Schleicher, August

Schleicher, August

(ou`go͝ost shlī`khər), 1821–68, German philologist. A professor at the universities of Prague and Jena, Schleicher wrote studies of the Lithuanian language (1856–57), the German language (1860), and the language of the Polabian Slavs (1871). His most important work on comparative philology, published in German (1861–62), was translated as A Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European, Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin Languages (2 vol., 1874–77).

Schleicher, August


Born Feb. 19, 1821, in Meiningen; died Dec. 6,1868, in Jena. German linguist.

Schleicher, who became a professor at Charles University in Prague in 1850 and the University of Jena in 1857, subscribed to naturalist views on language. Influenced by C. Darwin, he regarded language as an organism that must be studied by the methods of the natural sciences. He applied Hegelian dialectics to linguistic phenomena and arranged in a triad the principal types of morphological structures in language He advanced the notion of linguistic degradation, which involves aging, erosion, and destruction.

Schleicher was the first to recognize the need to establish general laws of linguistic development. The comparative method of linguistic study practiced by him paved the way for the neogram-marians’ study of phonetic law (seeNEOGRAMMARIAN). Schleicher’s works played an important role in the development of Indo-European linguistics, whose task, in Schleicher’s view, was to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European parent language, in which he composed a fable.

Schleicher was among the first to undertake the study of languages (including Lithuanian) and dialects by consulting native speakers; he also studied the Slavic languages. In A Compendium of the Comparative Grammars of the Indo-European Languages (parts 1–2,1861–62) he offered the most complete account up to that time of the Indo-European language system. Schleicher became a foreign corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1857.


Handbuch der litauischen Sprache, vols. 1–2. Prague, 1856–57.
Compendium der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen, 2nd ed. Weimar, 1866.
Die deutsche Sprache, 4th ed. Stuttgart, 1879.


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