 he was accepted into the lowest class at the local learned school ('Latin school'), after some preparatory time with the local vicar. And in that school he was moved to the 2. class after just a few months - still just 4 years old. Here he stayed until 1807, and it is stated that apart from the subjects in the school he studied English and Icelandic on his own, the latter using a borrowed copy of Snorri Sturlasons Heimskringla in Old Norse. He even wrote a grammar on the basis of his studies, which also led him to study Anglosaxon and Gothic, plus grammatical and phonetical texts about Danish in general and about the dialect of Fyn in particular. It is not mentioned whether he also learned Latin in that school, but given the name it is likely. And given the fact that Denmark at the time comprised the whole of Schleswig-Holstein down to Altona outside Hamburg it would surprise me if German wasn't also on his study plan. But this is not stated in the text.

When left the school in Odense in 1807 (as 10 year old boy) he must have had experience with at least half a dozen languages, but which of these he could speak is anyone's guess. He began studying theology, but quit the study after two years. He had now decided to learn as many languages as possibility in order to be able to do comparative studies (which along the way made him to one of the pioneers of historical linguistics). One of his main interest at this time was the old Norse language from the sagas, which even he at this point didn't see as different from the language actually spoken on Iceland at this time. Among other things he was the editor of Halldórsson's Lexicon Islandico-Latino-Danicum (published in 1814). So he must have been quite well versed in Latin at this time.

In 1812 he travelled to Sweden, where he not only learned Swedish, but also studied Finnish with the poet Franzén, and in 1813-1815 he stayed on Icelandic, where it became obvious to him that Old Norse and Modern Icelandic weren't quite the same thing. It is said that he became so good at Icelandic that even the local people couldn't identify him as a foreigner.

When he returned to Copenhagen he got a job at the University as subordinate librarian – about the lowest level possible in the hierarchy for the brightest person in town. But he had problems getting his books published (a gold medal treatise about the origins of Old Norse, grammars for Swedish, Icelandic and Old English and a textbook for Icelandic), so he decided to undertake a new travel – this time more ambitious: he wanted to visit the Caucasus region, where he knew that the linguistical situation was extraordinarily complicated. He travelled first back to Stockholm in Sweden (1816), where he published 5 books, taught Icelandic and studied Finnish, Russian, Persian and Arabic in order to be ready for the grand tour. From Stockholm he continued through Finland (which had come under Russian rule just a few years earlier) to Skt. Petersburg in Russia, where he could add Sanskrit and other Indian languages to his list (plus of course Russian). The addition of Sanskrit made it possible for him to pursue his studies of the old languages further, and he decided for some reason to drop the Caucasus region and instead return to Copenhagen in order to go to India later on. But his sponsor P.E.Müller urged him to go directly to India. In the meantime he spent his time in Russia to help a certain Renwall with the production of a Finnish-Latin dictionary with German notes, using the names for the Finnish cases which he, Rask, had invented. And in whatever time he had left he made field studies of Aleutian (with the help of Aleutian fishers) and other languages.

The travel continued through Astrakhan, where he learned Persian and the Kalmyk language, and then he did in fact also visit Tbilisi (which as far as I know is placed in the Caucasus region), but it is not mentioned whether he used the opportunity to study the local language Georgian - the only hint is that he discussed this language in some posthumous lecture notes. And through Persia he finally come to Bombay, where he with the help of a Mr. Elphinstone and local Parsians learnt Avesta (Zend) og Pehlevi and bought a number of books in these old languages, which now are in the Royal Library of Copenhagen. He also visited other parts of India (including Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon) and became aware that the Dravidian languages of Southern India had nothing to do with the 'big' languages of Norhern India. He studied Pali, Sinhalese and Elu and even wrote asrticles about them – for instance he invented systems to transkribe the Indian writing systems and contributed a chapter about Pali pronunciation to Clough's Pali Grammar (1824). However the travel conditions at the time took their toll and when he finally returned to Copenhagen in 1823 his health had suffered a lot.

And then started the frustrating process of getting a job where he could use his extraordinary skills and knowledge. While waiting he published grammars of Italian, Frisian, Danish (in English), Sami and English (and probably wrote a lot of other works which weren't published). The professor of Oriental Languages at the Copenhagen University died in 1826, and Rask was the obvious choice as his successor, but it took several years before he got the appointment, and then it was almost too late – he died just one year later of pneumonia.

The article in the biographical lexicon mentions the trouble he ran into with some proposal for radical changes in the Danish ortohography (which may have contributed to his problems getting a relevant job), but eschews another project he nourished about making a logical common language. It does however mention his one and only article about an African language – the Acra language from the Guinea coast (one single peson from that area had visited Copenhagen in 1828). And then comes the bomb shell:

"(…)men bortset fra islandsk, hans første og kæreste studieobjekt, lagde han ikke vægt på at kunne tale sprogene, og bortset fra islandsk, svensk og engelsk var hans praktiske sprogbeherskelse ikke særlig omfattende. Han betragtede først og fremmest sprog som forskningsobjekter og forholdt sig til dem i detaljer og som helheder som en naturforsker til naturgenstande, fx en botaniker til planteverdenen; han ville finde frem til de enkeltheder hvorudfra der kunne bringes orden i mangfoldigheden og opstilles et system, og hans skarpe blik for sprogstrukturer bevirkede at han ofte kunne få noget rigtigt ud af selv et meget begrænset og nødtørftigt materiale."

"But apart from Icelandic, his first and dearest study object, he didn't put much effort in learning to speak the languages, and apart from Icelandic, Swedish and English his practical linguistic skills weren't particularly comprehensive. He first and foremost saw languages as objects for research and regarded them in their details and totality as a naturalist regards natural entities, for instance as a botanicist looks at plants; he wanted to find the details from which order could be established in the diversity and a system could be established, and his keen eye for linguistic structures made it possible that he often could get something real out of even very limited and sparse materials"

So maybe Rasmus Rask just was a 'normal' polyglot, not a superhuman hyperpolyglot according to the prevalent definition of today which exclusively stresses the ability to speak at least 11 foreign languages … but what a life, and what a brain! It is hard not the be impressed with the biography of such a person from the pre-digital and pre-easy travel era, even if the person in question didn't see the point in learning to speak most of the wealth of languages he studied and described.

Or maybe he really could speak 28 languages (after all he survived many years abroad in exotic countries), but nobody in Copenhagen in the 1820s could have a conversation with him in those languages and then they just assumed he only knew them theoretically. Who knows? And now it's too late to check him out.


Edited by Iversen on 26 August 2013 at 8:55pm



4 persons have voted this message useful



This discussion contains 15 messages over 2 pages: << Prev 1

If you wish to post a reply to this topic you must first login. If you are not already registered you must first register


Post ReplyPost New Topic Printable version Printable version

You cannot post new topics in this forum - You cannot reply to topics in this forum - You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum - You cannot create polls in this forum - You cannot vote in polls in this forum


This page was generated in 0.2344 seconds.


DHTML Menu By Milonic JavaScript
Copyright 2020 FX Micheloud - All rights reserved
No part of this website may be copied by any means without my written authorization.