Jernej Kopitar

Jernej Kopitar

Jernej Kopitar (born 21 August 1780 - 11 August 1844) was a Slovene linguist.

Kopitar was born in the small Carniolan village of Repnje near Vodice, in what was then the Habsburg Monarchy and is now in Slovenia. After graduating from the lyceum in Ljubljana, he became a private teacher in Sigmund Zois' house, and later his personal secretary and librarian. In 1808 he moved to Vienna, where he studied law. At the same time, he developed an interest in the comparative analysis of the Slavic languages, to which he would devote all his later life. He became employed as a librarian and later an administrator at the Vienna Court Library. He later become the chief censor for books written in Slavic languages and Modern Greek.

Among European linguists, he was considered a valued scientist and thinker. In 1808, he published the first grammar of Slovenian, called "Grammatik der slavischen Sprache in Krain, Karnten und Steyemark" ("A Grammar of the Slavic language in Carniola, Carinthia, and Styria"). In his work "Glagolita Clozianus" (1836), he published the first critically revised, translated, and annotated version of the Freising Manuscripts, the oldest known work in Slovenian and the first work in any Slavic language written in the Latin alphabet. In the same work, he advanced the Pannonian Theory of the development of Common Slavic - a theory that is now in vogue again through modern paleolinguistic studies and arhaeology.

Kopitar later shifted his attention to the education of a younger generation of linguists who were developing grammars and textbooks, advocated orthographic reform, and collected folk literature. Due to these efforts, he was given a chair in Slovene at the Ljubljana Lyceum in 1817.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Kopitar became involved in the "Slovenian Alphabet War," a debate over orthographic reform. He supported reforming of the old "bohoričica" orthography, advanced first by Peter Dajnko and then by Franc Serafin Metelko. Kopitar's main opponent in the conflict was the philologist Matija Čop. Čop convinced the renowned Czech scholar František Čelakovský to publish a devastating critique on the alphabet reform, which undermined Kopitar's authority. The issue was resolved with the compromise adoption of Gaj's Latin alphabet. Čop and Kopitar also disagreed on the issue of whether the Slovenes should develop their own national culture. Kopitar favored gradual evolution towards a common literary language for all South Slavic peoples, with Slovenian remaining the colloquial language of the peansantry. Čop, on the other hand, insisted on the creation of a high culture in Slovenian, which would follow contemporary literary trends. One of the main supporters of Čop's project, the poet France Prešeren, sharply criticized Kopitar's views, which led to frequent confrontations between the two.

While Kopitar's influence in his native Slovenia diminished, he gained influence among other South Slavic intelligentsia, especially Serbian intellectuals. He influenced Vuk Stefanović Karadžić in forming a new standard for the Serbian literary language based on common use.

His tombstone is displayed in the Navje Cemetery in Ljubljana, at the edge of the former St. Christopher's Cemetery.

ee also

*Franc Miklošič
*Valentin Vodnik
*Anton Tomaž Linhart
*Urban Jarnik

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