Jernej Kopitar 1780-1844
(Full name Jernej Bartholomäus Kopitar) Slovene linguist.
Kopitar is considered the founder of Slavonic studies—a designation he partially shares with the Czech linguist Josef Dobrovský—and is acknowledged as a seminal figure in the science of Balkanology, the study of Balkan languages. Viewing language as the distinct key to cultural identity, Kopitar supported regional differences and the convictions and rights of linguistic minorities. He is associated with the concept of Austro-Slavism, which promoted the Slavic, rather than purely German, linguistic and cultural identity of the Austrian Empire and succeeded in winning official sanction for the Slovene language within the monarchy. An impassioned supporter of the rights of Southern Slavs and noted for his outspoken views, Kopitar was frequently denigrated by late nineteenth and early twentieth century Slovene critics who found his approach unsystematic, reactionary, and anti-progressive. Nevertheless, Kopitar is typically regarded by contemporary scholars as an innovative Slavonic philologist and the progenitor of the modern study of South Slavic languages and cultures.
Kopitar was born in the rural village of Repnje, near Ljubljana, in 1780 when the region of what is now Slovenia was under the control of the Austrian Empire. Unable to speak a word of German, Kopitar nevertheless received a classical education at Ljubljana and there demonstrated a natural capacity for language study. Between 1799 and 1808 he served as secretary to the Baron Sigismund Zois. A resident in Zois's home, Kopitar took part in the Baron's intellectual circle, engaging in discussions on topics ranging from current scientific advances to the revival of the Slovene language as a vehicle for literary composition. Early in 1809 he left Ljubljana for Vienna where he briefly studied law before his fascination with language, from ancient Greek and his native Slovene to a newfound interest in Serbian and Croatian, led him in another direction. During this period Kopitar began a correspondence with Josef Dobrovský, a Prague linguist who shared his interest in Slavic languages. The two conducted a mostly long-distance scholarly collaboration that lasted until Dobrovský's death in 1829, although their differing approaches and methods frequently led to discord. For most of his career Kopitar held a position at the Imperial and Royal Library of Vienna. Late in life he acceded to the post of Chief Librarian and for a number of years served the Austrian government as Censor for Slavic and Rumanian books. He traveled extensively through western Europe, gathering Slavonic texts and fragments in England, France, Italy, and elsewhere to enrich the library. He sought support from the Austrian Chancellor, Prince Klemens Metternich, to secure further manuscripts from foreign countries, particularly Greece, for the national library. Kopitar's connections with the important Slavic philologists of his day became so wide-reaching that his influence was felt by almost all of the significant first and second-generation Slavic scholars in central Europe. Kopitar had a particularly close relationship with the Serbian intellectual Vuk Karadžić, first coming into contact with the younger writer through his role as censor, but later becoming an advisor and friend. The two maintained an extensive correspondence and collaborated on a variety of projects, including Karadžić's 1818 Serbian dictionary. Kopitar died in Vienna in 1844.
Although he is remembered as an outstanding scholar of the Slavic languages, Kopitar composed nearly all of his significant works in German. His Grammatik der slavischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steyermark (1808) is essentially a history of the Slovene language. While mentioning nothing of Slovene culture directly in its title, Kopitar's Grammatik makes reference to the three regions of the then Austrian Empire where use of the Slovene language predominated—Carinthia, Carniola, and Styria. In addition to offering historical data, the work features sections on etymology, orthography, and other linguistic classifications. In “Patriotische Phantasien eines Slaven” (1810) Kopitar outlined several of his significant theories on the Slavic languages that he was to address throughout his career. A spirited account of the uniqueness of South Slavic cultures and linguistic heritage, the essay ends with a call to create a central academy of Slavonic studies in Eastern Europe. Kopitar was among the first to revive interest in the oldest Slavic language, designated as Old Church Slavonic, and in 1839 edited a new edition of the Glagolita Clozianus, a classical text written in the Glagolitic alphabet (arguably a precursor of Cyrillic) from a manuscript discovered in 1830. Among Kopitar's principal studies on the subject of Old Church Slavonic was a furthering of the so-called Carantanian-Pannonian thesis. Studying Christian elements in Pannonian Slavic (a linguistic forebear of modern Slovene), Kopitar postulated a strong Slovene element among the origins of Old Church Slavonic, a hypothesis no longer accepted by modern scholars but valued for Kopitar's early insights on the subject. Unlike most of his contemporaries in the field of linguistics, Kopitar patterned his conception of literary Slavic on the spoken language of naïve, or uneducated, speakers. He based his studies on the living speech (dialects) of the central European regions of Carniola, Carinthia, and Styria, and sought to describe the linguistic structure as he found it rather than dictating its form with reference to historical antecedents as others had typically done. During his career, Kopitar wrote and published an exhaustive list of articles and reviews in periodicals throughout Slavic Europe. He also published a German translation of Serbo-Croatian folk songs collected by his colleague and disciple Vuk Karadžić. A collection of Kopitar's essays and miscellaneous writings was published in 1857. Entitled Barth. Kopitars kleinere Schriften, the volume includes a short autobiographical sketch, composed in 1839, that offers some insights into the linguist's youth and early interest in Slavism and Slavic folklore. Kopitar also produced a lengthier evaluation of his own life in Selbstbiographie (1857).
During his life and long after his death Kopitar elicited the ire of a number of critics in his native land by decrying the work of France Prešeren, Slovenia's most celebrated poet. This and Kopitar's impassioned, rather than detached and scientific, approach to his work prompted criticism from many sides and damaged his reputation for more than a century. Disputes over the classifications and reforms of Kopitar's Grammatik, as well as distaste for its sometimes inadequate methodology, led to its rejection by critics for much of the nineteenth-century. Additionally, some early critics cited Kopitar's interest in regional dialects as evidence of a separatist agenda, though modern scholars generally dismiss this claim. However, contemporary commentators, notably Rado L. Lencek, have also found a paradoxical tension in Kopitar's desire to promote regional Slavic dialects alongside his pleas for integration of these forms into a pan-Slavic literary language. While most of Kopitar's specific linguistic theories have been superceded by the work of subsequent scholars, he continues to be accepted as the patriarch of Slavonic studies who set the pattern for others. And, despite some lingering reservations, Kopitar is widely viewed as an innovative figure in the field of Slavonic linguistics whose influence on the subsequent generation of Slavic philologists was enormous.
Grammatik der slavischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steyermark (history) 1808
“Patriotische Phantasien eines Slaven” (essay) 1810
“Slavische Sprachkunde” (essay) 1811
“Blick auf die slavischen Mundarten, ihre Literatur und die Hülfsmittel sie zu studieren” (essay) 1813
“Serbische Literatur, Narodna srbska pěsnarica” (essay) 1816
Glagolita Clozianus [editor] (sermons) 1836
Hesychii glossographi discipulus [editor] (dictionary) 1839
Barth. Kopitars kleinere Schriften (essays) 1857
Selbstbiographie (autobiography) 1857
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SOURCE: Lencek, Rado L. “Kopitar's Share in the Evolution of Slavic Philology.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 1-24.
[In the following essay, Lencek summarizes Kopitar's theories and accomplishments as a seminal figure of early nineteenth-century Slavic philology.]
My subject is one of which I think my first teacher in slavicis, Rajko Nahtigal, would have approved. He would have applauded my topic not only because he himself belonged to that line of Slavic philologists who came from the small world at the edge of the Eastern Alps—who does not know, to paraphrase the Book of Generations, that Kopitar begat Miklosich, and Miklosich Jagić, and Jagić Nahtigal and his brothers? But he would have been pleased primarily because my discussion is conceived in the spirit of his own evaluation of Jernej Kopitar as a philologist, recognizing his particular role in the history of Slavic studies (Nahtigal 1944: IX-XXIX). And let us stress here that Kopitar won this recognition as early as 1836, when Jakob Grimm characterized him as a scholar “der nach dem Tode Dobrovskýs allen heutigen Slavisten vorangeht”;1 and in 1844, when Leopold von Ranke wrote to Vuk: “Er war vielleicht der beste Philologe, von den umfassendsten und genauesten Kenntnissen, den das ganze Kaisertum Österreich besass.”2
My purpose in this presentation is not to argue...
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SOURCE: Pogačnik, Jože. “Jernej Kopitar and the Issue of Austro-Slavism.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 25-40.
[In the following essay, Pogačnik studies Kopitar's activity in recognizing and promulgating Slavic cultural identity within the Austrian Empire.]
The host of problems raised by Jernej Kopitar's cultural and political activities, including his scholarly work, will not be solved in any acceptable way for a long time to come.1 His intellectual status established in modern research includes both elements of acceptance and denial, which is the reason why we still lack a historically objective value judgment concerning those meaningful aspects of his work which were relevant in his time and which are still relevant today. We are concerned here no doubt with a personality controversial and complex, whose evaluation cannot be simple, and the reason that it cannot be simple also lies in the fact that in Kopitar's numerous activities in most cases one ought to distinguish between causa efficiens and causa finalis. The world of today is, on the other hand, taken up with the present moment to such an extent that the complex forces that were at work in the first part of the nineteenth century cannot be easily understood, those forces which acquired—because of the specific geographic and historical factors on the Austrian cultural and political scene—an almost...
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SOURCE: Cooper, Henry R., Jr. “Kopitar and the Beginning of Bulgarian Studies.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 55-64.
[In the following essay, Cooper argues that Kopitar was foremost among early nineteenth-century Slavic philologists in acknowledging the uniqueness of Bulgarian language and culture.]
If we define Bulgarian studies not only as the scientific investigation of the Bulgarian people (that is, their literature, language, ethnographic culture, and history), but also as the introduction of things Bulgarian to the international scholarly community, so that bulgarica might be integrated into the larger disciplines of Slavic linguistics, European history, comparative literature and so on, then Jernej Kopitar played a vital, if not indeed crucial role in the foundation of Bulgarian studies. More than Josef Dobrovský, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, Konstantin Kalajdovič, Jurij Ivanovič Venelin or the Bulgarian revivalists of later years, Kopitar deserves the credit for initiating and promoting the scholarly examination of the Bulgarian language, for insisting upon the ethnic particularity of the Bulgarian nation, and for making the study of Bulgaria and Bulgarians an integral element in another field he created, Balkan studies.1
The suggestion that Kopitar was the initiator of Bulgarian studies is not entirely new. The Viennese Slavist himself claimed credit...
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SOURCE: Naylor, Kenneth E. “Kopitar as Slavicist: An Appreciation.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 65-70.
[In the following essay, Naylor praises Kopitar as a promoter of the Slavic literary language rather than as a scientific scholar in the modern sense.]
It is inevitable that we judge the work of scholars of earlier generations by the standards of today rather than looking at their work in the context of their time. When we examine the work of nineteenth-century Slavicists, we see it through the eyes of the twentieth century and our expectations for this work are the same which we apply to the work of our contemporaries. We expect nineteenth-century scholars to behave in the ways we were trained to behave and we try to fit them into the mold from which we have come. All too often, we forget that the handbooks and reference works which we use regularly, and take for granted, result from the work of these pioneering scholars; and they did not have them at their disposal. The theories which we hold are often the results of their work, and represent refinements over theories which they set forth. Over the generations, these theories have been revised and modified, much in the same way we pass along to our students the theories and ideas of our teachers, with our own revisions. As scholars, we wonder at these scholars of the nineteenth century, who did not follow a particular question to what we...
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SOURCE: Toporišič, Jože. “Kopitar's Grammar.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 76-97.
[In the following essay, Toporišič examines the morphological features of Kopitar's Grammar.]
In the scholarly literature Jernej Kopitar's Grammar1 has been characterized as scientific, and that by right. Published in 1809 (with the year 1808, when the printing began, imprinted in it), it had two types of forerunners: that of Adam Bohorič (Arcticae horulae succisivae, de Latinocarniolana literatura, ad Latinae linguae analogiam accomodata … [Wittemberg, 1584, reprinted 1715, 1758]), and that of Marko Pohlin (Kraynska grammatika, das ist: Die kraynerische Grammatik oder Kunst die kraynerische Sprache regelrichtig zu reden, und zu schreiben … Zweyte verbesserte Auflage [Ljubljana, 1783; first edition, 1768]), to which Jurij Zelenko's (= Mihael Zagajšek's) from 1791 can be added, and even Ožbalt Gutsman's from 1777 (reprinted five times). Kopitar must have also known the manuscript grammars from Baron Zois' circle (by Kumerdej, Debevec, Japelj). Moreover, he himself mentioned dictionaries which had originated within this circle (Kumerdej, Debevec, Vodnik), from which he took lists of examples for morphological categories for his own Grammar; in it he also mentioned the 1791 grammar. About Gutsman's grammar he commented that Gutsman says little, yet nothing...
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SOURCE: Butler, Thomas. “Jernej Kopitar and South Slavic Folkore.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 108-21.
[In the following essay, Butler assesses Kopitar's contributions as a collector and translator of Serbo-Croatian folktales.]
Jernej Kopitar's role in promoting the collection and popularization of South Slavic folklore, as well as the establishment of a scientific basis for its investigation, has never been adequately examined nor sufficiently appreciated. When the Slovene's name is mentioned within the context of folklore it is usually in connection with his encouragement and support of the activities of Vuk Karadžić (1787-1864), the foremost collector and publisher of Serbo-Croatian folksongs, as well as the reformer of the Serbo-Croatian literary language.
Scholars have tended to regard Kopitar's strong support for Vuk's folklore activities within the framework of a larger interest, namely, the establishment of a new Serbian literary language based on the spoken language of the peasantry. The responsibility for this distorted focus on the Slovene's contributions to the folklore field must, at least in part, be laid at the door of Kopitar himself, for on many an occasion, in reviews and articles, he pointed to the high aesthetic quality and expressive language of the folksongs as proof of the superiority of Vuk's new literary language over the “macaronic language”...
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SOURCE: Nedeljković, Olga. “New Perspectives on the Collaboration Between Maksimilijan Vrhovac and Jernej Kopitar.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 122-49.
[In the following essay, Nedeljković probes the sources of Kopitar's work on the South Slavic languages and discusses the mutual influence of Kopitar and the Zagrebian bishop-scholar Maksimilijan Vrhovac.]
Jernej Kopitar's ideas regarding the reform of the Serbian literary language were realized in the work of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, thanks to the very close collaboration of these two men. The antecedents of that achievement, however, can be traced all the way back to the time of the Counter Reformation. They were gradually shaped, in the course of time, by numerous agents and workers in the cultural sphere of the nation's existence, by educators, patrons of learning, scholars and literary writers from Illyria. The eventual shaping of the Serbo-Croatian language is, then, the final result of the missionary activities of the Office for the Propagation of the Faith of the Roman Church in the South Slavic regions. The activities were marked by the express intent to introduce a unified standard language, a uniform “communiore dialectum.”
All the grammars, from the time of Kašić and Mikalja to Appendini, were based on the Štokavian dialect of Dubrovnik-Dalmatia-Bosnia. This fact, then, explains the evolution of the...
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SOURCE: Stolz, Benjamin. “Kopitar and Vuk: An Assessment of Their Roles in the Rise of the New Serbian Literary Language.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 150-67.
[In the following essay, Stolz describes Kopitar's considerable influence on Vuk Karadžić and the modern development of the Serbo-Croatian literary language.]
But the most important result of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars together was the quickening of nationalism, marked by a return to local origins: the collection and imitation of folklore, folk dance, and music, and medieval and Renaissance works. This passed beyond a revival of themes and forms into the rebirth of the use of inhibited languages … in literature.
The scholarly literature on Jernej (Bartholomäus) Kopitar and Vuk Karadžić is so voluminous … that anyone who approaches the topic runs the risk of mere repetition, with slight reinterpretation, or of loose speculation and reckless theorizing. Still, the contribution of Jernej Kopitar and Vuk Karadžić to the rise of the modern Serbian literary language retains its fascination, for it is surely one of the most dramatic stories of individual intervention in the history of any literary language, Slavic or non-Slavic. The roles of Kopitar and Vuk deserve reexamination, for the impact of their collaboration can now be more...
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SOURCE: Bonazza, Sergio. “Jernej Kopitar: His Place in Slovene Cultural History.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 178-83.
[In the following essay, Bonazza responds to Slovene critics who label Kopitar “anti-progressive.”]
Jernej Kopitar's place in Slovene cultural history is anachronistic and paradoxical. He was indeed one of the great Slovenes and one of the few whose works were known and celebrated internationally. He was, however, classed as one of those worthless, awkward, and even damaging personalities by official Slovene critics. The critics have always tried, and are still trying, to stick labels like “anti-progressive,” “anti-liberal,” “reactionary,” “clerical,” “mouthpiece of Metternich,” “enemy of the organic development of Slovene literature,” and so on, on Kopitar's name. Only Jože Pogačnik has made an exception, feeling it his duty to tackle the whole matter about Kopitar courageously and without prejudice. His monograph1 is therefore an important change, a milestone on the new way to define the man.
One naturally asks, at this point, why Slovene critics have been so ill-disposed toward Kopitar. In our opinion, the misunderstanding arose from the fact that Slovene critics have not realized the European significance of the man himself, or his works and cultural activity. They have always judged Kopitar—and still continue...
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SOURCE: Cooper, Henry R., Jr. “Jernej Kopitar and the Beginning of South Slavic Studies.” In American Contributions to the Ninth International Congress of Slavists, Vol. II: Literature, Poetics, History, edited by Paul Debreczeny, pp. 97-111. Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers, 1983.
[In the following essay, Cooper offers evidence to support the claim that Kopitar is the “Father of South Slavic Studies.”]
Hier entscheiden facta, nicht Räsonnements!
(Kopitar to Dobrovský)
Scholarly paternity, unlike its human correlate, often matters more to distant generations than to the immediate offspring. In the rapid changes and advances which characterized Slavic studies during the first decades of its existence (approximately 1790-18501), the origination of ideas frequently counted for far less than their application to the popular ideologies of the day. The grateful “son” paying tribute to his intellectual “father” is in the scholarly works of that time a less usual figure than the rebellious youth, by and large of a Romantic bent, castigating all his forebears for their faulty insight and suspect motivations.2 More than fifty years—and several generations—had to pass before the relationships of the early part of the nineteenth century could be described with some degree of objectivity.3 And even more time has been required,...
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SOURCE: Toporišič, Jože. “Kopitar as Defender of the Independence of the Slovene Language.” In The Formation of the Slavonic Literary Languages, edited by Gerald Stone and Dean Worth, pp. 193-205. Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers, 1985.
[In the following essay, Toporišič details Kopitar's efforts on behalf of an independent Slovene language and culture.]
The late Professor Robert Auty dedicated a great deal of his scholarly attention to the languages of the Slavs who live more or less on the Pannonian planes and in adjacent areas to the south, west, and east. This is also the area which attracted the undivided attention of our Jernej Kopitar, whose endeavors to defend the independent individuality of the Slovene language will be the topic of our presentation today.
Jernej Kopitar was in love with the Slovene language. His love was unconditional and self-existent, but in due time he tried to give it objective foundations. Kopitar unconsciously fell in love with Slovene first of all because it was his mother tongue, i.e. it was a natural component of his happy youth, as witness the following words from his Selbstbiographie: ‘Als Jernej Kopitar etwa neun Jahre alt war und bereits die Heerde seines Vaters geweidet und gehütet hatte—welche Davidische Rückerinnerung an Berg und Wald noch immer unter seine angenehmsten gehört—fragte ihn einst der Vater (…)’...
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Stone, Gerald. “On Kopitar's Visit to Oxford.” Slovene Studies 3, no. 2 (1981): 106-07.
Comments on Kopitar's stop at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, while visiting England in 1815.
Fryščák, Milan. “Kopitar and Dobrovský.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 41-54.
Summarizes Kopitar's collaboration with the Czech Slavist Josef Dobrovský.
Ivić, Pavle. “Kopitar and the Evolution of Vuk Karadžić's Views on the Serbian Literary Language.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 98-107.
Contrasts Vuk Karadžić's position on literary linguistics with that of his mentor, Kopitar.
Jakopin, Franc. “Kopitar's Share in the Work of F. Miklošič.” Papers in Slavic Philology 2 (1982): 168-77.
Describes Kopitar's influence on Franc Miklošič, generally considered the founder of the science of Balkanology.
Lencek, Rado L. “A Fragment from Jernej Kopitar's Correspondence with Talvj.” Slovene Studies 3, no. 1 (1981): 12-19.
Discusses a portion of a letter written by Kopitar to the editor of The Biblical Repository on the subject of theological literature written in Slavic languages.
Orzechowska, Hanna. “Jernej Kopitar's...
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