LINGUIST List 24.659

Tue Feb 05 2013

Review: Discipline of Linguistics; Historical Linguistics: Marsden (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 11-Jan-2013
From: Rolf Kemmler <>
Subject: A Catalogue of Dictionaries, Vocabularies, Grammars, and Alphabets
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AUTHOR: William MarsdenTITLE: A Catalogue of Dictionaries, Vocabularies, Grammars, and AlphabetsPUBLISHER: Cambridge University PressYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Rolf Kemmler, Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro


The present work is a facsimile reproduction of the bibliographical cataloguethe Irish scholar William Marsden originally published in 1796. Occupying sixunnumbered pages as well as 154 numbered pages, the work can be divided inparatexts and two parts.

The first paratext is the author's preface. In this text, Marsden offers thefollowing explanation for the choice of his works' contents: ''The followingCatalogue is intended to comprise the Titles of the Dictionaries,Vocabularies, Grammars and Alphabets of all Languages, excepting Hebrew,Greek, and Latin, together with the modern derivatives from the Latin andGothic; viz. French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Danish,Swedish, and English, and of all dialects, as distinguished from the principalLanguages to which they belong; whether separately published, or found inAccounts of Voyages and Travels, or other Works. [...] The Russian, in respectof its importance and the improvement it has experienced under its presentaugust Patroness, should also have been excepted; but the progress ofSlavonian literature in other Countries being as yet inconsiderable, theopportunity was taken of pointing out those Works by which a knowledge of itmay be facilitated'' (p. III).

While Marsden appears to be generally interested in all kinds ofmetalinguistic texts, he prefers to omit works dedicated to the classicallanguages (Hebrew, Greek and Latin) as well as the Romance and Germanlanguages and their diasystematic variations (with the exception of Russianworks, given that they are apt to be less known in the West). As the authorexplains, this selection is due to the multiplicity of publications pertainingto both the classical and the modern languages, to which must be added aconsiderable number of secondary titles like chapters in travel literature,journal articles, etc.

The title page of the original edition indicates that Marsden's work isseparated ''in two parts'' (p. I), although this is omitted in the recentedition's title. The first part contains an ''Alphabetic Catalogue ofAuthors'' (called ''Catalogue of Authors'' on p. 1) and occupies pages 1through 82, to which needs to be added the ''Appendix'' on pages 153-154.Within pages 1-74 and 153-154, the author lists a total of 822 authors and1,113 works. As the catalogue also includes several pages of ''AnonymousWorks. In the Order of their Dates'' (pp. 75-82), the absolute total ofmentioned publications is 1,254. Amongst these, 520 ''Books in the possessionof the Editor'' (or 41.47% of all titles) are marked with an asterisk to showthat this part of the repertoire belonged to the author. 424 works (33.81%)are marked with a cross as a means of identifying all of the ''Books which hehas not had an opportunity of seeing''. These are obviously books of whoseexistence the author obtained knowledge through his readings of relevantpublications. The third class of books is those of works that belong toprivate or public libraries, and are identified by abbreviations, like theBibliotheca Bodleiana (B.B.), British Museum (B.M.), His Majesty's Library(K.L), etc. (310 items or 24.72%).

The second part, ''Chronological catalogue of works in each class oflanguage,'' occupies pages 83-152. After a short three-page outlook on the''Classification of languages'' (pp. 85-87), this part offers a total of 1,212works, amongst which 498 belong to the Author's personal library, 411 have notbeen seen by him and 303 belong to the aforementioned libraries. Without anypretence of establishing a language typology as known in modern languagescience, Marsden chronologically lists the entries in this part in thefollowing 33 sections (orthography and punctuation are those of the author's1796 original edition):

American (pp. 89-93)Arabic (pp. 93-98)Armenian (p. 99)Cantabrian or Basque (p. 100)Canting. Rothwelsch, i.e. ''thieves slang'' (p. 100)Celtic (pp. 101-104)Chinese. Tunkinese. Japonese (pp. 104-105)Coptic or Egyptian (pp. 105-106)English. Ancient, Provincial and Etymological. Scottish (pp. 106-108)Epirotic or Albanian (p. 108)Ethiopic (pp. 108-110)Finnic. Hungarian. Lapponic. Esthonian (pp. 110-112)Georgian or Iberian (p. 112)Greek, Modern, Etymologial, and Dialects (p. 113)New Holland, i.e. Australia (p. 114)Hottentot (p. 114)Latin Barbarous and Modern Dialects – i.e. Latin and Romance languages (pp.114-118)Malayan, Javan, Philippine, Madagascar (pp. 118-120)Mauritanian. Breber (p. 121)Negro, Caffer (pp. 121-122)Otaïtean or South-Sea (p. 122)Persian. Kurdic. Zend. Palmyrene (pp. 123-124)Polyglot. Universal (pp. 124-127)Punic. Phenician (pp. 127-128)Sanskrit, and Dialects thence derived (pp. 128-129)Scandinavian. Moeso-Gothic (pp. 129-132)Siamese. Burman. Peguan. (p. 132)Slavonian Dialects (pp. 133-138)Syriac. Samaritan. Aramaean (pp. 139-143)Tamul. Malabar. Telinga. Kanarin. Singalese (pp. 144-145)Tatarian Dialects (pp. 145-146)Teutonic – Germanic languages, like German, English, etc. (pp. 146-151)Turkish (pp. 151-152)

Notwithstanding the fact that the number of entries slightly diverges betweenthe two parts, both have in common that Marsden usually offers the author'sname (when known), the title, place and date of publication, as well as thebook's format. In the first part, he additionally offers an insight intoseparate volumes, chapters or even pages with noteworthy information.


Given that in the late 18th century linguistic studies still were mostlydevoid of the modern sense of an occupation within the modern rules ofscientific endeavour, the lack of existence of a historiographic disciplinethat understands itself as such is evident. There are, however, a fewlandmarks of linguistic thought that put in evidence that some authors mayindeed have had some historiographic conscience. Foremost is the Frenchscholar François Thurot, whose ''Discours Préliminaire'' (Harris & Thurot1796: ix-cxix) to the French translation “Hermès” of James Harris' 1771English work “Hermes” is commonly held to be one of the earliest essaysbelonging to the historiography of linguistics. This is the same year in whichthe volume under review appeared.

Nowadays, there exists a number of bibliographies dedicated to various aspectsof different languages and metalinguistic texts. In this sense, the value ofMarsden's repertoire of ca. 1,200 bibliographic items involving a great numberof languages on five continents might be viewed as somewhat limited by modernscholars. The work is, however, an important monument of the beginnings of thehistoriography of linguistics itself, placing Marsden as one of the Britishprecursors of the historiography of linguistics. Indeed, his focus onlanguages that were not part of the classical syllabus of Europeanphilological studies differentiates his work from the moreclassically-oriented contemporary catalogues of dictionaries that had beenpublished by the mid-18th century philologists such as Johann Heumann vonTeutschenbrunn (1747) and Jacques-Bernard Durey de Noinville (1758).

Concerning the impact of Marsden's work, Cop (1991: 3173) mentions withoutreferring to any source that there were only ''60 copies'' that had been''privately printed'', i.e. published directly by the author. Indeed, in hismemoirs, published posthumously by his wife Elizabeth Marsden, the authorexplains both the quantity of printed copies and the book's purpose: ''You askme why I do not print more than sixty copies? It is because I mean only togive them away, and that number is sufficient'' (Marsden, 1838: 88). Thisstatement by the author himself shows that the claim that had been perpetuatedsince Ebert's (1830: col. 51) bibliographical encyclopedia that 150 copieswere printed is not correct.

Due to the small number of copies that were produced for private circulation,it would seem that the work’s impact might have been strongly limited.However, the contrary seems to be the case, as there exist contemporaryreviews that document the author's will to promote his work notwithstandingits non-commercial nature. A somewhat short review was published in theSeptember 1797 edition of the London journal ''The Gentleman's Magazine andHistorical Chronicle'' (GM, 1797: 770-771), being followed by a similarlyshort appraisal in the July-December 1797 edition of the ''British Critic''(BC 1798: 208).

But the impact of Marsden's catalogue was not limited to the British journalswhich reviewed current publications. Even before the aforementioned Londonjournals published their reviews, at least two anonymous reviews appeared inearly 1797 German review journals. These contributions were published in the12 January 1797 edition of the ''Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen''(GAgS, 1797: 52-56) and in the 20 February 1797 edition of the ''AllgemeineLiteratur-Zeitung'' (ALZ, 1797: cols. 453-156). Contrary to the succinctEnglish reviews, both of these quite elaborate critical reviews provide notonly an insight into Marsden's work, but offer a critical discussion of itsmerits and shortcomings. Both of these quite well-informed reviews by twodifferent authors end with the opinion that Marsden's repertoire will be ofservice for future similar but more elaborate compilations (like the ones thatwere published a decade later by the German philologists Johann ChristophAdelung and Johann Severin Vater). The German expatriate Johann ChristianHüttner (1766-1847) offers an explanation for the appearance of these reviewsby stating in a letter dated 3 December 1796 that Marsden sent three copies ofthe book to Germany, namely one to Göttingen, one to Berlin and one to thescientist and linguist at Jena University, Prof. Christian Wilhelm Büttner(1716-1801), who most probably would have been responsible for the ALZ (1797)review (cf. Hüttner 1797: 153).

The existence of these (and probably other yet unknown) reviews clearlydemonstrates that Marsden's compilation of bibliographical information wasgenerally well (even if critically) received by fellow philologists of thetime. Even so, the work must have been very scarce prior to its recentdigitization and the present publication by Cambridge University Press. Thesame seems to apply to the follow-up compilation ''Bibliotheca marsdenianaphilologica et orientalis'' (1827) which Marsden published 31 years later.This volume was reedited by Cambridge University Press in the same facsimilecollection in August 2012.

Given that around 3,000 items from Marsden's private library were donated bythe author to King's College in London in 1835 (UKIRA 2001), both of hisbibliographical catalogues not only have historical value for the history oflinguistics but may also serve (at least partially) as catalogues of stillexisting library holdings.


ALZ (1797) = Marsden, W.: A catalogue of dictionaries, vocabularies, grammarsand alphabets. London 1796. Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung 57 (20. Februar1797), cols. 453-456.

BC (1798) = Art. 52. A Catalogue of Dictionaries, Vocabularies, Grammars, andAlphabets. In Two Parts. Part 1. Alphabetical Catalogue of Authors. II.Chronological Catalogue of Works in each class of Language. By WilliamMarsden, F. R. S. &c. 4to. 154 pp. London. 1796. The British Critic X(July-December, 1797), 208.

Cop, Margaret. 1991. 335. Bibliography of Dictionary Bibliographies. InHausmann, Franz Josef, Reichmann, Oskar, Wiegand, Herbert Ernst, Zgusta,Ladislav (eds.), Wörterbücher, Dictionaries, Dictionnaires: An InternationalEncyclopedia of Lexicography, Encyclopédie internationale der Lexicographie,Ein internationales Handbuch zur Lexikographie. Berlin, New York: Walter deGruyter (Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft, Handbooks ofLinguistics and Communication Science, Manuels de linguistique et des sciencesde communication, 5.3), 3169-3177.

Ebert, Friedrich Adolf. 1830. Allgemeines Bibliographisches Lexikon: ZweiterBand, M-Z. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus.

GAgS (1797) = A Catalogue of Dictionaries, Vocabularies, Grammars, andAlphabets in two Parts. Part I. alphabetical catalogue of authors. II.Chronological catalogue of Works in each class of Language. By WilliamMarsden, F. R. S. 1796. 154 Seiten in ar. Quart. Göttingische Anzeigen vongelehrten Sachen 6 (12. Januar 1797), 52-56.

GM (1797) = 184. A Catalogue of Dictionaries, Vocabularies, Grammars, andAlphabets. In Two Parts. Part I. Alphabetical Catalogue of Authors. II.Chronological Catalogue of Works in each class of Language. By WilliamMarsden, F. R. S. &c. 4to. The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical ChronicleLXVII/2 (September, 1797), 770-771.

Harris, James & Thurot, François. 1796. Hermès ou recherches philosophiquessur la gramaire universelle. Ouvrage traduit de l’anglois, de Jacques Harris,avec des remarques et des additions par François Thurot. Paris: Del’imprimerie de la république.

Heumann von Teutschenbrunn, Johann. 1747. Iohannis Hevmanni ivr. professorisaltorfini opvscvla qvibvs varia ivris germanici itemque historica etphilologica argvmenta explicantvr. Norimbergae: Sumptibus Ioannis GeorgiiLochner.

Hüttner, Johann Christoph. 1797. London, d. 3. December. Der Neue TeutscheMerkur 1 (Januar 1797), 151-155.

Marsden, William. 1796. A Catalogue of Dictionaries, Vocabularies, Grammars,and Alphabets: In two parts, Part. I. Alphabetic catalogue of authors, II.Chronological catalogue of works in each class of language. London: Printed1796.

Marsden, William. 1827. Bibliotheca marsdeniana philologica et orientalis: ACatalogue of Books and Manuscripts Collected with a View to the GeneralComparison of Languages, and to the Study of Oriental Literature. London:Printed by J. L. Cox.

Marsden, William. 1838. A Brief Memoir of the Life and Writings of the LateWilliam Marsden: Written by Himself. London: Printed by J. L. Cox and Sons.

Marsden, William. 2012. Bibliotheca marsdeniana philologica et orientalis: ACatalogue of Books and Manuscripts Collected with a View to the GeneralComparison of Languages, and to the Study of Oriental Literature. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Noinville, Jacques-Bernard Durey de. 1758. Table alphabétique desdictionnaires en toutes sortes de langues et sur toutes sortes de Sciences etd'Arts. Dans le même vol: Dissertation sur les bibliothèques. Paris: Chez Hug.Chaubert; Herissant.

UKIRA. 2001. UKIRA: UK Information Resources on Asia, Marsden Collection. (11 January 2013).


Rolf Kemmler is an auxiliary researcher in the field of Portuguese linguistichistoriography with the Centro de Estudos em Letras (CEL), University ofTrás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD, Vila Real, Portugal). He received hisdoctorate in Romance Philology from Bremen University (Germany) in 2005, witha thesis entitled 'A Academia Orthográfica Portugueza na Lisboa do Século dasLuzes: Vida, obras e atividades de João Pinheiro Freire da Cunha (1738-1811)',published in 2007. His research interests focus on the history of Portugueseorthography and history of Portuguese and Latin-Portuguese grammar as well ashistoriography of linguistics in general.

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