Born July 29, 1843, in Prenzlau; died July 4,1901, in Berlin. German linguist.
Schmidt studied Indo-European languages at the universities of Berlin and Jena. He became a professor at the University of Graz in 1873 and at the University of Berlin in 1876. He was a specialist in comparative Indo-European linguistics. In place of A. Schleicher’s family tree model of the development of the Indo-European language family, Schmidt proposed the wave theory to account for the distribution of the Indo-European languages. According to this theory, Proto-Indo-European, while still united as a family of dialects, constituted an aggregate of linguistic innovations, which radiated like waves from the center of the linguistic unity toward its periphery. The Indo-European languages, according to Schmidt, are connected by a number of common features; they lack well-defined boundaries, and there are gradual and imperceptible transitions from one language to another.
Schmidt’s works had a considerable influence on the development of Indo-European dialectology. Schmidt became a foreign corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1892.
WORKSZur Geschichte des indogermanischen Vokalismus, vols. 1–2. Weimar, 1871–75.
Die Verwandtschaftsverhältnisse der indogermanischen Sprachen. Weimar, 1872.
Die Pluralbildungen der indogermanischen Neutra. Weimar, 1889.