Linguists at Work

Academic researchers have long been able to rely an abundance of modern authors’ papers, publishing archives, and other manuscript collections in academic and research libraries to trace the genesis of major literary texts and study the creative process and working methods of canonical authors. Modern information abundance, academic libraries with millions of printed books and journals, and online digital access has made textual research much easier than it was for earlier generations of scholars. The field of genetic criticism, devoted to establishing texts and studying textual evolution and transmission, has worked well for canonical texts, but can work at any level and need not be restricted to literary works of the highest order. For example, the Manuscripts Division has examples of work in progress on unpublished linguistic texts, in the form of grammar books, dictionaries, glossaries, and other intercultural tools, intended to help people to master foreign languages. Evidence is preserved both in the Manuscript Division’s extensive holdings of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish manuscripts; as well as western European manuscripts in Latin, Greek, and other languages. Improvements in international travel and communications between Europe and Islamic world, beginning during the Middle Ages, had made language study increasingly important for trade, commerce, news-gathering, diplomacy, pilgrimage, religious missions, scholarship, textual transmission, and other activities. What started during the Middle Ages continued for centuries and left marks on both worlds.

One of the most fascinating recent additions to the Manuscripts Division is a rare first edition by the Stuttgart linguist and historian Hieronymus Megiser (1553-1618), Institutionum linguae Turcicae, libri quatuor (1612). It was the first European grammar book (in Latin) on Ottoman Turkish and is considered something of a landmark in Turkish studies. It was published with a dedication to the Austrian nobleman Hector von Ernau. A few years after the book was published, Johann Melchior Mader, a German linguist from Augsburg, interleaved, annotated, and expanded his copy of Megiser. Mader is known for several published works on Arabic: Oratio pro lingua arabica (1617), Grammatica arabica (1617); and Collegium arabicum (1618). Over time, Mader transformed the printed book by annotating it, then adding several hundred blank interleaved pages, to which he selectively added Ottoman Turkish words and phrases. He recorded a few Arabic inscriptions, including one translated from N.T. Romans 8:31 (“If God be with us, who can be against us?”); and then added several texts of his own, including Sententiae et proverbia Arabica and Proverbia et Sententiae Turcica in Arabic script, transliterated with accompanying Latin, Italian, and occasionally German translations. (See image below.) At some point, Mader had the much-expanded book rebound in a wrapper made from a 15th-century parchment manuscript leaf (O.T. Daniel 13, “Susannah and the Elders”). The overall impression is of a linguist at work, preparing a reference book either for personal use or as part of a future publication. Judging from the number of interleaved pages left blank, Mader never completed his work, perhaps because of the demands of his post as equerry (master of the stables) of the princes of Eggenberg, a prominent Austrian noble family, and wrote a treatise on horsemanship dedicated to his employers: Equestria, sive de arte equitandi libri duo (1621).

The Megiser-Mader volume is designated C0938, no. 835. For other examples of unpublished bilingual grammar books and dictionaries from Europe and the Islamic world, 16th to 19th centuries, one can search for manuscripts in the Princeton University Library online catalog or contract Public Services at

C0938, no 835