Theodor Bibliander (1504–1564) and the Languages of Japheth’s Progeny
Theodor Bibliander (1504–1564) was an important link in developing the concept of the language family that is now called Indo-European. ‘Lector’ for the Greek of the Septuagint at the Münsterschule in Zürich (Zwingli’s successor), Bibliander had early showed aptitude for languages and had devoted himself particularly to Hebrew and related Semitic tongues. As exegete he interpreted the events at Babel (Genesis 10, 11) from the perspective of this knowledge. The ‘confounding’ of language, although it had occurred suddenly, still permitted the resulting languages to show kinship on the order of dialect variations. Thus the descendants of Shem, settling compactly in the vicinity, still gave striking evidence of their close-knit linguistic consanguinity. But the surviving evidence was not so obvious for the descendants of Japheth, who had scattered over Europe as part of God’s plan to populate the earth. Like all languages, these languages too were subject to inevitable change, an inescapable quality of all human institutions. Yet a closer look could still discern this relationship, as evidenced, for instance, in Greek (stemming from Javan), German-(ic) (stemming from Gomer), and Slavic (stemming from Magog). Bibliander’s study of Hebrew had sharpened his sensitivity to the inner structure of the word and to the processes of inflection and derivation, which were manifestations of the ratio which underlay all languages, even ‘barbarian’. Bibliander chose as his examples to prove the ‘Japhetic’ relationship parallel Greek and German affixes. Although not all of his examples stand the test of modern etymology, the procedure remains exemplary, and helped to give credence to the belief in the existence of a ‘Japhetic’ or ‘European’ family of languages.
Published online: 01 January 1980
Eros, John F.
Robins, R. H.
Cited by 3 other publications
Van Hal, Toon & John Considine
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