All Scholars

BRÉAL, Michel Jules Alfred

  • Image
  • Date of Birth: March 26, 1832
  • Born City: Landau
  • Born State/Country: Rhenish Bavaria
  • Parents: Auguste & Caroline Worms B.
  • Date of Death: November 25, 1915
  • Death City: Paris
  • Death State/Country: France
  • Married: Henriette Bamberger
  • Education:

    Study at Wissenbourg; Metz; Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris; École Normale Supérieure, 1852-7; Berlin, 1857-9; Ph.D., Paris, 1863.

  • Dissertation:

    "'Hercule et Cacus' and De Nominibus Persicis apud Scriptores Græcos," (Paris, 1863).

  • Professional Experience:

    Prof., Lycée Louis-le-Grand, 1859-6; asst. Dept. oriental mss., Bibliothèque Impériale, 1857-64; acting prof. Comp. Grammar, Collège de France, 1864-6; prof. 1866-1905; dir. section on comparative grammar, École Pratique des Hautes Études, 1868-1905 inspecteur-général for public instruction for secondary schools, 1879-88; member Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 1875; Officer, Legion of Honor, 1881; Commander, 1888; secretary, Société de Linguistique, 1877-1905.

  • Publications:

    L’Étude des origines de la Religion Zoroastrienne (Paris: 1862) Hercule et Cacus: Étude de mythologie comparée (Paris: A. Durand, 1863; repr. LaVergne, TN, 2011); "Le Mythe d'Œdipe," RevArch (1863); De la méthode comparative appliquée à l'étude des langues leçon d'ouverture du cours de given maire comparée au Collége de France,(Paris: G. Bailliére, 1864); Grammaire comparée des langues indo-européennes, comprenant le sancrit, le zend, l'arménien, le grec, le latin lithuanien, l'ancien slave, la gothique et l'allemand (trans.) Registre détaillé rédigé par M.F. Meunier, 5 vols. (Paris, 1866-74); De la Forme et de la fonction des mots (Paris: Franck, 1866); Quelle Place Doit Tenir la Grammaire Comparée dans I'Enseignement Classique? (Paris : Hachette, 1872); Les Tables Eugubines, Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études 2 vols. (Paris: F. Vieweg, 1875); Mélanges de mythologie et de linguistique (Paris : Hachette, 1877 ; 2nd. ed., 1882 ; repr. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 2013); "Sur le Déchiffrement des Inscriptions Cypriotes," RevArc 34 (1877) 316-18; Quelques Mots sur l'Instruction Publique en France (Paris : Hachette, 1872; 3d ed., 1881); Leçons de Mots: les Mots Latins, with Anatole Bailly (1881-82); L’inscription de Duenos (Rome: Impr.de la Paix, 1882); Excursions Pédagogiques (Paris : Hachette, 1882); Les Mots Grecs groupés d’après la forme et le sens: leçons de mots (Paris : Hachette, 1882; English trans. by Nina Cust, preface by J. P. Postgate [London: Heinemann, 1900; repr. with foreword by Joshua Whatmough, New York: Dover, 1964[.); "Les Lois Intellectuelles du Langage, Fragment de Sémantique," in Annuaire de l'Association des Etudes Grecques (Paris, 1883); "Comment les Mots Sont Classés dans Notre Esprit" in Comptes Rendus de la Séance Annuelle de l'Institut (Paris,1884); Dictionnaire Étymologique Latin, with Anatole Bailly (Paris: Hachette, 1885); L’histoire des mots (Paris: C. Delagrave, 1887); Grammaire latine elementaire (Paris, 1889; trans. as A New Elementary Grammar by Robert Henry Belcher (London, 1893-4)); De I'Enseignement des Langues Anciennes (Paris: Hachette, 1890); La Réforme de l'orthographie Française (Paris: Hachette, 1890); Causeries sur l’orthographie (Paris: Hachette, 1893); "On the Canons of Etymological Investigation," TAPA 24 (1893) 17-28; "Inscription Etrusque Trouvée à Carthage," Journal des Savants (1899); "Essai de Sémantique" (Paris: Hachette, 1897; 2d ed., 1899; also translated into English as Semantics: Studies in the Science of Meaning, by Mrs. Henry Cust, London, 1900); Deux études sur Goethe: Un officier de l'ancienne France; Les personnages originaux de la "Fille naturelle"(Paris: Hachette, 1898);  La reforme de l’orthographie française (Paris: Hachette, 1900); Les Commencements du verbe, étude de linguistique (Paris: Impr. National, 1900); Un problème de l’histoire littéraire (Paris: Chaix, 1903); Souvenirs romains subsistant en grec moderne (Paris: A. Fontemoing, 1903); Pour mieux connaitre Homère (Paris : Hachette, 1906); Etymologies latines et grecques (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1908); Pour mieux connaître Homère (Paris: Hachette, 1911); Dictionnaire etymologique (Paris : Hachette, 1918); The Beginnings of Semantics: Essays, Lectures, and Reviews, trans. George Wolf (London: Duckworth, 1990; Stanford U. Press, 1991). 

  • Notes:

    Bréal was a leading proponent of comparative grammar and a founder of the study of semantics. While at Berlin he learned Sanskrit and comparative grammar from the field’s founders, Franz Bopp (1791-1867) and Albrecht Weber (1825-1901). On his return to France in 1859 he became a professor at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and succeeded Ernest Renan (1823-92) as assistant in the department of oriental MSS. at the Bibliothèque Impériale. His early publications (many in Revue des Deux Mondes) applied the methodology of comparative linguistics to mythology and to pedagogy. In 1862 the Académie des Inscriptions awarded him a prize for L'Étude des origines de la religion Zoroastrienne (1862). In the next year, Hercule et Cacus demonstrated how comparative linguistic principles could be used in the study of comparative mythology to refute those who approach myths as symbols. The same approach figured in “Sur le Mythe d’Oedipe.” In his edition of the Iguvine Tablets he not only brought new knowledge of the Osco-Umbrian language of these religious tablets but also a new understanding of the religious practices of the early Romans. Upon being elevated to the chair of comparative grammar at the Collège de France, he made an homage to his teacher Bopp by translating Bopp’s seminal work on comparative grammar as Grammaire Comparée des Langues Indo-Européennes (1867-78), which continues to be a standard reference work. His focus turned to the pedagogical in 1875 when he was named inspecteur-général for public instruction for higher schools (the office was abolished in 1888). 

    At heart he remained a pre-structuralist linguist interested in the history, meaning, and sounds of words with a strong base in ancient languages. His most notable works in this field are Leçons de mots (1882, 1886), Dictionnaire étymologique latin (1885), Essai de Sémantique (1897), subsequently translated into English. Bréal devoted his attention to the psychological rather than the mechanical side of linguistics. He collaborated with Anatole Bailly (1833-1911) on Leçons de Mots: les Mots Latins (1881-82) and Dictionnaire Étymologique Latin" (Paris: Hachette, 1885), and with L. Person on Les Mots Grecs groupés d’après la forme et le sens (1882) which was translated into English by Nina Cust. In 1906 he published Pour mieux connaître Homère. He has also written pamphlets on education in France, the teaching of ancient languages, and the reform of French orthography. His one paper Bréal published outside France was in the 1893 volume of TAPA

    He is perhaps best remembered as the inventor of the term “sémantique” as in his work Essai de Sémantique (1897). It is a comprehensive treatment of the subject, but also a basis for the subsequent work of subsequent linguists. Change of meaning is far more difficult to trace than change of sound and Bréal’s approach influenced the field through the 1930s, when linguistic structuralists began a synchronic approach to meaning-change. Twenty years later, linguists like Émile Benveniste (1902-76) were influenced, if indirectly, by Bréal’s work. 

    Bréal is also remembered for convincing Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), in correspondence between 1894 and 1909, to include the marathon in the first (and subsequent) modern Olympics, staged in Athens in 1896.  

  • Sources:

    Hans W. Giessen, Heinz-Helmut Lüger, Günther Volz (eds.), Michel Bréal – Grenzüberschreitende Signaturen (Landau: Verlag Empirische Pädagogik, 2007); Hans W. Giessen & Heinz-Helmut Lüger, Ein Grenzgänger der ersten Stunde. Michel Bréal: Vom Marathon zum Pynx in: Dokumente. Zs. für den deutsch-französischen Dialog. Gesellschaft für übernationale Zusammenarbeit, 4 (Bonn, 2008) 59-62; Hans W. Giessen, Mythos Marathon. Von Herodot über Bréal bis zur Gegenwart. (= Landauer Schriften zur Kommunikations- und Kulturwissenschaft. Band 17) (Landau: Verlag Empirische Pädagogik, 2010); Arnaud Fournet, “Michel Bréal (1832-1915), a Forgotten Precursor of Enunciation and Subjectivity,” ReVEL 9 (2011) 201-13; Heinz-Helmut Lüger (dir.), Hans W. Giessen (dir.) et Bernard Weigel (dir.), Entre la France et l'Allemagne : Michel Bréal, intellectuel engagé (Limoges: Lambert-Lucas, 2012); Brigitte Nerlich, Michel Bréal: mettre l’homme dans la langue, in Penser l’histoire des savoirs linguistiques. Hommage à Sylvain Auroux, ed. Sylvie Archaimbault, Jean-Marie Fournier & Valérie Raby, (Lyon 2013) 611-619 ; Jan Noordegraaf, Salient scholars. Michel Bréal and his Dutch connections, in Penser l’histoire des savoirs linguistiques. Hommage à Sylvain Auroux, ed. Sylvie Archaimbault, Jean-Marie Fournier & Valérie Raby (Lyon: 2013) 621-32.

  • Author: Ward Briggs