Wilhelm von Humboldt – One of the Founders of Linguistics

Wilhelm von Humboldt

Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand Freiherr von Humboldt
(22 January 1767, Potsdam, Prussia, Germany –  8 April 1835, Tegel, near Berlin, Germany)
Nationality: Germany
Category: Scientists
Occupation: Linguists, Philosophers
Unique distinction: One of the founders of Linguistics and  philosophy of language, the founder of Humboldt Universität in Berlin (1809), Polymath
Gender: Male

1. The government is best which makes itself unnecessary.
2. I am more and more convinced that our happiness or our unhappiness depends far more on the way we meet the events of life than on the nature of those events themselves.
3. The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument hitherto unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity…
4. Only what we have wrought into our character during life can we take with us.
5. It is usually more important how a man meets his fate than what it is.
6. “Results are nothing; the energies which produce them and which again spring from them are everything.
7. All growth toward perfection is but a returning to original existence.
8. To inquire and to create; these are the grand centres around which all human pursuits revolve, or at least to these objects do they all more or less directly refer.
9. Life, in all ranks and situations, is an outward occupation, an actual and active work.

Achievements and contributions:

Social and professional position: Wilhelm von Humboldt was a German linguist, diplomat, and philosopher.
The main contribution to (Best known for):  Humboldt was the great German scholar and polymath. He made important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice of education. His works also encompass the areas of literature, linguistics and anthropology. He was a co-founder of the University of Berlin.
Contributions: Humboldt was a German linguist, diplomat, philosopher and educational reformer.
He is especially remembered as a linguist who made important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice of education.
He was influential in developing the science of comparative philology. Humboldt also contributed greatly to the philosophy of language. He developed the theory of language as an activity and the continuous creative process.
He first claimed that the character and structure of a language express the inner life, culture and knowledge of its speakers and that languages must differ from one another in the same way and to the same degree as those who use them.  He also wrote that humans perceive the world through the medium of language.
He also carried out research on the Basque language and suggested that the Basque language is the longest and most important. His philological works on Kavi, the ancient language of Java, published posthumously (1836-1840), were landmarks in their field. According to Humboldt, World history is the result of a spiritual force that lies outside of learning, which can not be understood from a causal point of view.
This spiritual force manifests itself, through creativity and individual efforts.
As Prussian minister of education (1809-10) he thoroughly reformed the school system, largely on the basis of the ideas of Pestalozzi, and he sent Prussian teachers to study the methods of Pestalozzi’s school in Switzerland.
He was one of the founders of Friedrich Wilhelm University (now Humboldt University, or University of Berlin) in Berlin. Humboldt’s pedagogical ideas profoundly influenced European and American elementary education.
He had found time for literary work. In 1816 he published a translation of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, and in 1817 corrections and additions to Adelung’s Mithridates, that famous collection of specimens of the various languages and dialects of the world.
His books also contain poems, essays on aesthetical subjects and other creations.
Major works: (Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Grenzen der Wirksamkeit des Staats zu bestimmen),  On the Limits of State Action (1791), The Sphere and Duties of Government (1792), (Über Denken und Sprechen, 1795), Ideas for an endeavour to define the limits of state action (1792), Researches into the Early Inhabitants of Spain by the help of the Basque language (1821), The Heterogeneity of Language and its Influence on the Intellectual Development of Mankind (1836).

Career and personal life:

Origin: Wilhelm von Humboldt was born in Potsdam Margraviate of Brandenburg, on June 22, 1767. Humboldt’s father Alexander Georg von Humboldt has the title of “Freiherr” (Baron) and his mother Maria Elizabeth Colomb was of the middle class, mainly French Huguenot and German-Scottish extraction.
Education: He was educated in Frankfurt, Jena, Berlin and Göttingen.
Influenced by: Johann Pestalozzi
Career highlights: In Jena (1794-1797) he was a member of Friedrich von Schiller’s circle. After travelling through Spain and France, during which Humboldt became interested in philology, he was appointed Prussian resident minister in Rome (1802-1808).
As a successful diplomat, Humboldt was an ambassador at Vienna from 1812 during the closing struggles of the Napoleonic Wars.  He also served as a prosperous Prussian minister of education (1809-1810).
From 1810 to 1819 Humboldt served the government as minister in Vienna, London, and Berlin.
However, the reactionary policy of the Prussian government made him give up political life in 1819. He retired because of his opposition to the prevailing spirit of reaction.  From that time forward he devoted himself solely to literature and study.

Personal life:

He was educated at Frankfurt, Jena, Berlin and Göttingen. Humboldt was influenced by the educational principles of Johann Pestalozzi.
His younger brother, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), was an equally famous naturalist and scientist.
Wilhelm von Humboldt was a friend of Goethe and in particular of Schiller. The most generally interesting of his works, outside those which deal with language, is his correspondence with Schiller, published in 1830.
In June 1791 he married Fräulein Karoline von Dacheröden, daughter of a Prussian councillor of the Supreme Court, and became the owner of the Tegel palace. The wife of Humboldt was one of the most enlightened and most intelligent women of her time and helped her husband even in his scholarly work. They had eight children, of whom five survived to adulthood.
He died at Tegel, Province of Brandenburg on April 8, 1835.
Zest: Under the influence of romanticism Humboldt became almost mystical as he placed more stress on supra-individual and historically conditioned nationality and viewed individual nationality in turn as part of the universal spiritual and divine life.
His famous thesis that “Language should be studied not as a product (Ergon), but as an activity (Energeia)», is now among the most frequently cited in the linguistic literature.