ABSTRACT

RasmusRask(1787-I832)remainedrelativelyisolatedbothinthelater historiographyandamonghiscontemporaries.Hecamefromapoor Danishfamily,studiedattheUniversityofCopenhagenbutnevercompletedhisstudies,spenttwoyearsinIcelandandafurtherlongperiod travellingasfarasIndiaandCeylonwithlongstop-oversinStockholm andStPetersburg,sufferedfromphysicalandmentalillnesses,andeven afterhisreturntoCopenhagen(afterI823)hiscareerdidnotproceed aswellasitshouldhavedone.ForalongtimehehadfinancialdifficultiesasProfessorofHistoryofLiteratureandAssistantLibrarianand didnotobtainachairofOrientalLanguagesuntilshortlybeforehis prematuredeath.2Mostofhispublishedcontributionstolinguistics consistofadmirablyconcisegrammarsofvariousmodemandclassical languages(r8rrOldNorse,1817Anglo-Saxon,I824Spanish,I825 Frisian,r827Italian,I83oDanish,1832LappishandEnglish);inadditionthereareeditionsofthetwoEddas,acontroversialessayonDanish orthography,booksonHebrewandEgyptianchronology,agrammaticaldescriptionofanAfricanlanguage,adiscussionofAvestan,andthe famousprizeessayabouttheoriginsofOldIcelandic(theessaypraised byGrimm),whichwaswrittenin1814andpublishedinr8r8(Unders¢gelseomdetgamleNordiskeellerlslandskeSprogsOprindelse).-~

AllRask'sgrammarsarebasicallydescriptiveandinclude,aftera discussionofspellingandphonology,chaptersaboutmorphology,word formationandsyntax.IntheintroductiontotheIcelandicgrammarof r8IIheexplainedthatagrammarshouldnotbemerelyprescriptivebut shouldalsodescribeusageandaccountforitscausesandorigins;to studyDanishandSwedishproperlyitisnecessarytohaveaknowledge ofthelanguagefromwhichtheyderivebecauseonlyinthiswaycan themainphenomenaofthetwolanguagesbeexplained.Ontheother hand,comparison,broadlyunderstood,isonlyeffectiveifthecomparandaaresimilarlydescribed;inanunpublishedletterof1825Raskstated thathewasparticularlyproudofthesystemofgrammaticaldescription

whichhehaddevelopedfortheGermaniclanguagesandwhichhe thoughtwasalsoapplicabletoSanskritandAvestan.Atthesametime, however,inan1810essaypublishedin1820abouttheendingsand formsofDanish,Rask(1932-7,ii,50ff.)usedIcelandictoexplainthe morphologyofDanishandclaimedpriorityforhisconcernnotonly withtheoriginofwordsbutalsowiththeoriginofendingsandinflections,i.e.withwhatwewouldnowcallhistoricalmorphology(Jespersen [1928]1970,29;cf.Diderichsen1974,296).